This season, many Montreal Canadiens prospects graduated into professional hockey. Charles Hudon capped a phenomenal QMJHL career in 2013-14 while Martin Reway left the Gatineau Olympiques for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech League. Connor Crisp and Dalton Thrower have stepped up to the Hamilton Bulldogs to test their physical style of play against AHL competition.
This shifts the focus to the remaining prospects playing throughout the CHL and other junior leagues. Almost exclusively, these are players acquired by Montreal in the last two entry drafts. Of the junior prospects, the Canadiens most promising is recent first-round pick Nikita Scherbak. Not to be outdone, Mike McCarron has made huge strides in his game. There are also less heralded prospects making noise such as Daniel Audette in the QMJHL and Brett Lernout out West.
Zachary Fucale, G, Halifax Mooseheads
Acquired: 2nd round (36th overall), 2013
Fucale, touted as one of the best goalies in the QMJHL, is off to a shaky start with a 3.19 goals against average and .891 save percentage in 19 appearances. Although he has allowed some soft goals, he has also elevated his game in crucial moments. On November 13th, the Mooseheads rallied from a 3-2 deficit to force overtime. Despite allowing 4 goals on 21 shots, Fucale shut the door through overtime and the shootout, setting the stage for Nikolaj Ehlers (WIN) to score the winner.
The Subway Super Series may have helped him regain his footing. He made 40 saves for the QMJHL All-Stars in a 3-1 victory over Russia on November 18th. He held the opposition at bay despite nine power play opportunities and a sequence early in the third where glorious scoring chances came at him in waves.
Jeremy Gregoire, C, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 6th round (176th overall), 2013
Gregoire has not seen any action this season because he is still rehabilitating a wrist injury. He should be available in the second half of the season. Because the hard-working two-way center is still able to skate and maintain his lower-body conditioning, it is reasonable to expect him to contribute quickly upon his return.
Daniel Audette, C, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Acquired: 5th round (147th overall), 2014
Audette’s season is off to a hot start. The former fifth round pick has registered 30 points in 22 games. The 5’9 187 pound playmaker has cooled off slightly since being named the QMJHL’s third star for the month of October. However, Along with Fucale, Audette was a key factor in the QMJHL’s victory over the Russians in the Subway Super Series on November 18th. He sniped the eventual game-winner and added an assist on the power play.
Audette was once the first overall selection in the QMJHL draft. Because he is so small and lacks strength, he will most certainly be dogged by questions about his ability to withstand the physicality and punishment of professional hockey.
Mike McCarron, RW, London Knights
Acquired: 1st round (25th overall), 2013
McCarron’s production has increased dramatically since 2013-14. After managing 34 points in 66 games last season, he has already scored 11 goals and 13 assists in his first 14 games. Some of his improvement can be attributed to a natural development arc but it is undeniable that a key factor for this change is deployment.
Instead of logging bottom-six minutes, head coach Dale Hunter is playing McCarron on the top scoring line. Although listed in the Canadiens depth chart as a wing, he has played center exclusively in 2014-15. He skates with Arizona Coyotes first-round selection, Max Domi. The two have hooked up for several multiple-goal games already.
McCarron dodged a bullet in a game against the Owen Sound Attack when he left the bench to fight Jacob Busch who had delivered a cheap shot to Mitchell Marner. By the letter of the law he could have been suspended for 10 games. Since it was unclear whether the incident occurred during a clean line change, the 6’6 power forward only sat out for two games.
Nikita Scherbak, RW, Everett Sivertips
Acquired: 1st round (26th overall), 2014
Following Montreal’s training camp, Scherbak was returned to the CHL where the Saskatoon Blades had traded him to the Everett Silvertips. He has been scoring at a high rate with 11 goals and 17 assists through 19 games. Everett sits at the top of the WHL’s US Division. Scherbak anchors one of their two scoring lines, skating right wing with 16 year-old Patrick Bajkov and alternate captain Kohl Bauml.
Scherbak’s offensive prowess has never been in question. This season he has also shown some development in the defensive aspects of his game and has continued to show the willingness to engage physically. In a game against Vancouver on November 7th, Giants defenseman Mason Geertsen (COL) repeatedly checked and jawed at Scherbak, in what he would later admit to the press was an attempt to knock the winger off his game. Scherbak never shied away, drawing coincidental slashing minors with Geertsen and engaging with him physically throughout the game. The Silvertips went on to rout Vancouver 5-1. Sherbak notched an assist and was a plus-two on the night as his team extended their winning streak to six games.
