As a result of the Canadiens’ commitment to sustainable replenishment of youth through their farm system, the minor-league cupboard is overflowing. The challenge is finding a place to keep players. Over the past few years, the Canadiens have looked to the U.S. collegiate ranks, which means four years of development before having to sign these players to a contract.
Ten Canadiens prospects are toiling in the collegiate ranks, including some of the organization’s highest rated.
The Habs have a veritable menagerie in their organization: one Golden Gopher, one Badger, a Bulldog, a Wolverine, and one Huskie. They’re color-complemented by a pair of Big Green and one Crimson. Yet two of the brightest lights may be their pair of Fighting Sioux.
Fourth in the latest USCHO/USA Today poll, the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux have benefited from the addition of a pair of freshmen forwards — Mike Cichy and Danny Kristo. Both Cichy and Kristo tore up the USHL last season with the Indiana ice and Omaha Lancers respectively. And while the offensive numbers may not be the same, both players have played key roles in North Dakota’s success to date. Kristo has accounted for eight goals and 20 points in 26 games and was the team’s scoring leader before leaving for the World Juniors; Cichy’s numbers are more modest with two goals and a pair of assists in 20 games.
Kristo also played a key role on the gold-medal-winning Team USA WJC squad. He finished the tournament with five goals and three assists in seven games. He was also an impressive plus five and played a physical brand of hockey. The Edina, MN native also proved that he was up for the moment when the spotlight was shining its brightest: he contributed two assists in that thrilling overtime rematch, which saw the Americans avenge their earlier loss to Team Canada at the tournament.
Cichy was invited to the U.S. development camp, but unlike his North Dakota teammate, he did not make the cut. The New Hartford, CT native hasn’t been able to translate his offensive production to the collegiate ranks. Last year, he was named the USHL‘s playoff MVP for his league-leading 25 points in 16 playoff games. This year the goals have been harder to come by. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that he’s a freshman on a solid North Dakota roster; Cichy’s opportunities to play meaningful minutes are fewer and farther between. But it’s up to Cichy to make the most of those opportunities and he hasn’t done that to date.
Louis Leblanc — Harvard Crimson
Leblanc has brought a high level of play and already assumed a leadership role on the Crimson as a freshman.
This year’s first-round selection (and hometown boy) has played a big role in Harvard’s mid-season resurgence. The Crimson started the year with a woeful 1-8-2 record, but have since rebounded. In fact, they’ve now played their way into the Beanpot semi-final against Boston College. And with the team winning, Leblanc has shown an affinity for making his goals count — he’s among the league leaders as three of his nine goals have been of the game-winning variety.
Leblanc is fourth among rookies in points per game in the NCAA. However, he has played double-digits fewer games than most of his competitors, due to the fact that Harvard’s schedule is far less intensive.
Despite getting picked by his hometown club and leading the Crimson back to relevance from the obscurity in which they found themselves after the first dozen games, it hasn’t all been smooth skating. Leblanc was one of the last players cut from Team Canada’s World Junior Championship entry and was understandably disappointed by the exclusion.
Overall, however, he has impressed by averaging a point-per-game in the ECAC — traditionally an upperclassman league. The freshman has certainly not looked out of place and could be on the fast track to the pros if he continues his development trajectory.
David Fischer – University of Minnnesota Golden Gophers
Earlier this season, the Habs traded away a defenseman who was a former Minnesota Mr. Hockey and selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft. It was Ryan McDonagh who went to the Rangers as part of the Gomez trade and not David Fischer. While both players share similar histories, their career trajectories have been markedly different and Fischer appears to be stuck in a rut.
The Golden Gophers, long one of the NCAA‘s marquee hockey programs, are in the midst of difficult times, currently residing in seventh in the WCHA.
Fischer has bounced back nicely from an injury that limited him to 31 games last season. However, as a senior on the blueline, Fischer appears to have regressed. Never a goal-scoring stud, Fischer’s only accounted for one goal this season, but with only four assists he’s struggled at involving others in the play.
The 6’3 blueliner has put on some weight, approaching 200 lbs, but he’s still lanky. Fischer is playing for his professional career as he must be signed to a contract by the end of the year or the Habs will lose his rights. It’s true that the club has preached patience with Fischer, but four years is ample time to see development. It will be interesting to see what value the Habs hold for their former first-round selection, especially in light of the fact that players like Yannick Weber, P.K. Subban, and Mathieu Carle have leapfrogged him in terms of impact and potential.
