Canadiens Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Jason Menard

With the graduation of several prospects, many move up the rankings, and Ryan McDonagh takes over as the Canadiens’ top prospects.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (2) Ryan McDonagh, D 8.0B
2. (4) Max Pacioretty, C 7.0B
3. (7) Ben Maxwell, C 7.0B
4. (5) Ryan O’Byrne, D 7.0B
5. (9) P.K. Subban, D 7.0B
6. (8) Kyle Chipchura, C 6.0A
7. (10) David Fischer, D 8.0C
8. (12) Matt D’Agostini, RW 6.0B
9. (11) Yannick Weber, D 7.0C
10. (13) Mathieu Carle, D 7.0B
11. (14) Danny Kristo, RW 7.0C
12. (16) Pavel Valentenko, D 6.0B
13. (15) Alexei Yemelin, D 6.0B
14. (NR) Steve Quailer, RW 7.0C
15. (18) Shawn Belle, D 7.0C
16. (19) Brock Trotter, C 7.0C
17. (20) Ryan White, C 6.0B
18. (17) Cedrick Desjardins, G 6.0B
19. (NR) Greg Pateryn, D 6.0B
20. (NR) Gregory Stewart, LW 5.0A

1. (2) Ryan McDonagh, D, 19

Acquired 1st round, 12th overall, 2007

While Carey Price‘s graduation left the top spot among the Habs’ prospects vacant, McDonagh has stepped up his play to claim the vacant crown. The University of Wisconsin Badgers had a slow start to the season, posting an 0-6-1 record, but the St. Paul, MN native’s play has helped pace the club to a 11-2-2 record since that point. In 28 games, he’s scored four goals and added nine assists.

Known for his offensive game, McDonagh also showed his defensive abilities at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships. Although Team USA disappointed in the tournament, McDonagh’s play showed why the Canadiens are so high on this fast-skating, powerful blueliner. He’s already exceeded his freshman scoring totals.

2. (4) Max Pacioretty, C, 20

Acquired 1st round, 22nd overall, 2007

Pacioretty’s mercurial rise through the ranks has brought him right to the main stage in Montreal. The club signed Pacioretty this summer following just one season in the NCAA ranks and he’s continued to grow and improve.

Pacioretty was called up to provide a spark to a lethargic Canadiens squad. He made an immediate impact, drawing rave reviews from teammates (and begrudging respect from opponents). He’s cooled down a bit, but he’s scored three goals and accounted for nine points in 23 games. This has come following his rookie explosion in Hamilton, where he had 22 points in 31 games. He has shown an ability to move from a checking/energy forward role to the scoring lines without looking out of place.

His versatility has been greatly appreciated by a team that continually is dealing with injury issues and a roster in flux. With former top prospect Sergei Kostitsyn‘s recent demotion to the minors, Pacioretty’s continued presence on the Habs’ roster is proof positive that the club is putting a premium on character — regardless of the ethereal nature of one’s talent. Pacioretty may not be as gifted as his Belarusian teammate, but his willingness to play the system, subjugate himself into whatever role he’s asked to play, and ability to mesh with his teammates has been a welcome addition to the roster.

3. (7) Ben Maxwell, C, 20
Acquired 2nd round, 49th overall, 2006

Maxwell has also enjoyed a quick cup of coffee with the Canadiens, seeing action in seven games, while being held largely off the score sheet. Although he ended his NHL sojourn with no goals and no assists, he was able to prove that he’s physically able to compete at the NHL level.

The young North Vancouver, BC native has been tearing up the AHL in his rookie professional campaign. In 50 games with the Bulldogs, Maxwell has accounted for 15 goals and added 25 points so far this season. But what’s been even more pleasing for the organization is the fact that Maxwell has remained on the ice for his rookie pro campaign. Maxwell’s final two junior seasons saw him play in only 39 and 31 games, respectively, losing significant time to a pair of injuries. Beyond the value of acclimatizing to the professional ranks, Maxwell’s confidence has grown by leaps and bounds — as has the team’s in him — with a successful, injury-free season largely under his belt.

4. (5) Ryan O’Byrne, D, 24
Acquired 3rd round, 79th overall, 2003

It’s been a frustrating sophomore season for the hulking Victoria, BC native. After an impressive rookie campaign, which saw him play in 33 games, O’Byrne spent significant time back in the minors this year — an apparent step backwards in the 6’6 blueliner’s development.

