Montreal Canadiens have diverse group of prospects playing at junior level

By David Thicke

Zachary Fucale - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Goaltender Zachary Fucale is currently in his third season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Fucale was selected 36th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens have a diverse mix of prospects playing at the junior level. They have a large group of forwards with a good mix of speed, skill, and physicality. Along the blue line, the team has two puck-moving defensive prospects with distinctly different styles of play. The Canadiens have also have a strong goaltending prospect in Zachary Fucale.

OHL

Connor Crisp, C/W, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 3rd round (71st overall) in 2013

Crisp jumped out to a good start in his fourth season at the junior level with his new team, the Sudbury Wolves. The big forward was playing at about a point-per-game pace but cooled off in the month of November along with his team. He sits fourth in scoring with 12 goals and eight assists through 28 games. His defensive play is not a liability and his offensive skills are improving along with his skating speed.

The tough, physical winger makes things happen on the forecheck and in front of the opposition's net. He can really stir things up with big hits or dropping the gloves to defend his teammates and his 67 penalty minutes (four fighting majors) are by far the most on his team. Crisp needs bring more consistency to his game on a nightly basis because he can be a streaky scorer and it all starts with him driving hard to the net. If he can show that improvement over the second half of the season then he might be playing pro in Hamilton next year.

Mike McCarron, RW, London Knights
Acquired: 1st round (25th overall) in 2013

McCarron is playing his first season in the OHL with the high powered London Knights. After missing a few games with a shoulder sprain, he struggled to produce much in the way of offense and as a result, saw a reduction in his ice time. The rookie sits at three goals, seven assists and a plus-three rating along with 39 penalty minutes (three fighting majors) in 26 games. The big winger is going through an adjustment period of learning what is required nightly in the OHL and will likely show improvement over the second half of the season.

McCarron has not been a defensive liability to his team but he needs to be stronger battling one on one and drive net harder with more consistency. The shoulder injury may have reduced his capability to play a more physical game and also caused the drop in his offensive production. His skating balance and agility are showing some good improvement since the start of the season but the tall forward will continue to be a work in progress. Patience and time by the Canadiens may be necessary for McCarron to reach his full potential at the NHL level.

Brady Vail, C, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 4th round (94th overall) in 2012

Vail is off to a good started his fourth OHL season with the Spitfires. The two-way centerman is leading his team's forward group with a plus-19 rating while playing the shutdown role and on both specialty teams. After 27 games, his 11 goals along with 20 assists have him sitting second in scoring for Windsor. He has shown more consistency, maturity, and leadership this year.

Vail must avoid slumping in the second half of the season like last year and continue to bring energy to his game on a nightly basis. His playmaking and decision making is improving and he is learning to move the puck around better on the power play. He still needs to learn how to better disguise whether he is going to shoot or pass and work on a quicker release of his shot. The centerman could get the opportunity to play for Team USA at the 2014 WJC and if Vail can maintain this pace all year, he might earn an NHL entry-level contract from the Canadiens.

QJMHL

Zachery Fucale, G, Halifax Mooseheads
Acquired: 2nd round (36th overall) in 2013

Fucale is playing his third QJMHL season with the Moosehead but struggled early on to find his game. In November, the young backstop regained his form as did his team and collected two shutouts. He is currently sporting 17-7-0 record with a 2.62 goals against average and.899 save percentage in 25 games. His team possesses the second best record in the QJMHL and is the top offensive team of the league. He saw action in the first game of the 2013 Subway Super Series and won 3-2 against the Russians.

There are nights when Fucale goes long periods without a shot on goal and then is forced to stop a breakaway or a difficult chance. He is learning to focus at the right time and becoming tougher mentally with the ups and downs of goaltending. The young talent needs to be more consistent and reduce the soft goals. His game seems to thrive when he receives more than his 25 shot per game average and in close scoring games. His development into an NHL goalie will require patience, more experience and time. There is no real rush however, with Carey Price manning the Canadiens' net.

Jeremy Gregoire, RW/C, Baie Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 6th round (176th overall) in 2013

After a torrid start to his third season in the QJMHL, Gregoire has cooled off a little over the month of November but stills sits third on his team in points with 32 and first in goals with 16. He has already matched his entire offensive output from last season, where he managed 32 points in 62 games. The young forward even received an invitation to play in the 2013 Subway Super Series for QJMHL.

A versatile player, Gregoire can play a solid two-way game along with his improving offensive production, and thrives when the game is on the line. He can do the little things well that win hockey games like scoring the game winning goal, taking the important defensive zone face-off, or make that momentum changing body check. His maturity, character, grit, and determination are what makes him such a gamer and could help him possibly get to the NHL level someday.