Scott Kishel – University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
The Bulldogs preach defense first, with scoring coming from the breakouts and counter attack. Led by an all-American goaltender, the club believes that a team’s strength radiates from the net outward — and the sophomore Kishel has already played a huge role one the club.
Last year, Kishel saw limited action as a freshman — partly because of age and working his way onto the team, but a serious injury derailed any momentum he was enjoying. In the end, he only participated in a dozen games, earning two assists.
This year, the Virginia, MN native has enjoyed a clean bill of health. He’s appeared in 22 games and has chipped in six assists. His strong defensive play has helped pace the Bulldogs to second place in the WCHA and ninth overall in the latest USCHO/USA Today poll.
Patrick Johnson – University of Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers are fourth in the WCHA, but the pollsters have a whole lot more respect for Wisconsin than what the standings indicate, as the club finished second in the latest USCHO/USA Today poll, behind only Miami of Ohio. However, Johnson’s contribution to the cause has been minimal at best and perplexing at worst.
As a freshman in 2007-08, Johnson made a huge impact on the Badgers, playing in 40 games and scoring 21 points (including eight goals). He looked poised to step up as a sophomore and play a key role on this traditional powerhouse.
Then something happened. It’s not an injury — at least physically. For some reason or another, Johnson’s play slipped. Actually, slipped is too kind — it plummeted. Last year as a sophomore, he ended up with seven points (three goals) in 35 games. Sure, he continued his aggressive, feisty play, but his nose for the net suddenly lost its sense.
As a junior, Johnson’s had the chance to redeem himself. Unfortunately, instead of reclaiming his freshman promise, he’s sunk deeper into his morass. The forward finds himself clinging to a spot on the fourth line. He’s matched his goal-scoring totals from last year (three) in 10 fewer games to date, but he’s yet to even match his meager assists totals. In 25 games so far, he’s scored three goals and three assists.
Johnson’s a bubble player who is always playing for a contract. However, it’s safe to say he’s not doing anything that’s going to appeal to the Habs brass.
Both Stejskal and Walsh are big boys — 6’2 each and growing into their size. Unfortunately, both players haven’t been able to parlay that big size into sizable results for the Big Green.
Junior Stejskal and freshman Walsh find themselves on a woeful Dartmouth College squad that’s 11th out of 12 teams in the ECAC. Walsh is seventh on the team in scoring with nine points paced by seven goals; Stejskal has just four points in 21 games (including one goal), but he’s continued to show his solid physical play and grit.
There is no rush for either of these players and neither have shown the requisite dominance that the Canadiens like to see before moving players up a level. As such, it’s safe to say that both prospects will return to the Big Green next season.
Greg Pateryn – University of Michigan Wolverines
When Greg Pateryn laces them up, you’re going to get a good, solid physical effort; you’re going to get an honest day of hard work; and you’re going to get a defensively responsible player who will move people off the puck.
What you won’t get are buckets of goals. In fact, the Wolverines are still waiting for the sophomore blueliner to find the back of the net. That said, as long as he continues to keep pucks out of his own net — and he’s continued to refine his defensive technique — the Wolverines and the Habs will be pleased.
Pateryn has almost matched his scoring totals from last year. In 16 games, he’s accounted for four assists and 10 PIM. Last year, in 28 games, Pateryn finished with five assists and 32 PIMs.
The club has been pleased with Pateryn’s development. While he hangs his hat on defense, he has shown solid offensive instincts, especially when it comes to moving the puck. He will benefit from more seasoning at the collegiate level and the Wolverines, who found themselves temporarily out of the top 20 for the first time in a dozen years, will appreciate his steady play in the back end.
Steve Quailer – Northeastern University
Many were expecting big things out of Quailer as he entered his sophomore season. He made a big splash last year as a freshman, scoring 10 goals and adding 15 assists in 41 games — living up to the promise he showed in 2007-08 as a member of the USHL‘s Sioux City franchise (19 goals, 30 assists).
Unfortunately, the Hockey East all-rookie squad member blew out his knee during the exhibition season. The 6’3 power forward is out for the season after suffering a major ACL injury. His season is a write-off, but he should be fully healed in time for next season.