The Montreal Canadiens have several key prospects playing minor league hockey, the final developmental rung before the NHL. Some, like defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, are poised on the brink of becoming NHL regulars.
Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, are rebounding from a poor 2013-14 season when, despite boasting a lineup filled with high-end prospects, the team finished at the bottom of their division. Through 34 games this season, the Bulldogs are 15-13-6-0. Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre is tasked with guiding this team into the playoffs, a crucial experience in order to maximize the development of these prospects while at the minor league development.
Nathan Beaulieu, D, 22
Beaulieu has shuttled between Montreal and Hamilton all season. He is currently with Montreal. In most of his NHL games, the smooth-skating Beaulieu has played on the third pairing with veteran, Tom Gilbert. Since returning from the Christmas break, Head Coach Michel Therrien has promoted him to the second-pairing alongside Sergei Gonchar.
The strong skating Beaulieu has played eight games in Hamilton, scoring two goals and two assists and generally controlling the flow of play while on the ice. Conversely, he has played 23 NHL games with the Canadiens but still has not managed to score his first NHL goal.
Beaulieu’s puck-moving acumen is methodically translating its way into the NHL. Early in the season, his approach differed when he was called up. Against AHL competition, Beaulieu was determined to put pucks on net or distribute passes onto teammates’ sticks moving out of the zone. In the NHL, he would be content to dump a puck in the corner or chip it out of the neutral zone. Since stepping up to the second pairing, his play has improved exponentially. He should only continue to improve as his signature confidence and timing gain traction in Montreal.
Jarred Tinordi, D, 22
Tinordi has shuffled back and forth between the NHL and AHL as well. However, unlike Beaulieu, Tinordi has played far more games in the AHL, 24 appearances with the Bulldogs versus nine with Montreal.
In Hamilton, he has been the backbone of the Bulldogs defensive corps throughout the season. On a nightly basis he draws the opposition’s top offensive line and is a fixture on the penalty kill. He makes superb decisions with the puck, is solid positionally and widely regarded as one of the most intimidating defensemen in the league.
In his NHL appearances, he has been more tentative. He still over-thinks his puck-moving decisions at the highest level. When wearing a Montreal uniform, he is also more apprehensive about stepping up in the neutral zone. Of course, like Beaulieu, his assertiveness should grow as he gains NHL experience.
Sven Andrighetto, RW, 21
Andrighetto was called up to Montreal in December. Transitioning seamlessly, he recorded points in each of his first three NHL games, playing in critical situations as a member of Montreal’s second line centered by Tomas Plekanec. Since then, he has bounced around Montreal’s forward lines, most recently settling into a fourth line role. He continues to be dynamic in the offensive zone, using his quick feet and strength on the puck to generate quality shots in spite of tight checking.
In the AHL, Andrighetto recorded nine goals and nine assists in 21 games. Although he is only 5’9 he has a strong lower half making him tremendously difficult to knock off the puck. These qualities, along with his explosiveness, have begun to flash in his second season of professional hockey.
Charles Hudon, LW, 20
Entering the season, Hudon’s finesse was undeniable, but many questioned his ability to withstand the physicality of professional hockey with his 5’11, 178 pound build. He has quieted all his doubters.
Through 34 games, Hudon has compiled 10 goals and 22 assists. He is currently the fifth leading scorer in the AHL but has been at the top of the list at several points throughout the season. Early this campaign, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre deployed him as a center. The experiment lasted about a month before he was returned to left wing. Usually, he skates on a line with T.J. Hensick and Drayson Bowman. Along with his offensive output, he has also been solid in his own zone and shown off a chippy element in his game.
Jacob de la Rose, C, 19
In his first season in North America, de la Rose has played in 29 games with Hamilton, scoring three goals and two assists. After a spectacular training camp with the Canadiens where he wowed management and outlasted most of the competition to be one of the final cuts, he was sent to Hamilton. With the Bulldogs, he has been deployed in the bottom-six which partially accounts for his lack of production. The hard-working center’s need to acclimate his game to North America is certainly another factor.
De la Rose was loaned to the Swedish national team for the World Junior Championships. He has captained his national team to the semi-finals against Russia, registering two goals and two assists in five games. After being relegated to a checking role in Hamilton, this tournament has been an opportunity for de la Rose to stretch out with the offensive side of his game.
Darren Dietz, D, 21
Dietz continues a solid transition into professional hockey this season. As a rookie in 2013-14, Lefebvre never hesitated to expose him to any game situation despite his lack of experience. Dietz received a taste of penalty kills, power plays, even clutch and late situations. This season, through 33 games, Dietz has registered three goals and four assists. He has done a good job of minimizing mistakes and playing solid two-way hockey. With Magnus Nygren out of the lineup, Dietz should benefit from more deployment in critical situations.
Christian Thomas, RW, 22
Thomas is yet another small but talented winger the Canadiens system seems to churn out systematically. He had a strong training camp and through 28 AHL games, has compiled nine goals and five assists. He has been deployed on the Bulldogs second line with Gabriel Dumont and Daniel Carr.
Connor Crisp, LW, 20
Crisp missed action early in the season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery but has rallied to appear in 18 games, managing a goal and an assist. Given the injury and that this is his first full season of professional hockey, it may take Crisp some time to adjust. His hard-nosed game will be much harder to execute in the AHL. When he is at his best, He can wreak havoc all over the ice and flash surprising stick skills in tight.
Crisp was suspended three games for leaving the bench during an altercation in a December 21st game against Texas.