Compounding the demotion is the club’s willingness to add to its defensive corps — specifically in the form of the recent acquisition of blueliner Matthieu Schneider. O’Byrne’s been stuck in a developmental dead zone. When he’s dressed for action, he’s only getting about 15 minutes of ice time per game. Conversely, he can’t develop into the second-pair blueline role he was expected to embrace this season opposite Roman Hamrlik.

In 29 games at the NHL level, O’Byrne has only added three assists to the cause. In 16 games at the AHL level, he’s scored two goals and four assists in 16 games. The demotion was designed for him to simplify his game and gain confidence. He’s shown that he’s more than capable at that level, but now needs to translate that to the NHL level. After all, the Canadiens are still hungry for a bruiser on the blueline and the former Cornell standout has the goods — he just needs to deliver.

5. (9) P.K. Subban, D, 19

Acquired 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2007

Subban’s gregarious personality has threatened to overwhelm his prodigious talent in the past, but the 19-year-old blueliner has put in overtime this season making sure that his play on the ice speaks for itself.

Subban’s coming-out party, of sorts, took place during Team Canada’s World Junior Championship victory. He was named to the tournament all-star team, led the proceedings in plus/minus, and he was a leader both on and off the ice.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that he was able to shine on the big stage, considering the formidable performances he’s been putting in with his OHL squad. Subban first rose to prominence in the 2006-07 season — especially in the playoffs. Last year, his offensive numbers fell a bit as he put more of a focus on his defensive responsibilities. This year, he’s managed to put the whole package together and has been a key cog in the Belleville Bulls’ playoff push this season. In 48 games so far, he’s scored 63 points.

The Rexdale, ON native has impressed during his off-season work in Montreal. With his continued rise to prominence, Subban may be spending much more time in la belle province in the not-too-distant future.

6. (8) Kyle Chipchura, C, 23
Acquired 1st round, 18th overall, 2004

Chipchura could be forgiven for not putting down roots — he’s been yo-yoed between Montreal and Hamilton for the past two seasons. In addition, the defensively responsible forward has heard his name bandied about in trade rumors for the past two seasons. That said, the club remains very high on this young forward — understanding that his contributions to the team go far beyond the scoresheet.

Since his days back in Prince Albert, Chipchura has displayed leadership beyond his age. While it’s been a challenge to bring that part of his game to the Canadiens’ roster, he has since assumed that mantle in Hamilton. He’s also showcasing that he has a gift for putting the puck in the net in a timely fashion. In Hamilton this season, he’s accounted for 13 goals and 13 assists in 33 games. In Montreal he’s been held goalless in his 13 contests, but he has added three assists.

Chipchura remains outside looking in in Montreal with a number of veterans currently on the roster. He’s also occupying the same space as Maxime Lapierre, which leaves little room on the roster for two players of a similar style until such time as some of those veterans move on.

7. (10) David Fischer, D, 21
Acquired 1st round, 20th overall, 2006

Fischer was enjoying a solid junior campaign with the University of Minnesota and was starting to live up to the expectations placed upon him when he was selected with the Habs’ first pick in 2006. And then a tendon injury derailed him. Although he only missed six games, the club’s momentum seems to have been derailed at the same time as Fischer was. The club was 10-5-5 at the time, but has since only won three games while losing six.

The 6’3 blueliner has stepped to the fore and taken a leadership role on the club. In 24 games, he’s scored two goals and added 11 assists and he’s started to fill out that lanky frame with extra muscle. Time has been on Fischer’s side thanks to the depth in the Canadiens organization and his gradual growth has reflected the sense behind the club’s patience.

8. (12) Matt D’Agostini, RW, 22
Acquired 6th round, 190th overall, 2005

Some were surprised by D’Agostini’s one-game call-up last season, but it was a reward for the fact that the Sault Ste. Marie product plays the game the right way. The 38 games he’s played so far this season is reflective of his rising stock combined with his willingness to do the dirty work.

D’Agostini’s proving to be a diamond in the rough, selected in the sixth round of 2005’s entry draft. But through a combination of dedication, hard work, and surprisingly soft hands around the net, D’Agostini has carved out a niche on the Canadiens this season. In 38 games, he’s added 10 goals and six assists to the club’s cause, although his -14 rating speaks to a need to work on his defensive game. He tore up the AHL this season, scoring 14 goals and 25 points in 20 games in Hamilton prior to his call-up.

