Skilled, diverse group populates Montreal Canadiens Spring Top 20

By David Thicke

Nathan Beaulieu - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu leads the Montreal Canadiens Spring Top 20. Beaulieu has spent the 2013-14 season split between the AHL and NHL. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens have a wide variety of players in their talent pool, many of whom possess a great deal of upside. There are players with offensive skills, speed, size, and physicality, as well as ones known more for their character or leadership.

The organization recently graduated forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher to the NHL, but still possesses one of the NHL's deeper prospect pools. There are many players who could have easily made the spring top 20 list but did not, such as Mac Bennett, Connor Crisp, Gabriel Dumont, and Christian Thomas.

1. (3) Nathan Beaulieu, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2011

Beaulieu is back as the number one prospect after playing well during his NHL call-ups. His offensive abilities and potential is much higher than the defensive prospects below him at this time. The puck-mover pushed his way into regular duty on the bottom pairing alongside Douglas Murray before the Olympic break and saw time on the team's second power play unit. He has since been returned to the AHL, but remains one of the first call-ups if the Canadiens suffer injuries along their blue line.

His defensive zone play and decision-making have improved from the start of the AHL season and his excellent skating skills should help compensate for some of his inexperience. The young blueliner's development is progressing in the right direction. It is simply a matter of time before Beaulieu is a main fixture of the Canadiens' defense corps.

2. (4) Jarred Tinordi, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2010

Tinordi was not able to stay at the NHL level to start the season, but he was given a second chance since the end of the Olympic break, and is seeing about 15 minutes a night. His physical play and toughness are becoming more consistent and a lot nastier, and he was a top penalty killer for Hamilton in the AHL. The young defenseman still has games where his puck movement is sloppy and he struggles clearing the puck on his backhand side.

His offensive potential may be greater than expected but could take several years to fully take shape. The big defender will take time maturing into his body and gaining more confidence in his overall game.

3. (9) Zachary Fucale, G, 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2013

Fucale is poised, calm, and capable of making big saves in games. It is his mental toughness however, which is his greatest strength. He never seems to allow a bad or soft goal to affect his game. The young netminder handled the scrutiny of Team Canada not winning a gold medal at this year's WJC tournament with class and sportsmanship for an 18-year-old.

Fucale still needs more time to mature physically and become more consistent on a nightly basis. He set a record this year as the youngest goalie in QMJHL history to reach 100 wins, doing so in 145 games, and still has another year at the junior level. He could be an impact player at the NHL level in the future.

4. (7) Charles Hudon, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2012

Hudon holds a similar skill level as Sven Andrighetto and Artturi Lehkonen, but possesses better hockey sense along with a much more complete game. His compete level and character is off the charts and he is back to performing at a hot pace with 30 points in 20 games since being traded to the Baie Comeau Drakkars during the WJC tournament. He must gain more size and speed over the summer to play his same chippy style at the pro level. At this point in his development, injuries might be the only thing that keeps Hudon from playing in the NHL.

5. (6) Mike McCarron, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2013

McCarron has struggled adjusting to the OHL game but has showed a good work ethic, hockey sense, and puck skills. An early season shoulder injury reduced his physicality and his board play suffered. His conditioning was then later slowed by a bout of strep throat. Since being switched to the center position, the big forward's game and offensive production is showing some good signs of improvement. He brings a difficult to handle net front presence in the offensive zone that is missing on the Canadiens roster. McCarron will need more development time and patience to become a power forward at the NHL level.

6. (8) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2012

Bozon struggled to start his final season in the WHL but caught fire again after the trade to Kootenay. He is a streaky sniper that possesses excellent skating speed and good size. He still needs a playmaking linemate to help him produce his offensive chances but he is very good at find the opening and finishing around the net. The offensive winger is playing with more grit and is becoming a more complete player with the Ice. His natural scoring ability is a need in the Canadiens' prospect pool and on their roster.

Bozon was recently diagnosed with meningitis and is in critical condition. How it affects his future as a player remains to be seen, but his health is the primary concern right now.

7. (16) Sven Andrighetto, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2013

In his first pro season, Andrighetto is one of Hamilton's best forwards and putting up good offensive numbers for a rookie. He is an excellent playmaker with deceptive speed. The winger can make things happen on the rush but also plays an okay two-way game. The smaller forward is still knocked off the puck a little too easily at times but is not afraid to play in the dirty areas and along the boards. He has similar potential of Hudon with more development and time.

8. (15) Artturi Lehkonen, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2013

Lehkonen is very close in offensive skills to Hudon and Andrighetto, but is a little on the light side physically and continues to suffer from injuries. He possesses a natural scoring ability like Bozon, along with excellent hockey sense. His compete level is excellent and he never shies away from playing in the dirty areas. Despite having injuries to both of his ankles, the tough little Finn played well at this year's WJC tournament. Before coming to North America, Lehkonen must gain more strength and size while improving his defensive game in order to play at the NHL level. He will be a prospect to watch over the next couple of years.

9. (10) Darren Dietz, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2011

Dietz is adjusting quite well to the pro level in Hamilton this season. Early on he missed about a month with a wrist injury but picked his game right up without missing a beat. The two-way defenseman is playing solidly in both ends of the rink, and brings some nastiness and another physical presence to Hamilton's blue line group. He even saw time on the Bulldogs' power play when Beaulieu was called-up to the NHL and Magnus Nygren returned to play in Sweden. Dietz is probably the most complete defense prospect in the Canadiens' farm system.

