The Montreal Canadiens boast a record of 31-13-3 and have been at or around the top of the standings throughout the 2014-15 NHL season. A handful of prospects have been key contributors to Montreal’s first half success.
Despite their winning record, the Canadiens have some clear needs heading into the stretch. They would benefit from some depth on defense as well as wing capable of consistent production on a scoring line. General Manager Marc Bergevin may elect to address these areas with seasoned veterans acquired as the trade deadline approaches. Alternatively, he could promote from within. Thus far, he has been comfortable allowing prospects to sink or swim against NHL competition.
Nathan Beaulieu, D, 22
Beaulieu has effectively established himself as an NHL regular. At the start of the season, he was assigned to the AHL. This was a curious decision by Bergevin based on the smooth skating defenseman’s effectiveness in the 2013-14 NHL playoffs, where he replaced an ineffective Douglas Murray and helped turn the tide against the Boston Bruins.
Fortunately, Beaulieu was quickly recalled to Montreal. After being shuffled around some, he thrived on the bottom-pairing with Tom Gilbert. Recently, he was promoted to the second-pairing alongside Sergei Gonchar.
Although he has not yet recorded his first NHL goal, Beaulieu’s confidence and assertiveness continue to grow with just about every shift. His puck-handling and skating ability are already paying dividends, enabling the Canadiens to break out of their defensive zone with more consistency, which has been their weakness the past few seasons.
Jarred Tinordi, D, 22
Coming into training camp, Tinordi was considered to be competing for a position as a regular in Montreal’s lineup. He appeared in nine games early in the season, registering a pair of assists while not looking totally comfortable with the pace of NHL hockey. He was unable to impose himself physically like he did in the AHL.
Consequently, Bergevin sent Tinordi back to Hamilton for further seasoning. At the same time, the GM executed a series of transactions in order to increase Montreal’s cap space in 2015-16. Acquiring veteran defensemen Gonchar and Bryan Allen increased positional depth on the blue line while limiting opportunities for a prospect on the verge like Tinordi.
Despite the wealth of veteran bodies on the blue line, Bergevin has consistently promoted Montreal as a meritocracy. With Alexei Emelin struggling on the bottom-pairing, Tinordi could certainly warrant another NHL audition later in the season.
Sven Andrighetto, RW, 21
The dynamic winger got off to a hot start in Hamilton, scoring nine goals in 25 games, prompting his call up. Andrighetto’s scoring prowess translated immediately to the NHL. He registered points in each of his first three games.
After his initial outburst, Andrighetto cooled off. He did not score in the next nine games and was returned to Hamilton. Despite the lack of scoring, he still appeared to be playing well. He was strong on the puck, showing an ability to generate shots and create scoring opportunities in traffic and chaos.
Jiri Sekac, LW, 22
Sekac has been a fixture in the Montreal lineup since the beginning of the season. He was a healthy scratch for a series of games early in the year but other than that, he has been a key component of Montreal’s success in the first half of the season.
Sekac has played throughout the lineup, rarely given much ice time to acclimate himself to his new linemates. However, other than taking some untimely penalties, he has been effective wherever he has been inserted. His speed and tenacity are assets on scoring lines as well as in a checking role.
In 40 games, Sekac has compiled seven goals and eight assists. He was also selected to participate in the skills competition at the 2015 NHL All Star Game.
Christian Thomas, RW, 22
Thomas was called up to Montreal for a three game audition just before the All Star break. He was rarely able to find or create the space required to uncork his big shot. He was overpowered on the boards consistently, stalling several Montreal breakout attempts.
Based on pure performance, other Hamilton Bulldogs such as Charles Hudon might have been more logical call-ups. However, Thomas is in the last season of his current contract. Bergevin and Canadiens brass may feel it is important to make a thorough evaluation of the player.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
Four Canadiens prospects participated in the World Junior Championships. Three of them served as captains.
The only Montreal prospect not awarded a captaincy was Zachary Fucale. He backstopped Canada in net for a second straight World Junior Championship.
Montreal loaned Jacob de la Rose to Sweden for the tournament. After skating on the fourth line in Hamilton for most of the season, captaining the Swedes and being deployed in just about every crucial situation had to do wonders for his confidence. Unfortunately, Sweden finished a disappointing fourth in the tournament.
Martin Reway captained Slovakia to a third place finish. Their victory over Sweden in the consolation game was a great accomplishment for Slovakian hockey. Reway was a threat to score on virtually every shift of the tournament. In seven games, he registered four goals and five assists.
Artturi Lehkonen captained Finland to a disappointing seventh place finish. Lehkonen’s personal performance suffered as well. After scoring five goals in five games in the 2014 tournament, he managed just a single goal in 2015.
Montreal Canadiens Prospect of the Month
Nathan Beaulieu has begun to realize his potential over the course of the past month. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain his level of play, but he appears to have shifted gears from a prospect full of potential to a legitimate NHL defenseman contributing to an NHL club on a nightly basis.
Although an NHL goal continues to elude him, Beaulieu looks increasingly more comfortable with the puck on his stick. He has grown more confidence with his decision making, developing his sense of when to pinch down on opposing break out attempts and when to retreat. When handling the puck in the offensive zone, his confidence is beginning to take hold. Instead of simply shoveling pucks down low in the vicinity of cycling forwards, he is clearly attempting to incite scoring plays.
Beaulieu now appears entrenched as an NHL regular. The remaining long-term question is whether he is capable of eventually displacing Andre Markov as a top-pairing defenseman.