Montreal Canadiens prospects run deep at defense

By Pat Paeplow
Charles Hudon - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: When Charles Hudon finally gets his shot with the Canadiens, he will join a long list of Quebec-born players to play for the team. (Courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

The Montreal Canadiens prospect pool continues to grow more experienced every season. Because General Manager Marc Bergevin is intent on bringing his youngsters along slowly, the Canadiens have promoted just a single prospect into their roster. Several players among the Top 20 would be regulars in other organizations.

Nathan Beaulieu is Montreal’s lone graduate. Many felt he was capable of regular NHL minutes in 2013-14, but he spent most of that season with Montreal’s AHL affiliate the Hamilton Bulldogs. This season, he earned a spot on the NHL roster and was soon promoted to the second pairing with Sergei Gonchar.

When Gonchar went down with an injury in February, he blossomed even further, displaying more assertiveness with the puck. Surely, Beaulieu’s development is the template for all prospects in Montreal’s pipeline.

Aside from Beaulieu, Patrick Holland and Jiri Sekac have departed the Canadiens prospect pool. Both were dealt away in separate transactions.

1. (2) Jarred Tinordi, D, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2010

Tinordi was recently recalled due to injuries on Montreal’s blue line. It remains to be seen what role he will play down the stretch but he should be able to crack the Canadiens lineup once and for all next season.

Tinordi is an imposing physical presence but he is also an excellent skater for his size. He has shown he can be a proficient puck mover at lower levels, but needs to be more confident in his offensive abilities at the NHL level. If he does this, he could elevate from a bottom-pairing defender to a top-pairing stud.

2. (3) Nikita Scherbak, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st Round, 26th Overall, 2014

By most accounts, Scherbak was far more talented than his draft position. He impressed in his first professional camp. Playing for the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, he has recorded 23 goals and 45 assists for the Everett Silvertips this season.

Sherbak’s playing style is eerily similar to Alexander Galchenyuk’s, although he is more inclined to shoot and exhibits top-end speed. Along with outstanding puck skills, he is very willing to physically engage opponents. However, like most young prospects, he must mature physically in order for these elements to translate successfully to professional hockey.

3. (6) Charles Hudon, LW, 7.5 C
Drafted 5th Round, 122nd Overall, 2012

Hudon’s stock has risen this season. In junior, he was widely regarded as an excellent two-way forward. He displayed terrific hands and offensive instincts, yet maintained his intensity throughout all 200 feet of the rink—making him a reliable option in every situation. Despite this, expectations were always tempered because of his lack of size and obvious physical strength.

In his rookie AHL season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hudon has dispelled most of those concerns. He has scored 13 goals and 37 assists in 60 games. He looks confident in space as well as traffic. Despite his success, he should continue to increase his physical strength.

4. (8) Mike McCarron, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st Round, 25th Overall, 2013

McCarron thrived this year. After struggling during his rookie OHL season last year, in 2014-15 he scored close to a goal per game for the London Knights. When he was traded to Oshawa, his scoring production tapered, but he has continued to dominate physically. He could get another opportunity to compete for the Memorial Cup with the Generals.

At 6’6 and 229 lbs, McCarron is a beast who has shown a tendency to play with a mean streak. He has good hands down low and protects the puck well. He also has good speed for his size, but he needs to improve his balance and agility.

5. (4) Sven Andrighetto, RW, 7.5 C
3rd Round, 86th Overall, 2013

Andrighetto has improved his production in his second AHL season. In 2013-14, he scored 17 goals in 64 games. This season, he has 13 in 44 games. His development has been rewarded with a taste of NHL action. He has appeared in 12 NHL games, registering 2 goals and an assist. Andrighetto’s explosive skating should fit Montreal’s organizational make-up well when he gets a serious NHL opportunity.

6. (9) Jacob de la Rose, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd Round, 34th Overall, 2013

De la Rose came of age unexpectedly this season. Although he wasn’t turning many heads in the AHL, he was recalled to Montreal in February for an audition. He is tremendously responsible in his own end and relentless in his checking assignments, always moving his feet. He has the instincts to create scoring opportunities but has not flashed much finishing ability yet. De la Rose’s effectiveness should improve exponentially as he continues to mature physically.

7. (5) Zachary Fucale, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd Round, 36th Overall, 2013

Fucale’s numbers have bloated mightily this season in the QMJHL. He dropped to 7th spot on Montreal’s depth chart and would have slipped further if not for the Jiri Sekac trade and Nathan Beaulieu’s graduation. Like most goalies, Fucale is a long-term project. It’s an extremely cerebral position which lends itself to streakiness, especially in young prospects who are still striving for mental consistency.

8. (NR) Martin Reway, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th Round, 116th Overall, 2013

Reway continues to be a flashy prospect. After graduating from the QMJHL, he is producing at a point-per-game pace playing professional hockey in the Czech league. At some point, he will have to prove that he can survive the grind of the AHL. Further, he must improve his defensive game and play away from the puck. He will not be able to make a career solely out of being dynamic with the puck on his stick.