Charles Hudon, LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Acquired: 5th round (122nd overall) in 2012

With high expectations in likely his last junior season, Hudon struggled offensively by his standards to start his fourth year in the QJMHL and was trying to do too much by himself. His team is not as strong this year and his shooting percentage is really down, at 7.2 percent compared to his QJMHL career average of 12.73. The offensively skilled winger still leads his team in scoring with 11 goals, 21 assists and a minus-three rating in 29 games.

Hudon showed that he is one of the top Quebec junior players at the 2013 Subway series when he joined Jonathan Drouin (TBL) and Anthony Mantha (DET) on the top line. He led all Quebec players with two goals and two assists in the two series games. The offensive chemistry between the three NHL prospects will likely put Hudon securely on Team Canada for the 2014 WJC and he could be their linemate on the top line for the tournament. His overall game is coming around just in time.

With his team falling in the QJMHL standings, it is possible that Chicoutimi could trade Hudon before the deadline to a contending team in order to help the Sagueneens rebuilt for next season. His offensive vision, compete level and ability to operate anywhere on the power play could help another team get to the 2014 Memorial Cup in May.

Martin Reway, LW, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 4th round (116th overall) in 2013

In his second year with Gatineau, Reway is putting up excellent offensive numbers and finding good chemistry with his linemate, Emile Poirier (CGY) on a nightly basis. After 25 games this season, the shifty winger has potted 14 goals (including four on the power play and one shorthanded) along with 27 assists and a plus-11 rating. He is second on his team and ninth in the QJMHL in scoring and earned TELUS Star of the Week for November 4-10th.

Despite his highlight reel plays, Reway still has not learn to fully or properly use his teammates and can be at times selfish with the puck. His quick hands and creativity allow him to make high risk plays look easy, but also causes plenty of turnovers at the wrong time and place on the ice. He needs to reduce these mistake and take the higher percentage options available when necessary. The small forward still needs plenty of development time and maturity to gain more experience as well as add more size.

Reway is a longshot prospect that will be fun to watch but his determination to be better and work ethic just might get him to the NHL.

WHL

Tim Bozon, RW, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 3rd round (64th overall) in 2012

Bozon is struggling to find his scoring touch and consistency in his third season at the junior level. The trade from Kamloops Blazer to the Kootenay Ice helped improve his offensive numbers on the year, but his production is way off of last season. He has put up seven goals (one on the power play, one shorthanded) along with 15 assists and minus-seven rating in 31 games, which is far off the pace need to reach last year's 91 points.

The talented sniper can get hot and be a streaky scorer so it is possible that he could pick up the offensive game in the second half of the season. He is playing in a more defensively responsible system with the Ice, compared to the run and gun offensive attack of the Blazers. His overall defensive game and playmaking skills are improving and could be causing a decline his scoring. Though it is never good for a player to experience a sharp decline in offense, learning to play a more complete game should bode well for his professional career.

Dalton Thrower, D, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 2nd round (51st overall) in 2012

In his final season at the junior level, Thrower is having a much better year both offensively and defensively while appearing to enjoy hockey again under Coach Don Hay in Vancouver. The captain is providing excellent leadership, character, and determination to his teammates. He has managed to push the last place Giants up to a.500 level and wants to get Vancouver into the playoffs this season. The physical defender is only dropping the gloves to defend his teammates and spending more time on the ice.

Thrower has found good chemistry with his defense partner Brett Kulak (CGY) and together they are providing an excellent one-two punch from the point on the power play. He is playing much more responsible defense, while helping Kulak become more physical and allowing him to jump up more into the play. Thrower is already close to his offensive output for all of last season, scoring nine goals (six on the power play) along with 15 assists in 25 games.

So far this year, Thrower is proving to the Canadiens' management team that he can still be the player they drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft. The tough competitor is the type of character player needed in Montreal's organization and on their blue line at the NHL level. It is just going to take more development time to possibly get him there.

USHL

Colin Sullivan, D, Green Bay Gamblers
Acquired: 7th round (198th overall) in 2011

After leaving the NCAA level, Sullivan joined the USHL Gamblers on November 1st and is providing them with solid physical defensive play. He is the team's biggest defender and plays on the first wave of their penalty killing unit. The big blueliner has one goal and two assists through seven games. He missed a couple of games with a minor lower-body injury and another game with a suspension for a face mask penalty. The 20-year-old plays the game right on the edge and appears willing to cross the line if pushed hard enough by an opponent.

Other Notes

The Canadiens signed undrafted forward Jack Nevins to an entry-level contract on December 3rd, 2013. Nevins is an overage prospect currently in his second season with the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL, where he has 11 goals and 19 assists through 30 games. Nevins spent two seasons in the OHL with three different teams prior to his move to the QMJHL.