He led the Habs in scoring in December, including a four-game stretch where he scored in every game. With the Canadiens’ skill players suffering through bouts of injury and ineffectiveness, it’s fallen to players like D’Agostini and Pacioretty to chip in with unexpected leadership. After all, D’Agostini was expected to pick up the offensive slack in Hamilton this season, not Montreal. But showing up a year ahead of schedule is never a bad thing.

9. (11) Yannick Weber, D, 20
Acquired 3rd round, 73rd overall

One thing that’s been plaguing the Canadiens all season long is a lack of production from the point on the power play. It was that glaring need, combined with the Swiss rearguard’s solid all-around game, that earned Weber a one-game call-up to the NHL ranks. A full-time jump from the junior ranks last season to the NHL was not to be, although Weber has been impressive in his first professional season in the AHL.

In 50 games, he’s scored 12 goals and added 17 assists from the blueline. Eight of those markers have come on the power play, which would suggest that the long-term solution to Montreal’s power-play woes this season may already be honing his game in the system. As it stands now, with the aforementioned acquisition of Schneider, Weber will have the rest of the season to refine his professional game in Hamilton, but stands poised to claim a roster spot at the NHL level as soon as next year.

10. (13) Matthieu Carle, D, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2006

If Weber is option 1 at this point for the Habs’ power-play future, then consider Carle option 1A. This dynamic blueliner displays attributes of the prototypical offensive defenseman. He’s suffered a couple of concussions this season (bookending the beginning of the year and a recent brief stint out of the lineup).

When he’s been on the ice, he’s been a solid contributor to the offensive game. In 45 games, he’s scored six goals and added 16 assists. Carle has been dynamic on the power play as well, with all of his goals coming there. Carle earned a brief call-up this season with the Canadiens, but was not able to get in the line-up and was quickly sent back down. Currently off the ice suffering from the flu (and a few cobwebs still), the Bulldogs will continue to rely upon the blueline offense provided by Carle and Weber.

11. (14) Danny Kristo, RW, 18

Obtained 2nd round, 56th overall, 2008

Kristo is a long-term project for the Canadiens, having recently committed to the University of North Dakota. But while Kristo may not see time in a Habs jersey over the next couple of seasons, he’s given the team more than a few glimpses of what they could be seeing in the future.

In addition to playing at essentially a point-per-game pace this season with 34 points in 35 games, including 12 goals, Kristo also obtained a wealth of invaluable experience playing with Team USA in the World Junior Championships. Although he wasn’t a major contributor — in large part because Kristo is so young — he nicely laid the foundation for greater participation next year.

12. (16) Pavel Valentenko, D, 21
Acquired 5th round, 139th overall

Valentenko was on the fast track to Montreal last season, impressing those within the organization as much as agitating those outside of the organization. After accounting for 16 points in 57 games last season, Valentenko was poised to return to Hamilton and compete for a roster spot at the NHL level.

Four games into the season, however, things changed dramatically. Valentenko returned to Russia to deal with family matters — and suddenly he was reported to have signed a contract with Moscow Dynamo. The player has been suspended without pay by the Canadiens and there are many whispers as to the true nature of Valentenko’s sudden return home. In eight games with Dynamo, Valentenko’s only registered one point.

The future is up in the air for Valentenko and while the club may not be completely thrilled with what’s happened, Valentenko’s talent would surely go a long way to winning them back over.

13. (15) Alexei Yemelin, D, 22
Acquired 3rd round, 84th overall, 2004

Between alleged nefarious relationships with their Belarusians in Montreal, a less-than-satisfactory experience with Alexei Perezhogin, the aforementioned affaire Valentenko, and last year’s cloak-and-dagger contract wrangling with Yemelin, one could forgive the team for have a several-times-bitten, frequently shy attitude.

Yemelin was expected to join Hamilton last season to acclimatize to the North American game. Unfortunately, a mysterious contract appeared in Russia binding Yemelin to Kazan Ak-Bars. It’s an arrangement that’s been unfortunate for both the Canadiens and the player. Yemelin’s rugged style of play does not mesh well with the European style, as evidenced by his 123 PIMs last season. This year, he appears to have adjusted a bit more, with only 54 PIM in 50 games.

Two years of delayed development may spell the end for Yemelin, unless his can extricate himself from his current situation and join the Bulldogs for developmental purposes.

14. (NR) Steve Quailer, RW, 19
Acquired 3rd round, 86th overall, 2008

The Habs’ seemingly never-ending search for a quality power forward, Quailer may be the long-term solution. Currently suiting up for Northeastern University, Quailer has scored eight goals and added 13 assists in 32 games.