9. (11) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd Round, 64th Overall, 2012

Bozon is still a viable prospect despite losing a year of development to his battle with meningitis. Like most young prospects, the need to gain mass and build strength is a key variable in his career arc. Being bedridden for a prolonged period sabotaged this process. Skating for the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, he has managed to score 31 goals in 51 games this season, roughly equal to his pace in 2013-14—which is encouraging.

10. (12) Darren Dietz, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 5th Round, 138th Overall, 2011

In his second season of AHL hockey, Dietz has 4 goals and 12 assists in 55 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. After a strong training camp, he seems to have grown in virtually all phases of the game. He is a well-rounded defenseman, proficient at contributing on the rush as well as mixing it up in the dirty areas. Dietz seems primed for an NHL audition soon. His contract expires at the end of the season.

11. (NR) Christian Thomas, RW, 7.0 C
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers, 2013

Thomas’ skillset seemed redundant in a Canadiens prospect pool loaded with small, speedy wingers. It was hard to visualize him developing into a bona fide NHL player in such an environment. However, he’s gained quite a bit of traction with the Habs this season. Though he has only scored one goal, he’s flashed good speed in transition and drives to the net with strength and determination. The taste of NHL hockey seems to have accentuated his feistiness.

12. (13) Greg Pateryn, D, 6.0 B
Acquired via trade with Toronto Maple Leafs, 2008

Pateryn’s game had appeared to hit a wall this season in the AHL, but after a February injury bug in Montreal, he was recalled to the Canadiens—where he has played solid hockey. Pateryn is a classic stay-at-home defender, and he has shown that he can hold his own physically in the NHL. His zone exits have also been decent in a small sample size. His contract converts to a one-way deal in 2015-16.

13. (14) Magnus Nygren, D, 6.0 B
Drafted 4th Round, 113th Overall, 2011

Nygren began the season with Hamilton but an injury ended his campaign, sending him back to Sweden for rehabilitation. This is troubling after 2013-14, when he left the Bulldogs because of difficulties transitioning to the North American lifestyle. Still, Nygren’s offensive instincts and devastating shot from the point may be too valuable to give up on.

14. (10) Artturri Lehkonen, RW, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2013

Lehkonen continues to struggle playing against men in European professional hockey. This season he attempted to make the leap to the SHL from Finland’s Liiga. He has scored just 8 goals and 8 assists in 47 games, often with limited playing time. Lehkonen has amazing one-on-one skills and great speed but he needs to show he can utilize these tools in a tight-checking environment.

15. (17) Jeremy Gregoire, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th Round, 176th Overall, 2013

As captain of the Bai-Comeau Drakkar, Gregoire has posted 16 goals and 20 assists in 28 games. He missed the first 34 games of the season rehabilitating from a wrist injury. He is a hard-nosed two-way center who plays with tons of energy. Despite his production in the QMJHL, he seems destined to top out as a fourth-liner in the NHL.

16. (18) Brett Lernout, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd Round, 73rd Overall, 2014

The 6’4 right-hander is a physical presence with a definite nasty side, but going into the season there were questions about whether his puck skills and skating were NHL caliber. He seems to have improved in these areas With Swift Current in the WHL, where he has logged top-pairing minutes while being utilized on both special teams groups. His big shot has become a key component of the Swift Current power play.

17. (NR) Daniel Audette, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 5th Round, 147th Overall, 2014

The undersized Audette has continued to score at a torrid pace in the QMJHL. Following a 76 point campaign in 2013-14, he has 65 points in 56 games this season for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. He is an explosive and agile skater who combines deft puckhandling with superb ice vision, giving him excellent playmaking ability. He will need to dispel concerns about his size going forward.

18. (19) Connor Crisp, LW, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd Round, 71st Overall, 2013

Crisp has had a trying season battling injuries. The bruising forward has managed to appear in just 25 games. If he can stay healthy, he is more than just a crash and bang forward. Crisp has good hands and decent hockey sense. Provided his skating continues to improve, he could blossom into a versatile winger.

19. (15) Dalton Thrower, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 2nd Round, 51st Overall, 2012

Thrower is a defenseman with plenty of high-end skill but he also plays with an edge. Entering this season coming off ankle surgery, he was loaned to the Brampton Beast of the ECHL for conditioning where he has played in 12 games. Next season should offer a more revealing look.

20. (17) Morgan Ellis, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2010

Ellis has struggled to stand out amongst Montreal’s stable of talented defensive prospects on the right side, and spent most of the season with Montreal’s ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers. Recently recalled to Hamilton, Ellis plays a defense-first game which is often difficult to project. Depending on roster moves, he should get a full season of work in the AHL in 2015-16. It will be a crucial season for him.