Scherbak played for Russia in the Subway Super Series.
Brett Lernout, D, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 3rd round (73rd overall), 2014
Never a big scorer, Lernout has 15 points in 27 games this season. These numbers are, however, good enough to lead all Broncos defensemen in scoring. He has a strong shot and is effective at getting the puck through traffic onto the net. Many of Lernout’s assists have been teammates gobbling up these rebounds.
He has only been charged with two fighting majors. One was a draw against Victoria’s 6’6 250-pound defenseman Keegan Kanzig. The second was coming out of a scrum against Brandon Wheat Kings 16 year-old, Tanner Kaspick.
Lernout has taken on a leadership role in Swift Current. Along with being named an alternate captain, he has been deployed with 16 year-old Max Lajoie, providing steadiness on the pairing as the rookie acclimates himself to the pace of CHL hockey.
The Broncos are currently in second place in their division.
Tim Bozon, LW, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 3rd round (64th overall), 2012
After a huge health scare, Bozon has methodically returned to form. He shows little trace of his life-or-death fight with Neisseria meningitis, looking very similar to the player he was in 2013-14 when he scored 33 goals in 63 games.
Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill eased Bozon back, allowing him to regain his conditioning before inserting him back into the lineup. He played his first WHL game on October 24th against the Calgary Hitmen. In 10 games he has six goals and seven assists. Bozon has skated with Sam Reinhart (BUF) since Reinhart returned from his nine-game audition with the Buffalo Sabres. The return of these two on the first line, along with left wing Zak Zborosky, will be relied upon to drive offense and dig Kootenay out of the bottom of the standings. They are 8-14-0-0 without their two most dangerous scorers available for most of the season.
Hayden Hawkey, G, Omaha Lancers
Acquired: 6th round (177th overall), 2014
Hawkey is off to a slow start. In 13 appearances for the Lancers, he has registered a 2.96 goals against average and .895 save percentage. Omaha is stuck at the bottom of the USHL’s Western Conference standings. Hawkey, the heir apparent to Jon Gillies (CAL) in goal for the Providence Friars, will look to regain his form from 2013-14 when he put up a stellar 1.99 goals against average and .926 save percentage.
Nikolas Koberstein, D, Sioux Falls Stampede
Acquired: 5th round (125th overall), 2014
In 16 games for the Stampede, the 6’2 defenseman has registered a single goal. Bound for University of Alaska-Fairbanks in 2015-16, Koberstein is a decent skater who appears to have some offensive creativity. It would be encouraging to see him begin to contribute to the offense as his season progresses. He currently has a goal and 42 penalty minutes through 17 games.
Montreal Canadiens Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October
Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, find themselves struggling out of the gates again this season. Despite boasting a talented roster of prospects, they are currently eighth place in the Western Conference. Their leading scorers are Charles Hudon (six goals, 12 assists), Sven Andrighetto (seven goals, seven assists) and Gabriel Dumont (six goals, seven assists). Hudon’s rating of plus-11 is far out ahead of any other player.
In the battle for NHL ice time, Nathan Beaulieu has the early edge over Jarred Tinordi. Beaulieu has served as a swingman for the Canadiens, being deployed as both fourth line forward and bottom-pairing defenseman. Tinordi has been in Hamilton since November 12th. Beaulieu was recently returned to the AHL.
Montreal Canadiens Prospect of the Month: October
Mike McCarron’s performance in October stands out among his peers in the CHL and across all levels of Montreal’s prospect pool. If there was an early season award for the most improved prospect in hockey, McCarron would easily be the frontrunner. With 11 goals in just 14 games this season, he has nearly eclipsed his 2013-14 goal total of 14.
However, his emergence is really more a function of perception and deployment. McCarron battled through shoulder injuries in 2013-14 while trying to transition into the physicality and speed of OHL hockey. This was a difficult jump compounded by Dale Hunter’s notorious aversion toward putting faith in rookies. This season, McCarron has been empowered with the alternate captaincy and deployed with Domi, one of the most dynamic players in the OHL.