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July 28, 2011
Top 10 Prospects
Montreal Canadiens

by Corey Pronman

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Full list of NHL Organizational Rankings

The Montreal Canadiens Top 10 Prospects

1. Nathan Beaulieu, Defense
2. Alexei Emelin, Defense
3. Aaron Palushaj, Right Wing
4. Louis Leblanc, Right Wing
5. Alexander Avtsin, Right Wing
6. Jarred Tinordi, Defense
7. Danny Kristo, Right Wing
8. Mark Mitera, Defense
9. Joonas Nattinen, Center
10. Michael Bournival, Center

Organizational Ranking: 24th

System Overview: Over the past decade, the Habs used to have a secure spot amongst the elite systems in hockey, but the consistent dealing of draft picks coupled with underwhelming projections for some of their first round picks have dropped them into the bottom-tier of the league. As it stands now, the system has two significant anchors in Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin, two nice complementary pieces in Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc, and then it falls off into project prospects and depth pieces after that.

There's actually a decent amount of ceiling in this system with an equal amount of risk, as is usually the case for players who are ceiling picks. Nathan Beaulieu, Alexander Avtsin, Jarred Tinordi and Danny Kristo all have quite desirable upsides, but aside from Beaulieu, I'm skeptical about the other prospects' chances of reaching their ceiling.

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1. Nathan Beaulieu, Defense
Date of birth: 12/05/1992
Age: 18
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 174
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 65 GP, 12 G, 45 P (Saint John-QMJHL)
Acquired: First round, 17th overall in 2011 by Montreal

The Good: Nathan Beaulieu is an above-average skater who flashes plus when he gets going in a straight line, but still moves very freely and smoothly in other directions with an impressive first few steps. His skating is his best tool and he doesn't refrain from using it either by rushing the puck up, pinching in, or going out of position to get to a puck that most QMJHL players wouldn't be able to get to. His puck skills are above-average which let him be an effective rushing defenseman in regards to being able to go around the opposition. He frequently executes above-average passes and his vision flashes plus ability. Beaulieu has a solid shot which has decent accuracy to put through traffic and zip when he has a lane to let it fly although I don't see him being a significant triggerman at the next level. Nathan doesn't shy from the physical game and will frequently throw his body around, even at times landing some highlight crunches.

The Bad: His strength is lacking and opposing forwards are able to shrug him off during battles. Beaulieu's defensive game is decent and until his strength improves, his stick-checking ability is good enough to help him maintain an average level, but an improved physical game would do wonders in that area. He turns the puck over going for the big play/perfect pass too much and takes too much time looking down his target.

Projection: An average first pairing defenseman who safely projects as a below-average first to above-average second pairing defender.

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2. Alexei Emelin, Defense
Date of birth: 04/25/1986
Age: 25
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 223
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 52 GP, 11 G, 26 P, 21:18 TOI (Ak Bars-KHL)
Acquired: Third round, 84th overall in 2004 by Montreal

The Good: Seven years after being drafted, Emelin finally signed with the Canadiens and is a rare prospect to start his NHL career during his physical peak. Emelin has good all-around mobility, with a pro, but not above-average top gear. He's quite mobile in all directions, and stays with his checks well off the rush. He also shows a notable amount of agility and ability on his edges. Emelin is an above-average to plus physical player who competes with an edge to his game, and shows no hesitation from engaging his checks. He doesn't have the widest frame, but he is quite strong. This year, he started to show a little more offense to his game, and that came from his passing and shot. He's a solid distributor who can make a fine first pass and even a solid mid-distance feed on occasion. Emelin has an above-average shot from the point, but can take a little long getting it off.

The Bad: Emelin's puck skills are limited, and despite his puck-moving ability, he's not much of a puck carrier or holder. Brain cramps and inconsistency haunt Emelin as he can get caught out of position defensively going for the big hit, or will lose his assignment. When he's on, his shutdown ability is significant, but when he's off, he'll leave viewers scratching their heads.

Projection: An average to above-average second pairing defenseman, who safely projects onto a top four regardless. He could be that as soon as next season, depending how quickly he transitions to the small ice.

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3. Aaron Palushaj, Right Wing
Date of birth: 09/07/1989
Age: 21
Height: 5'11''
Weight: 187
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 68 GP, 22 G, 57 P (Hamilton-AHL)
Acquired: Trade from St. Louis; drafted second round, 44th overall in 2008 by St. Louis

The Good: Palushaj took notable strides this year and showed signs that he could have the makings of a scoring forward at the highest level. His skating tool has come around significantly since his college years, and it's now a solid to possibly even above-average tool. He doesn't look the most fluid at times when he's moving, but the speed is definitely there and his top-end work ethic has his feet always on the move. Palushaj is a pest with his aggressiveness and hustle, especially in his own end of the rink, where he plays an above-average defensive game. Palushaj is an above-average passer with good vision and creativity. He can make the basic and fancy distributions effectively and doesn't need much time to move the puck.

