Beaulieu, Tinordi lead Montreal Canadiens 2014 Fall Top 20

By David Thicke
Nathan Beaulieu - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is one of several prospects who will be competing for a spot in the Canadiens’ NHL lineup this fall. (courtesy Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

The Montreal Canadiens‘ management team added more players to their prospect pool which reduced their weakness and only strengthened their balanced mix. Through the recent draft selections and free agent signings of Jiri Sekac and Daniel Carr, the team really improved the depth and filled in more of the gaps in the farm system.

After playing so well for 60 regular season and 13 playoff games, Michael Bournival was considered graduated for this article as it is unlikely he will not return to Hamilton this upcoming season. With the trades of Sebastian Collberg (NYI) and Louis Leblanc (ANA), there are five new faces on the Canadiens Fall top 20 list.

It shows the excellent depth of an organization when solid players like Mac Bennett, Josiah Didier, Gabriel Dumont, Martin Reway, and Christian Thomas are off the list.

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

Beaulieu is still the top prospect in the Canadiens organization. It is most due to his offensive upside and the potential elite puck mover that he might become in the very near future. He showcased those abilities well in the NHL playoffs and left Montreal fans wanting to see more from him in 2014-15 season. The young defender will compete for a starting roster spot with the big club out of training camp.

Beaulieu needs to learn from making mistakes and play regular NHL minutes on a nightly basis. He would be better off playing a top role in Hamilton over sitting in the stands at the NHL level. His defensive game is still very much a work in progress but with his excellent skating skills and nasty edge, it is possible for the prospect to become a top two-way NHL defender over the next four or five years.

Patience with Beaulieu is a must as his confidence in his overall game will always be the driving force and can affect his natural talent. Time and experience is standing in his way of playing for the Montreal Canadiens on a full time basis.

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

Tinordi is the beast of a player that the Canadiens have needed for quite some time. The big defender is an above-average skater and possesses excellent defensive skills. He can become a dominant physical defenseman but also possesses a potential offensive game. It could take him longer to mature and realize his overall upside but he will play in the NHL as early as this upcoming season.

Like Beaulieu, Tinordi will be fighting for a roster spot on the NHL squad if he is ready to consistently bring his physical, nasty game every night. The young defensive also must play bigger minutes and be allowed to make mistakes while learning from them. It is best for his overall development to play rather than sit in the stands watching the game. He could be returned to Hamilton in order to play top minutes but the future partner of PK Subban only needs more time and experience in order to make that jump.

3. (NR) Nikita Scherbak, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2014

Scherbak is possibly the most skilled forward of the prospect pool. His playmaking abilities, passing, and the way the young winger see the ice is eerily similar to Alex Galchenyuk. The young Russian possesses an extreme high hockey IQ and can see the systems that other teams use against him and quickly break them down in order to find the weakness. This is rarely found in such a young prospect let alone a veteran NHL player.

Scherbak will likely spend the next two seasons at the junior level and grow his overall game. He needs to play in the dirty areas more for a player of his size and use his accurate shot more often instead of looking for the passing play. His character, work ethic, and talent are what helped persuade the Canadiens to draft him in the first round this year. His potential NHL upside is that of a top-six forward, and only time will tell if he can reach it.

4. (8) Sven Andrighetto, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, overall, 2013

Andrighetto is a high-end talent with deceptive speed and shiftiness, but his work ethic and drive to be better exceeds his overall skills. The winger possesses creativity, vision, and a very good hockey IQ. The playmaker can set up his linemates but also has a quick accurate release and can finish off plays as well. At times, the stocky forward is knocked off the puck a little too easily, but he is not afraid to play in the dirty areas. His defensive game is improving and will not be a liability at the NHL level. He was Hamilton’s offensive catalyst this past year.

After finishing second on the Bulldogs in points last season, the expectations are high on Andrighetto to continue his upward offensive trend. He could conceivably compete for the a roster spot in the Canadiens’ lineup out at training camp but is very likely to return for at least another year at the AHL level. The second year pro should be on Hamilton’s top offensive line and the main cog in the team’s power play.

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

Fucale is mentally strong and can make the key save at the right time in a game. He handles the pressure extremely well and rarely allows bad or soft goals to bother him. He possesses solid technique, rebound control, and the athleticism to recover when out of position. His consistency took a bit of a hit this past season as he was pull on more occasions than the previous two years but it may be due to a little fatigue after playing so much hockey the last couple of seasons.

Fucale is the winningest netminder over the last three seasons in the QMJHL. It is quite likely that he will again be the starting goalie for Team Canada at the 2015 WJC Tournament. The young goalie still needs more time to mature physically and become more consistent on a nightly basis. There is no rush for this goaltending prospect to play in the NHL so his development will be given plenty of time.

