Despite graduating phenomenal young players like Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Michael Bournival, the Montreal Canadiens prospect pool continues to look strong. While restocking, the Canadiens have also managed to diversify their prospect pool, developing players of many different styles and capabilities at all positions.
For over a decade, Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s Vice President of Player Personnel and Director of Amateur Scouting, has developed a reputation for finding NHL-caliber talent in the later rounds. General Manager Marc Bergevin arrived in 2012, stating his mission was to improve the team’s character and build through the draft. Timmins eye for talent combined with Bergevin’s mandate for a balanced roster are methodically revamping Montreal’s prospect pool. Instead of stockpiles of speedy wingers, there are players of nearly every size and skillset. This prospect diversity provides the Canadiens with the option of addressing nearly every injury or roster hole from within the organization.
The Canadiens return the same left wing prospects as last season, along with the notable addition of Jiri Sekac. Beyond Sekac, Montreal’s best left wing prospects are smallish, offensively gifted players like Charles Hudon, Tim Bozon, Martin Reway, and Artturi Lehkonen. It almost seems like these finesse players are competing amongst each other to determine who successfully transitions into one day being Montreal’s second line left wing behind Max Pacioretty.
Bergevin won the bidding war for Sekac when he decided to leave Prague Lev in the KHL. Skating and playmaking are the keys to his game. Going into training camp, the biggest question mark was Sekac’s ability to withstand the higher degree of physicality in the NHL. Canadiens management is obviously confident in his ability to cope with this challenge. He broke camp with the club and early in the season, has been deployed on his off-wing on multiple lines.
In Hamilton, Hudon should receive first-line minutes. This will be his first season of professional hockey after tearing up the QMJHL over the past two seasons.
Connor Crisp was a third round selection in Bergevin’s first draft, one of the players intended to inject grit and truculence into Montreal’s identity. At 6’3 225, Crisp dominates the dirty areas and is always willing to drop the gloves. He has also flashed some puck skills. Entering his first full season of professional hockey, it will be revealing to observe how Crisp’s physical style translates to the professional ranks.
Daniel Carr and Jack Nevins will also be AHL rookies competing for minutes. Nevins, a crash-and-banger from the QMJHL, and Carr, more of a puck possession forward from Union College, were both free agent signings.
Lehkonen and Reway arguably have the highest offensive upside of any of Montreal’s prospects. Both will play in European leagues in 2014-15. Reway is playing for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech League where he has nine assists in 10 games. Lehkonen, playing in the more competitive SHL for Frolunda, has nine points in 15 games.
After overcoming a life-threatening bout with meningitis, Bozon has astonished everyone by returning to the Kootenay Ice. By all accounts, he is close to last year’s form which saw him tally 30 goals and 32 assists in 50 games. In the NCAA, Mark MacMillan was off to a hot start with the University of North Dakota before being injured in a game against Providence. MacMillan projects as more of a defensive forward in professional hockey but he had five goals and two assists in five games. His wrist was cut by a skate blade and, following surgery, MacMillan is out indefinitely.
Montreal’s prospect pool appears exceedingly thin at the center position. However, when evaluating this position group, it is helpful to consider the recent graduations of 20-year-old Galchenyuk and the steady, 22-year-old two-way center Bournival.
Jacob de la Rose arrived from overseas and turned in such an outstanding performance at training camp he nearly played his way onto the Canadiens. In the eleventh hour, de la Rose was assigned to Hamilton. He plays a three-zone game and should be deployed in multiple roles with the Bulldogs. As long as de la Rose’s play does not regress, a call-up is not out of the question.
Gabriel Dumont‘s development arc has appeared to have tapered off. He will most likely play in a depth role in Hamilton in 2014-15.
Jeremy Gregoire and Daniel Audette were both late-round selections from the 2013 and 2014 drafts respectively. Possessing almost polar opposite playing styles, both returned to the QMJHL this season. With Baie-Comeau, Gregoire made his bones by outworking everybody else on the ice. There is no questioning his character or ability to compete in the dirty areas at any level but Gregoire’s skating and offensive aptitude must improve drastically. In Sherbrooke, Audette is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. His great speed and uncanny hands make him almost impossible to contain at the CHL level. It remains to be seen whether the 5’8, 175 pound forward can withstand the grind of professional hockey.
After three seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Joonas Nattinen has returned to Europe, playing in the SHL for MODO Hockey. This decision actually benefits the Canadiens because it allows them to retain Nattinen’s rights without having to commit one of their contracts to him.
