The Montreal Canadiens surprised many hockey experts by finishing the 2013-14 NHL season fourth in the Eastern Conference and hitting the 100-point total. The team's successful run into the conference finals during the NHL playoffs showed the Canadiens are on the cusp of being a contending team in the East.
This offseason, general manager Marc Bergevin will continue to improve Montreal's talent pool by adding more depth with speed, skill, size, character, and toughness. It is all part of his long term plan to build a Stanley Cup contender mainly through the draft process. Over this offseason, the management team will have some difficult decisions to make concerning several RFAs and who will be retained from their group of UFA players.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Nathan Beaulieu, D
2. Jarred Tinordi, D
3. Zachary Fucale, G
4. Charles Hudon, LW
5. Mike McCarron, C/RW
6. Tim Bozon, LW
7. Sven Andrighetto, RW
8. Artturi Lehkonen, LW
9. Darren Dietz, D
10. Michael Bournival, C/LW
At the NHL level, the organization will look to add more size and scoring to its top-six forward group. Montreal will expect another step forward in the development of Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller, and Alex Galchenyuk toward seizing top offensive roles with the team.
On defense, management wants to add more speed and physicality along with good depth to the defense corps. A couple of big, crease clearing defensemen could be acquired if Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn need more development time. The signing of P.K. Subban is a priority, especially now that Andrei Markov has been signed.
With Carey Price taking a big step forward while showing more maturity, confidence and poise this past season, Montreal is deeper in the net with a reliable backup in Peter Budaj and the emergence of young prospect, Dustin Tokarski in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Canadiens have solid depth at the defensive position in the organization's talent pool. Beaulieu, Magnus Nygren, Pateryn, and Tinordi could all be battling for an NHL roster spot at the upcoming NHL training camp. Montreal also had Morgan Ellis improving his overall play in Hamilton and Darren Dietz showed the ability to play at the AHL level when healthy. The Canadiens will have college standout Mac Bennett and the gritty Dalton Thrower looking to make their mark with the Bulldogs. Physical defenders Josiah Didier and Colin Sullivan will continue their development at the NCAA level this coming season.
Michael Bournival made the leap to the NHL level this year and was very solid. Sven Andrighetto show excellent promise in his rookie pro season and will be likely joined by Jacob de la Rose, Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr, and possibly Tim Bozon if he regain his strength and weight in time for training camp.
With Tokarski, Mike Condon, and Zachary Fucale excelling in the respective leagues, the goaltending position in their minor league system is no longer a weakness but rather a strength for the organization.
This past year, the organization continued its use of Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe's NHL experience to help their prospects learn what is needed to become a professional hockey player both on and off the ice. Their efforts have paid big dividends for Montreal's talent pool's overall development this past season.
Despite the additions of big physical forwards like Mike McCarron, Connor Crisp, Jack Nevins, and Stefan Fournier, the Canadiens are lacking the gritty high-end talent in their system. The team does have good quality of potential second or third line two-way forward talent and mobile, puck-moving defenders developing in their system.
Montreal needs more players with size and nastiness in their organizational pool that are difficult to play against at both ends of the rink. Size, speed, physicality, and character are important requirements for the Canadiens' prospects. The team could continue addressing these issues with their seven picks at this year's NHL Entry Draft.
Montreal will have at least seven selections in the 2014 NHL entry draft: 26th, 87th, 117th, 125th, 147th, 177th, and 207th overall.
Under the guidance of the director of scouting, Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens have drafted players mostly from North America over the last eight years, but are not afraid to select European players when he thinks the right player is available.
Bergevin and his management team aren't unlikely to stray too far from the team's successful drafting philosophy of taking the best player available. It would not be a big surprise to see him try to move up in the draft to target a particular prospect that his scouting department feels could make an immediate impact on the NHL club. There is the possibility that the Canadiens try to move back and pick up a later first round or even a couple of second round selections. One thing is certain; the management team wants to continue building its talent pool for the future.
The son of former NHL pest Claude Lemieux, Brendan Lemieux is an agitator who plays with a lot of physicality, nastiness, and competitiveness. The younger Lemieux possesses a very similar style, drive, and work ethic as his dad. He will fight for every inch of ice and loves the dirty areas. He can score goals in tight to the net and raises his game to another level come playoff time. His offensive game is progressing and has good potential upside. Like most prospects, Lemieux's skating speed and acceleration, along with his defensive game, will need more improvement. He already possesses NHL size but could always use more strength to play his rugged game at the NHL level. Lemieux is clutch performer just like his father when it comes to scoring the big goal and is a character type player that the Canadiens' management team loves.