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

Hudon is right up there with Andrighetto, Artturi Lehkonen, and Sherbak skill-wise but possesses a more complete two-way game. The smallish forward’s compete level is off the charts, and he plays bigger than his size suggests. A versatile forward, he can play all the forward positions with his strong hockey sense. He excels on both specialty teams units and can play the shutdown defensive role as well. This is the reason why he is ranked so highly on this list.

He still needs more weight and muscle mass in order to play his physical style at the pro level. An increase in acceleration and skating speed could help create more time and space in the AHL. He loves the challenge of proving the doubters wrong which pushes him to outwork his opponent and teammates. Injuries could be the only thing to stop Hudon from reaching his goal of one day playing in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens.

7. (NR) Jiri Sekac, LW, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, July 1st, 2014

Sekac is a highly skilled winger with good puck possession skills and playmaking capabilities. The 22-year old has played two years in the KHL with solid results this past season but will need to be less of a perimeter player to have success in the North American game. He will be given a good opportunity out of the NHL training camp to make the Canadiens roster or could be sent to Hamilton in order to adjust to the smaller ice surface.

Sekac could provide an offensive spark to either roster if playing on the top-six forward group. His defensive game is not bad but he needs to learn how to play away from the puck and better positioning in his end of the rink. His shot is a quick, accurate release and can beat a goalie even if they see the puck coming. The highly skilled Czech possesses the potential to be a top six scoring forward at the NHL level.

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

McCarron played on a top team with the London Knights and cracking the top-six was not very likely in his rookie OHL season. His ice time was reduced more from the coaches’ trust in other returning players over him. He took time to adjust to the OHL style of game. He struggled with a shoulder injury and played hurt when he should have taken the time to full heal before returning to game action. This only hurt his offensive numbers along with his board play and physical game.

McCarron possesses a good work ethic, hockey sense, and puck skills. He skates very well for his large frame and weight but must work on balance and agility. His offensive output will improve as his confidence grows and he simplifies his game. He needs to focus on playing a stronger two-way game and not rushing to drop the gloves at every invitation. It will take the big forward longer to develop his overall game but he brings an element missing on the Canadiens roster. This could push the Canadiens to fast-tract his development in order to get McCarron in the NHL line-up earlier than expected.

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

De la Rose will come to North America and likely play in Hamilton this year. His playing style will fit perfectly with the smaller ice surface and could produce instance success. His skating speed, physicality, and defensive game are excellent. The two-way player is versatile enough to line-up at any forward position.

After playing against men since the age of 16 years old, de la Rose is likely to play in the NHL. This is one of the main reasons for his move up the rankings on this list. His offensive game can improve, and he has the potential upside of a top six forward. If the offense does not materialize then the big forward can still play anywhere in the team’s lineup. He is looking like a bigger, more physical version of Bournival.

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

Lehkonen is right up there with Andrighetto, Hudon, Scherbak, and Tim Bozon skill-wise but lighter in weight and not as durable. The young Finn can play a solid two-way game and loves the up-tempo game. He thrives at finding the soft spots in the offensive zone and releasing his quick accurate shot. Despite his lanky frame, the sniper plays fearlessly along the boards and in the dirty areas around the net.

Lehkonen played very well through injuries for Team Finland at the 2014 WJC Tournament and showed his grit. His compete level and drive to win are his biggest assets. His skating is strong but could use more acceleration in order to create more time and space. He will need to physically mature more before coming to play in North America. Time and patience is a must in order to see if Lehkonen can reach his full potential as a top-six NHL forward for the Canadiens.

11. (7) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2012

This past season was an adjustment and difficult for Bozon. He tried to become too much of a playmaker when he really is a pure sniper. He learned how to play a much better two way game in Kootenay this year. His drop on this top 20 list is mainly due to his illness and whether he can fully recover back to previous playing level. It could conceivably take more time but do not count him out yet, as he has proved to be quite a fighter.

Bozon has recovered remarkably but is still considered a wait and see player at the NHL training camp. He is a bigger, faster type of scorer who possesses some playmaking abilities. He is also not a defensive liability. If Bozon can make it all the way back to where he was prior to his illness, then it is possible the young prospect could add top-six offensive punch to the Bulldogs this upcoming season and to the Canadiens in the future.

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

Dietz suffered a couple of freak injuries this past season which set his development back at the AHL level. He played defense on the left side as a right handed shot because the Bulldogs were overloaded on the right side. He was a rookie and the coaches had confidence in his abilities to play him on the off side instead of more veteran players. His character and work ethic are excellent.

Dietz possesses the most complete game of all the defensive prospects and should continue to improve over the next couple of years as he adjusts to the AHL. He brings the needed toughness on the backend like Brett Lernout, Dalton Thrower, and Tinordi as they are not afraid of dropping the gloves with anyone. The physical defenseman can also carry the puck and use his offensive skills to create more scoring from the Bulldogs’ back end. It is likely that Dietz takes a couple of years at the AHL before pushing for a spot in the NHL.