Gabriel Dumont, C, 24
Dumont is serving as the Bulldogs captain this season. Appearing in 32 games, he has recorded seven goals and 11 assists. With Thomas and Daniel Carr, his line has provided the Bulldogs with timely scoring as well as lock-down defense in crucial moments. His leadership appears to be a key component of Hamilton’s turnaround.
Daniel Carr, LW, 23
Carr has six goals and eight assists in 34 games. Some of his production is surely a function of being deployed with Dumont and Thomas. However, the undrafted free agent was a solid producer in the NCAA. He is Union College’s all-time leading scorer and plays a puck possessing style of game. This acumen supplement Thomas’ big shot and Dumont’s persistent grinding.
Carr is still very much a longshot, but he is in a good situation right now on Hamilton’s second line. This exposure throughout the season should offer a true glimpse of what his ceiling may be, whether NHL hockey is a reasonable expectation.
Mac Bennett, D, 23
In his first season of professional hockey, the Michigan man has four goals and four assists in 27 games. His playing time in Hamilton is directly correlated to the status of fellow left-handed defensemen, Tinordi and Beaulieu. If both of these prospects can find a way to stick in Montreal this season, it makes Bennett a top four defensemen in Hamilton. This would be an opportunity to build on an already impressive rookie season. If both Tinordi and Beaulieu play mostly in Hamilton, Bennett could be relegated to healthy scratch territory. This is quite a swing considering the circumstances that will dictate his playing time are almost completely out of his control.
Greg Pateryn, D, 24
Pateryn has 10 points in 34 games this season while continuing to steadily improve in Hamilton. In his third season of AHL hockey, he now appears more comfortable and confident against professional competition. Aside from a few hiccups, his positioning has improved along with his ability to win physical battles.
Magnus Nygren, D, 24
Nygren has been scratched recently on a day to day basis. Prior to sustaining what was termed an upper body injury, the right-handed defender had four goals and six assists. Nygren was playing solid in all phases of the game which was a positive sign after a difficult campaign in 2013-14 when experienced difficulty transitioning into North America.
His injury should not keep him out of action for an extended period. With Beaulieu and Tinordi both on the cusp of becoming NHL regulars, Nygren could soon step into the role as Hamilton’s de facto number one defenseman.
Jack Nevins, LW, 21
Appearing in 25 games on Hamilton’s fourth line, Nevins has not managed to crack the scoresheet. However, he has excelled in his primary function as Hamilton’s resident pugilist, taking on all comers, and he currently has 10 fights this season. However, it is difficult to see how a one-dimensional fighter like Nevins fits into Montreal’s future plans beyond assuring the safety of the organization’s valuable prospects down on the farm.
Mike Condon, G, 24
Condon earned a promotion to the Bulldogs this season after a stellar campaign in Wheeling in 2013-14 where he posted a 2.18 goals against average and .931 save percentage. So far he has looked good. In 18 starts, he has an 8-7-3 record, a 2.36 goals against average and .927 save percentage.
Dalton Thrower, D, 21
Because of injury, Thrower has not appeared in a single AHL game. Recently, he has played five games for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast. He should be rehabilitated and available to Hamilton early this month. Thrower is a jack-of-all-trades defenseman. He displays some offensive upside and is more than willing to engage physically. It will be revealing to see how many aspects of his game prove to be viable at the professional level.
Morgan Ellis, D, 22
Because Hamilton is loaded with defensive prospects, Ellis was demoted to Wheeling. Against ECHL competition, his play has slowly improved progressed over the course of the season. However, Ellis becomes a restricted free agent in the summer. With defensemen like Brett Lernout and Josiah Didier coming through the pipeline, Montreal’s front office will need to decide whether his potential is worthy of a qualifying offer.
Non-Minor League Prospect Update
On December 19th, Brett Lernout was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract. The 6’4, 205 pound defenseman who was selected in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by Montreal is currently playing for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL.
Along with Jacob de la Rose, there are three other Montreal Canadiens prospects participating in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. Canada’s Zachary Fucale, Finland‘s Artturi Lehkonen, and Slovakia‘s Martin Reway were all selected to represent their countries.
Over the course of the tournament, Fucale outlasted Eric Comrie (WIN) to be named Canada’s starting goalie. Heading into the semi-finals he is undefeated in three games with 0.33 goals against average and .982 save percentage.
Lehkonen was named captain of the Finnish team. His tournament was relatively disappointing, scoring just one goal in five games as his country was eliminated by the rival Swedes.
Following a trend, Reway was named captain of the Slovakian squad, scoring four goals and two assists in five games. He was Slovakia’s most dynamic offensive weapon in every game, registering a hat trick against Germany and dominating the medal round game against the Czech Republic.
Despite a breakout season in the CHL, Mike McCarron was not selected to Team USA. Nikita Scherbak was also passed over by the Russians. In another development, McCarron was traded from the London Knights to the powerhouse Oshawa Generals where he will be in a nice position for a second straight Memorial Cup appearance.
Montreal Canadiens Prospect of the Month
Several Montreal Canadiens prospects have played well recently. However, Charles Hudon’s accomplishments deserve special acknowledgement.
Rookies in the AHL are not normally expected to be core pieces of their teams. If they were talented enough to warrant such expectations, they would jump directly to the NHL. Usually, enduring the transition into the professional environment while flashing their potential at times is enough to ask from any rookie. Hudon also had to answer the skeptics who questioned about his size. Many dismissed him as just another diminutive forward who could put up points in the QMJHL but would never endure the grind against men.
Taking this into consideration, it is amazing that Hudon has not only flashed some of his potential, he has dominated. After a fairly substantial sample size of 34 games, he is the fifth leading scorer in the AHL. As long as he avoids hitting a wall in the second half, Hudon could be setting the stage for a late season debut in the NHL.