This positional grouping has lost almost as much talent as the center grouping. Of course, Gallagher has graduated to become a core piece of the Montreal Canadiens. Also over the past two seasons, trades have sent away Sebastian Collberg (NYI) and Danny Kristo (NYR). Collberg was dealt in order to acquire Thomas Vanek at the 2013-14 NHL trade deadline. Kristo returned another right wing prospect, Christian Thomas.
Thomas had an excellent training camp. Lack of size has always been a concern with Thomas but he displayed grit and persistence while generating scoring opportunities consistently in the preseason. He was one of the final cuts. Thomas should be deployed in a top-six role in Hamilton and is a prime candidate for a call-up if Montreal has difficulty filling their hole at right wing within their current roster. Sven Andrighetto will also see big minutes in Hamilton. Andrighetto looks to build on a stellar rookie season where he scored 44 points in 64 games, answering questions about his ability to compete with men in North America. Stefan Fournier will battle for a bottom-six role although he begins the season hampered by injury.
Montreal’s last two first round selections, Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron, will play in the CHL this season. Scherbak turned heads in training camp before being returned to the WHL where he was acquired by the Everett Silvertips. Following a dismal 2013-14 campaign, McCarron turned in a strong training camp. The 6’5, 230 pound winger was able to impose his size on the opposition in preseason exhibitions. However, he suffered a shoulder injury in a freak net collision against the Boston Bruins which cut his preseason short. Following the injury, he was returned to the London Knights.
Montreal’s final selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, Jake Evans will enter his freshman season at the University of Notre Dame. Rounding out the right wing group, Maxim Trunev will play another season in the KHL with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Trunev has lost a lot of value as a prospect. He is a finesse player that has never produced with anything close to consistency in six seasons of professional hockey.
On the blue line, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are the two most NHL-ready prospects in Montreal’s entire talent pool. Essentially, Beaulieu and Tinordi have been platooning on the bottom-pairing next to veteran blueliner Mike Weaver. Both Tinordi and Beaulieu have played solid early on. Barring a major regression, both defensemen’s playing time should only increase as the season progresses. Both are highly likely to graduate from prospect status by season’s end.
Magnus Nygren and, to a lesser extent, Greg Pateryn looked capable of NHL minutes in training camp but were returned to Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Pateryn and Nygren, both right-handed defensemen, will be the lynchpins of Hamilton’s defensive corps. Both are knocking on the door of an NHL debut. Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz also return to the Bulldogs lineup in 2014-15. Dietz flashed in training camp but finds himself buried at the bottom of Montreal’s stacked depth on right defense. Ellis is a steady all-around defensemen who should have the opportunity to play a central role in Hamilton provided Tinordi and Beaulieu stick in Montreal.
Dalton Thrower and Mac Bennett will compete in their first seasons of professional hockey with Hamilton in 2014-15. Thrower is a gritty, physical defenseman. If he develops, his playing style would be valuable change-up to include in Montreal’s stable of puck-movers. Bennett arrives via the University of Michigan where he turned in a standout four-year NCAA career.
Like Thrower, the physical side of the game comes naturally to Brett Lernout. The volatile defenseman returns to Swift Current in the WHL where he hopes to build on all areas of his game. Bergevin and Timmins spent a lot of draft capital in order to acquire Lernout. If he truly has NHL upside, he should display more ambition with the puck on his stick against CHL competition.
Josiah Didier and Colin Sullivan will both play NCAA hockey in 2014-15. Didier enters his senior year at the University of Denver where he will serve as an alternate captain. Having recently transferred to Miami-Ohio, Sullivan will try to carve himself out a blue line role for the RedHawks.
Nikolas Koberstein is a long term project for Montreal. He will play for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL this season while considering whether to pursue NCAA hockey at the University of Alaska at Anchorage or play in the CHL.
The composition of Montreal’s goaltending prospects has changed drastically.
After a strong season with the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL, Mike Condon will have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward in his career development as he will split the Hamilton Bulldogs starting duties with Joey MacDonald.
Zachary Fucale will return to the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL where he attempts to continue to be among the best amateur goaltenders in the world. Hayden Hawkey will return to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. Hawkey intends to enroll at Providence College in 2015-16.
Overall Montreal has improved their goaltending pool by employing a quality over quantity philosophy. After granting Dustin Tokarski a much-deserved promotion, they have essentially released their weaker prospects in order to provide their best prospects with more playing time which should maximize their development. The Canadiens possess a relatively strong goaltender at each point along their pipeline.