A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
In recent seasons the Montreal Canadiens have been known as a small and goal-starved team. With three forwards ranked in the Top 100 and some other potentially intriguing options coming up, that could start to change. If there’s a reason for the Habs overall low ranking it’s the lack of defensive prospects in the system. Over the past five drafts or so, Montreal has picked a handful of defenceman that have not quite panned out as expected.
- Nikita Scherbak, RW, Everett (WHL) 6’1”, 175 lbs. 26th overall, 2014
- Jacob de la Rose, LW, Hamilton (AHL) 6’3”, 207 lbs. 34th overall, 2013
- Michael McCarron, C, Oshawa (OHL) 6’5”, 237 lbs. 25th overall, 2013
- Noah Juulsen, D, Everett (WHL) 6’2”, 174 lbs. 26th overall, 2015
- Zach Fucale, G, Quebec (QMJHL) 6’1”, 178 lbs. 36th overall, 2013
- Sven Andrightetto, RW, Hamilton (AHL) 5’9”, 183 lbs. 86th overall, 2013
- Charles Hudon, LW, Hamilton (AHL) 5’10”, 178 lbs. 122nd overall, 2012
- Martin Reway, C, Sparta Praha (Cze) 5’8”, 170 lbs. 116th overall, 2013
- Artturi Lehkonen, LW, Frolunda (Swe) 5’11”, 163 lbs. 55th overall, 2013
- Jeremy Gregoire, C, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) 6’00”, 187 lbs. 176th overall, 2013
Players likely to lose eligibility
- de la Rose
- Greg Pateryn, D, Hamilton (AHL) 6’2”, 222 lbs. Trade 2008 (Originally: 128th overall, 2008 by Toronto)
- Christian Thomas, RW, Hamilton (AHL) 5’9”, 176 lbs. Trade 2013 (Originally 40th overall, 2010 by New York Rangers)
- Mike Condon, G, Hamilton (AHL) 6’2”, 196 lbs. Signed by Montreal in 2013
- Darren Dietz, D, Hamilton (AHL) 6’1”, 204 lbs. 138th overall, 2011
If there’s one area where the Habs are loaded with depth in their system it is at the forward position. The question then becomes how many of those prospects can contribute in the NHL for a team that has struggled to score goals. Youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have already made their mark at the NHL level, but now they will be looking for more offensive help from their pool of prospects. The list of forwards is headlined by 2014 first rounder Nikita Scherbak, who has put up big numbers in each of his first two WHL seasons. There was the disappointment of not being selected to the Russian World Junior squad, but overall it was a very strong season with the Silvertips for the skilled winger. He has a great shot and his goal scoring instincts are a huge plus to his game. He will likely spend a tour of duty in the AHL to work on consistency before joining Montreal full time, but if the Canadiens struggle to score again don’t be surprised to see him get the call.
Jacob de la Rose is the other forward prospect that the Habs have very high hopes for. He spent 33 regular season and 12 playoff games with Montreal this past season and is likely to be a regular in the upcoming campaign. He added size to what was generally a small line-up, although his offensive impact was limited. Just how much offence he provides will be the question moving forward as the Swede projects as more of a two-way player. Of course that responsibility in his game led to head coach Michel Therrien not being afraid to use him in tense situations down the stretch.
If you’re looking for size then look no further than Michael McCarron. The big power forward had a breakout season in the OHL, splitting time between London and the Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals. He has plenty of upside as a power forward, but again the debate will be how much offence will he provide? He often finds himself in good scoring positions and has a nice wrist shot, so the potential is certainly there.
Looking further down the chart there is Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, who both had stints with the big club last season. They’re both offensively skilled with some upside, more so Andrighetto, and may be able to help down the road.
One prospect in particular to keep an eye on is Charles Hudon. He’s highly skilled with the puck and an elusive skater, who had a very impressive pro debut in the AHL last season. Size may be the one issue that ultimately holds him back. The same could be said for Martin Reway and Artturi Lehkonen, who both skated in pro leagues in Europe last season. Reway had a particularly impressive performance at the past World Juniors for Slovakia and there is no denying that he has the skill set, most notably his game breaking speed, to be an NHL player someday. Lehkonen is similarly skilled, but saw his production drop after moving from Finland to Sweden, and compounding that impression with a subdued WJC.
Jeremy Gregoire rounds out the forward ranks and had a big playoffs offensively for Baie-Comeau last season. However, his best attributes at the pro level will be his physical play and defensive responsibility, which will make him a very serviceable bottom six forward who also possesses some skill.
With Carey Price in the prime of a fantastic career, there is no rush to find an heir apparent in the Montreal net. That said, with Dustin Tokarski set to become a free agent following this season, there could be an opening for the back-up position sooner than later.
The clear top prospect for the Habs in goal is Zachary Fucale, who has generally done nothing but win at the junior level. Of course it is worth noting that he has been the beneficiary of playing on some great teams in his career. This past season was the most up and down of his four years in the QMJHL. He was very average after joining the Quebec Remparts, following the World Juniors and that continued right into the first round of the playoffs. He deserves credit for finding his game over the remainder of the post-season and was a big reason why Quebec was a goal away from winning the Q title. He is fundamentally sound, but he still needs to work on his lateral movement and he gained a bit of a penchant over the last year and a half for allowing some very weak goals.
The dark horse candidate in the Habs crease comes in the form of unheralded Mike Condon. The product of Princeton made a fairly seamless transition from the ECHL to the AHL this season, posting very solid regular season numbers. His ceiling may well be as a back-up in the NHL and that could be just the role that Montreal is looking for in the near future.
As much as they have great depth in the system at forward, the exact opposite is true when you look at the defencemen in the Montreal prospect pool. The only youngster of note on the Canadiens back end right now is Nathan Beaulieu and after that it’s not an inspiring group of prospects. Montreal started to address that area of concern by selecting Noah Juulsen with their first round pick this summer. He had a real breakout campaign with Everett last season, notching 52 points compared to 10 the previous season. The native of Abbotsford is a high quality, puck moving rearguard who has the ability to do a nice job quarterbacking the power play. He still needs to fill out and work on the defensive aspects of his game, including gap control and you won’t likely see him in the NHL for at least a few years.
Beyond that there are Greg Pateryn and Darren Dietz as the only other notable prospects currently in the system. Both players project as physical, depth defenceman who can fill a role on the bottom pairing. Pateryn spent some time with the Habs last season, including seven playoff games and proved he can be effective when keeping things simple and knowing his limitations. Dietz on the other hand has yet to appear in the NHL, but is a possibility to see action if there are injuries on the blueline this season. He does possess a bit more offensive ability than Pateryn, but at this point in time is not as reliable defensively.
With most of their higher end defencemen locked up for the next few seasons, the lack of prospects in that area is not an immediate concern and there is certainly time to restock the cupboards. Of course that will be easier said than done for a team that has not faired particularly well in drafting defencemen recently. The biggest thing for Montreal in the present is moving up some of the forwards who can contribute offensively and there are no lack of options in that regard.