13. (17) Greg Pateryn, D, 6.0B
Trade with Toronto Maple Leafs, July 3rd, 2008

Pateryn was the Bulldogs’ best defenseman this past season and provided more offense than when he played at the University of Michigan. His overall skating improved a lot, but still needs more speed to help him at the NHL level. His mistakes when pressured in his zone or moving the puck are infrequent, and he is a smart enough to learn and grow from them.

Pateryn could be the next NHL-ready defenseman amongst the Canadiens prospects. He will compete with Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Magnus Nygren for the open spots on the Canadiens’ blue line corps. The big defender must play with more physicality and be more difficult to play against in his end of the rink. This is a big upcoming season for Pateryn to prove he is ready for the new challenge.

14. (18) Magnus Nygren, D, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2011

Nygren will be attending the upcoming NHL training camp and looking to secure one of the open spots on Montreal’s roster. He does not wish to return to Hamilton so it is likely he will be highly motivated to stick with the Canadiens or return to the SHL for another year. His defensive game is the big question mark and is the only thing keeping him from making the jump to the NHL level.

His potential looks to be that of a sixth or seventh defenseman and a power play specialist. His wicked slap shot (clocked at 104 MPH at the AHL All-star game) is a big need on the Canadiens’ power play. It is time for Nygren to make a statement with his game in North America.

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

Thrower played with an ankle injury for most of the 2013-14 season which should have been operated on far earlier in the year. He did not want to give up on his season and his teammates, which showed a level of maturity that was not there previous seasons. He became a more complete defenseman, a good team leader, and is making smarter, safer decisions with the puck in his end of the rink.

Thrower dropped on this list more from the movement of others and whether he can fully recover from ligament surgery in time to be healthy at the upcoming NHL training camp. The tough defender adds needed physicality along with a willingness to fight. His offensive game is what gives him the potential to be a top-four blueliner at the NHL level, but it up to Thrower whether he can realize that upside.

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

Ellis is going to take longer to develop his game and confidence at the AHL level, just like in the QMJHL. He was slowed this season by a groin injury early in training camp. The second year pro finished tied with Pateryn on the Bulldogs’ team for the best plus/minus rating while playing on the penalty killing unit. His offensive game will not be like his last season at the junior level, but he will be solid at both ends of the rink.

Ellis needs to improve his skating speed and consistently play with more urgency and physicality in his end of the rink. He returned to playing a no frills defensive game and using his point shot more effectively this past season. His upside potential is that of a top-four defender, but it is possible that Ellis becomes a more offensive and physical type of defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens. Time and more experience are required before this could happen.

17. (NR) Jeremy Gregoire, C, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2013

Gregoire was younger than the other prospects drafted with him and is late in blooming into an offensive standout. His skating was a weakness and he vastly improved it over last season. His character and work ethic are already professional in nature. It is his ability to do the little things well and play with an edge that will give him the best shot at getting to the NHL. He continually raises the level of his play when the game is on the line and is typically on the ice in key situations.

Gregoire could represent Canada at the 2015 WJC tournament. The two-way centerman will need to work more on his skating stride, edge work, and acceleration in order to play at the pro level. The young prospect has bottom-six potential in the NHL if everything goes well with his development over the next few years.

18. (NR) Brett Lernout, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2014

Lernout is a big, nasty crease clearer that is very difficult to play against every shift. His skating is very good for a big man. It allows him to have excellent gap control and keep solid positioning defensively. The physical defender thrives making life miserable for opposing forwards down low and is not afraid to drop the gloves with anyone. His offensive potential could be better than expected with his booming point shot and passing skills.

Lernout definitely fits a big need in the Canadiens’ prospect group. His possibility of playing in the NHL is excellent, although not likely as a top four defenseman unless his puck moving skills significantly improve before getting to the NHL level.

19. (NR) Connor Crisp, C/LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2013

Connor Crisp can stir things up physically and change a game with his size. When he is on, Crisp has the shot, the hands around the net, and excellent hand-eye coordination. His skating speed and stride need work but are easily corrected. He is the type of bottom-six player the Canadiens can use now, but they will take more time with him.

Crisp is a better athlete than the others prospects just off this list. The big, tough forward can play with skilled offensive players and succeed. He just needs more game-to-game consistency to play in the NHL.

20. (16) Patrick Holland, RW, 7.0D
Trade with Calgary Flames, January 12th, 2012

Holland struggled with injuries for most of last season which caused a dip in his offensive production. The lanky forward still needs more muscle mass in order to play at the NHL level but possesses a very complete game. His hockey sense and playmaking skills are among the best in the Canadiens’ talent pool. He received a short NHL call-up this past season and acquitted himself well by making no glaring mistakes and even saw time killing penalties.

Holland is a versatile forward and is able to play a variety of roles and positions. He has been a late-bloomer at the junior level and should gain more size as he matures. His offensive numbers will improve, but he must stay healthy for the whole season. It will probably take Holland a few more years of development to see his full potential.