The Bad: His frame is somewhat of a hindrance, as despite his great work ethic he's likely a below-average physical player in the NHL. His hands are fringe-average, and he's not the best one-on-one player.

Projection: An average to below-average second line winger who easily projects as an above-average third line winger.

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4. Louis Leblanc, Right Wing
Date of birth: 01/26/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 180
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 51 GP, 26 G, 58 P (Montreal-QMJHL)
Acquired: First round, 18th overall in 2009 by Montreal

The Good: Leblanc is an above-average skater with a very good top gear and has the ability to zoom up the ice with top-end acceleration. He's got an awkward hunch over in his stride, but that's the only fault in his skating. He's a heck of a competitor with somewhat of a nasty streak to his game, and he battles hard for every loose puck. Leblanc goes to the net regularly, and gets a lot of chances by going to the high percentage areas. Leblanc gets high praise for his intangibles, and scouts were impressed with how he played through injuries this year. He has decent vision and can be a fine distributor. He plays center and the wing, but likely projects as a winger.

The Bad: Leblanc lacks true pro-level offensive instincts, and isn't really a creator with the puck. He is limited at times to chipping it down low and starting a cycle. He's somewhat lean and has to put on a fair amount of muscle.

Projection: A below-average second to above-average third line forward who easily projects as an average third line forward.

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5. Alexander Avtsin, Right Wing
Date of birth: 03/19/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 199
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 58 GP, 5 G, 20 P (Hamilton-AHL)
Acquired: Fourth round, 109th overall in 2009 by Montreal

The Good: Avtsin is a solid skater with a long, fluid stride, who accelerates pretty quickly. He doesn't get to an above-average top speed, but moves around well and is fairly technically sound. His puck skills are above-average and he's quite diverse with the puck. He has the skills to deke and make people miss; he's also quite good at protecting the puck and has the vision to be a fine distributor. Avtsin has an above-average shot and can really wire the puck on net when he gets a lane. He has a flair for the dynamic, and has the skills to make a big play.

The Bad: Avtsin is very underdeveloped and looked the part playing in the American League in his 19-year-old season. While he's a big guy, he's quite skinny and was easily pushed off the puck. His hockey sense looked fringe and his lack of experience was clear amongst the minor professional ranks. His decision-making was very poor all year long, leading him to be healthy-scratched quite a bit.

Projection: While he has the ability to be an average second line winger, his projection variance goes all the way down to a player who never plays 100 NHL games.

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6. Jarred Tinordi, Defense
Date of birth: 02/20/1992
Age: 19
Height: 6'7''
Weight: 212
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 63 GP, 1 G, 14 P (London-OHL)
Acquired: First round, 22nd overall in 2010 by Montreal

The Good: Tinordi is a tremendous physical package with a plus plus frame and physical game. He's a massive defenseman who asserts himself physically and projects as the kind of player who wins a ton of battles along the walls and in front of the net. He moves at a decent level for a big defender, with NHL scouts praising how much ground he can cover with a long, fluid stride and his giant wing span.

The Bad: I have yet to get a single positive report on Tinordi's play in the OHL this year. He looked so, so bad, and was not the shutdown force he was with the USNTDP. His gap control needs work, his defensive reads need work, and his decisions with the puck need work. Tinordi's puck skills are below fringe level and while he can on occasion flash a decent pass, his puck-moving skills are more or less nonexistent.

Projection: In a really perfect world he ends up as a below-average second pairing defender, but as of now, he projects as an average to below-average third pairing defender.

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7. Danny Kristo, Right Wing
Date of birth: 06/18/1990
Age: 21
Height: 5'11''
Weight: 188
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 34 GP, 8 G, 28 P (University of North Dakota-WCHA)
Acquired: Second round, 56th overall in 2008 by Montreal

The Good: Kristo has an exciting package of offensive tools and has the ability to create a scoring chance out of nothing. One NHL executive said of Kristo, "I go to North Dakota games with the mindset of scouting another player, but end up watching Kristo all game." He's a plus skater with a smooth, effortless stride and a dangerous top gear. He's quite agile and very effective at evading checkers. Kristo's puck skills are above-average, as he shows a flashy element to his game with his hands, and has the ability to be a notable distributor. Kristo works hard, will drive to the net, and doesn't mind engaging physically.