10. (13) Michael Bournival, C, 7.0C
Trade with Colorado Avalanche, November 11th, 2010

Up until his injury on February 6th, Bournival looked like a mainstay in the Canadiens' bottom-six forwards. He is versatile enough to play anywhere in the lineup and a good penalty killer. The speedy forward brings energy to each shift and is very good on the forecheck. He can play the shutdown role, is a good shot blocker, and makes smart decisions with the puck. If his offensive game finally materializes at the NHL level, then Bournival will be an excellent bottom-six forward.

11. (12) Jacob de la Rose, C/W, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2013

De la Rose is a big, physical forward that plays an excellent two-way game. His skating speed is very good for his size and he is very smart on the defensive side of the puck. He already plays a North American type of game and could arrive as early as next season. At this time, his offensive game is still a work in progress. When he does put the puck in the net, it seems to be at the important times of a game. His potential NHL upside is a top-six forward but without offensive improvement de la Rose can easily slide into a bottom-six role.

12. (11) Louis Leblanc, C/RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2009

At this time, Leblanc is slightly behind Bournival and de la Rose due to their physicality and skating speed. Leblanc is a smart player and possess good offensive skills. He is playing much better than last season but still needs to improve his skating stride and strengthen his shot. The former first round pick must bring more consistency nightly over the second half of the season and gain more size over the summer to challenge for an NHL roster spot in the near future.

13. (17) Morgan Ellis, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2010

This season, Ellis is playing more like he showed in his final season at the junior level. He is playing solid defense and contributing on the offensive side when the opportunity arrives. In his second year at the pro level, the blueliner is much more effective at finding the shooting lanes and getting his hard shot through the traffic. His defensive positioning and physical urgency are improving with each game and he leads the Bulldogs' team with a plus-nine rating in 40 games. Ellis is becoming a more complete defenseman, but will need more development time in Hamilton before receiving a chance at the NHL level.

14. (18) Dalton Thrower, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2012

Now with the Vancouver Giants, Thrower seems to have matured and learned a lot from his difficult 2012-13 season with Saskatoon. Prior to a severe ankle injury in January, he was setting an excellent example with his work ethic and providing good leadership for his younger teammates. The tough defender was becoming a more complete player and was making smarter decisions with the puck in his end of the rink. Thrower suffered a recent setback with his ankle injury and there is at least some concern that his season may be done.

15. (14) Patrick Holland, RW, 7.0C
Trade with Calgary Flames, January 12th, 2012

Holland is not having the offensive season that was expected from him at the start of this year. His injuries have slowed his offensive production but his solid defensive awareness and penalty killing will always keep him in the team's lineup. His hockey sense and playmaking skills are amongst the best in the Canadiens' talent pool. The lanky forward still needs more strength and weight to play at the NHL level, but possess a very well rounded game. It should take Holland a few more years of development to see his full potential.

16. (NR) Greg Pateryn, D, 6.5C
Trade with Toronto Maple Leafs, July 3rd, 2008

Pateryn has been the Bulldogs' best and most consistent defenseman this year and is providing more offense than his NCAA days. He is reducing his mistakes when pressured in his end of the rink but can still make high-risk passes at the wrong time and place on the ice. His skating will still need more speed and the physical defender must become more difficult to play against on a nightly basis. Pateryn could be the next NHL-ready defenseman amongst the Canadiens prospects.

17. (19) Magnus Nygren, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall in 2011

Nygren requested to return to his native, Sweden after not being happy at the AHL level in Hamilton. The offensive defenseman showed a good physical side to his game and proved he could really rifle the puck from the point. His defensive game will need positional adjusting to play in the NHL. He is playing very well in the SHL and could return to North America next season. It may be best for Nygren's development to stay in Europe until he can make the jump to the NHL level.

18. (NR) Dustin Tokarski, G, 7.0D
Trade with Tampa Bay Lightning, February 14th, 2013

Tokarski was the Bulldogs' best player for the first half of the season and was named to the AHL All-Star game. With his unorthodox style, the young goaltender kept his team in the AHL playoff hunt for most of this season. He finds ways to stop the puck and win low scoring games. His compete level is excellent and he never quits on a puck. Tokarski might not be built to be an NHL starter that plays over 60 games, but he could become a very capable NHL backup.

19. (NR) Brady Vail, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2012

Vail is become a more complete player in his final junior hockey season. After Windsor traded away their top offensive star Kerby Rychel (CBJ), the centerman stepped up and took on a bigger offensive role for his team. It is still his job to shut down the top offensive players for the other teams. He is leading his team's forwards with a plus-35 rating and is their second leading scorer. Vail presently sits 17th in the OHL in scoring with 79 points in 62 games. His impressive season should secure him an entry-level contract before the deadline and earned him a place on this top 20 Canadiens prospects list.

20. (NR) Martin Reway, LW 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 116th overall in 2013

Reway is an offensive highlight reel player. The shifty forward is an excellent playmaker with scoring ability and is one of the offensive engines for the Gatineau Olympiques. Despite playing in only 39 of his team's 63 QJMHL game due to injuries, the small winger isits second on the Olympiques in scoring this season, with 20 goals and 37 assists.

Reway has the offensive skills of the other top prospect on this list like Andrighetto, Hudon, and Bozon, but needs improvement on the defensive side and gain more weight and strength to play at the pro level. If the 19-year-old can improve his work ethic, puck management, and remain healthy, then he could be a star forward with the Canadiens.