Quailer remains very raw and a long-term prospect with tremendous upside. At 6’3, Quailer has the size; at 185 pounds, he has plenty of room to bulk up. The team saw enough potential in him to select him with their third-round selection and, to date, he’s proven them astute in their faith.

15. (18) Shawn Belle, D, 24
Acquired in a trade with Minnesota for Corey Locke, 2008

Belle was acquired to build the blueline depth while serving as an admission that the Corey Locke experiment failed to pan out. Compared to the talented but inconsistent Locke, Belle has been a steadying presence on the Bulldogs’ roster.

In 51 games, he’s scored three goals and eight assists. He’s also added a touch of ruggedness to the club with 89 PIMs so far. It took a while for Belle to truly fit in to the Bulldogs’ lineup and just as he started expressing comfort in the system, he has been felled by a knee injury that will see the Edmonton native sidelined for between three and five weeks.

16. (19) Brock Trotter, C, 22
Acquired as a Free Agent 2008

At 5’9, Trotter’s size has long been called into question, but the diminutive center has proven in his first full campaign at the AHL level that he can measure up to the competition.

With 11 goals and 20 assists in 54 games, Trotter is fifth on the Bulldogs in scoring. He’s also shown a willingness to improve his all-around play, which has resulted in a plus-three rating to date this season. Trotter has made a solid transition to the professional ranks following a contentious departure from the collegiate level — where he was a dynamic offensive star. His offensive numbers have yet to blossom accordingly, but his all-around play has proved to be a pleasant — and welcome — surprise for the Canadiens’ brass.

17. (20) Ryan White, C, 20
Acquired 3rd round, 66th overall, 2006

White is one of several Bulldogs who made the jump to the pro ranks this year. A former first-round-rated forward who fell to the third, White’s continued to bring a welcome return on the Habs’ investment.

Any offensive numbers that White produces is a bonus considering he’s playing the agitator/energy role on the club. And while that would be his role at the NHL level as well, the 6′ Manitoba native has chipped in with double digits in goals and assists. While he’s far off from his offensive production at the junior level, White’s rookie campaign has been a welcome success and further development should see the refinement of those offensive abilities.

Currently, he’s playing effectively as a defensive forward who will chip in with the occasional — and often opportunistic — goal. And you can make a long career in the NHL out of that type of play.

18. (17) Cedrick Desjardins, G, 23

Acquired Free Agent July 2006

This was to be the year that Desjardins asserted control over the Bulldogs’ starting role, in which he could be backed up and mentored by the Canadiens’ free-agent pick up of Marc Denis. Unfortunately for the former Memorial Cup champion netminder, Denis has laid claim to the top spot with the AHL club.

In 18 games, Desjardins has posted a 8-10 record, behind a 2.83 GAA and a .913 save percentage. But that pales in comparison to the numbers posted by Denis. Desjardins still has a bit of time ahead of him in the system and has progressed nicely since joining the club as an undrafted free agent. With the other netminders in the system still in the junior ranks, Desjardins has some time to right the ship.

19. (NR) Greg Pateryn, D, 18
Acquired, along with a 2009 second-round selection, in a trade with Toronto for Mikhail Grabovski, 2008

As it turns out, any return for Grabovski in the Canadiens’ eyes would have been addition by subtraction. To obtain a young, talented blueliner with loads of potential and a second-round draft pick? That’s a borderline fleecing.

Pateryn has played a solid and steady role with the University of Michigan Wolverines. At 6’2 and over 200 pounds, Pateryn has solid size. He’s chipped in with five assists in 28 games, along with adding 22 PIMs. And, most importantly, he’ll have plenty of time to develop in the collegiate ranks without undue pressure from the organization, due to its wealth of blueline prospects.

20. (NR) Gregory Stewart, LW, 22

Acquired 8th round, 246th overall, 2004

Some players just embody the term hard work. Stewart, by no means the flashiest, most talented player out there, has carved out a niche on the Habs’ roster with grit, determination, and effort.

Stewart earned a one-day call-up last season with the Canadiens following a yeoman’s season in the AHL. This year, he’s already appeared in six games and has brought his robust physicality to an often injury-depleted Habs’ lineup. Stewart is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a natural goal-scorer, but he’s shown a willingness to get dirty (170 PIM in 51 AHL games) combined with at least a passing knowledge of where the net is located (seven goals, 10 assists in the AHL).