The Bad: Kristo's hockey sense is fringe, and his decision-making is consistently poor. He forces passes into crowded areas, tries to do too much in terms of outdangling opponents, and frequently coughs up the puck. He's fringe physically as well, as his strength is quite underdeveloped, and he's easily pushed off the puck.

Projection: A below-average second line winger or career AHLer, and right now, I'd say the latter is more likely than the former.

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8. Mark Mitera, Defense
Date of birth: 10/12/1987
Age: 23
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 210
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 71 GP 6 G 22 Pts (Syracuse-AHL)
Acquired: Trade from Anaheim; drafted first round, 19th overall in 2006 by Anaheim

The Good: Mitera is a monster of a man and is a plus physical defenseman who doesn't hesitate from leaning into his opponents and using his entire frame to rub out players along the boards. He shows decent defensive awareness, be it when reading plays, closing his gaps or any of the little things required of a shutdown defender. I don't think I would qualify him as an above-average defensive defender, but he projects to be pro-average in that regard. Mitera seems to have regained some of his mobility that he lost after his knee surgery and looked to be moving around the ice more like his old self. He's not an above-average puck-mover, but is more than capable of executing the basic passes and on occasion can show beyond that.

The Bad: Mitera's development has not gone as planned due to factors such as injuries and while you never want to put deadlines on a prospect, Mitera needs to make an NHL case soon. I don't know if his mobility will ever get to pro-average but being a grade below that for a defender his size will suffice. He isn't an offensively creative player and has limited skills on the puck.

Projection: An above-average third pairing defenseman, but he may end up a depth player.

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9. Joonas Nattinen, Center
Date of birth: 01/03/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 170
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 21 GP, 0 G, 2 P (Blues/HPK-SM-Liiga)
Acquired: Third round, 65th overall in 2009 by Montreal

The Good: Joonas is a fine two-way center who thinks the game at an above-average level. He's the kind of player who always finds himself around the play at both ends of the rink. He plays a responsible defensive game and supports his defenders well. Nattinen has decent vision and can be a fine distributor. His 170 pound listing may be a tad understated, as he looks bigger on the ice, and is quite muscular and strong. He's not an overly physical player, but shows fine ability with his play along the walls. He has decent prowess with the puck in tight quarters during the cycle and in front of the net.

The Bad: Nattinen is a below-average skater who can on occasion show a decent burst, but his mobility doesn't really impress and there are times he can look quite heavy-footed. His open ice skills are below-average and he's really a true offensive creator.

Projection: An average to below-average third line center who likely projects onto a bottom-six in some role.

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10. Michael Bournival, Center
Date of birth: 05/31/1992
Age: 19
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 187
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 56 GP, 28 G, 64 P (Shawinigan-QMJHL)
Acquired: Trade from Colorado; drafted third round, 71st overall in 2010 by Colorado

The Good: Bournival is a hard-working power forward who is quite strong and comes to play every shift. He forechecks quite well, protects the puck effectively and is a pain to deal with in the physical areas. He displays good balance on his skates and shows an above-average cycle game. Bournival is an effective two-way player who supports his defensemen well and reads the defensive game at an above-average level. His offensive hockey sense is solid, and he can be a decent distributor of the puck.

The Bad: Bournival isn't the most offensively-gifted player given his fringe puck skills and he is quite limited in how he can attack the defense. He's a below-average skater that can look decent in a straight line, but has a very awkward skating stride and doesn't start up that well.

Projection: A below-average third line to above-average fourth line forward who can likely find a way to play some role in the league.

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The Sleeper: 2011 fourth round pick Josiah Didier is a solid skating defenseman, with an impressive physical game. There is reason to believe he could have the upside to break into the Habs Top 10 prospects this time next year.

Extra Notes: Forward Brendan Gallagher was amongst the leading scorers in the WHL this past season. He's a heck of a hard worker who gives it his all when it comes to fighting for every loose puck. He thinks the game at an above-average level and has an above-average shot, but there isn't really a dynamic element to his possession skill set that makes scouts believe he can overcome his pipsqueak frame.

Defenseman Mac Bennett has an impressive offensive skill set, as he skates and handles the puck at an above-average level. However, his physical game is quite underwhelming, and while he can at times be decent defensively, overall I don't think his hockey sense is at a desirable enough level to project into the league.

I didn't have enough notes on defenseman Rafael Diaz to do a sufficient profile.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Blue Line (07/27)
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Top 10 Prospects (07/26)
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Top 10 Prospects (08/01)
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