Montreal Canadiens continue tradition of developing top talent overseas

By Pat Paeplow
Photo: Martin Reway captained the Cinderella Slovakian team to the bronze medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships (Courtesy of CHL Images)

Photo: Martin Reway captained the Cinderella Slovakian team to the bronze medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships (Courtesy of CHL Images)

 

Since the days of Mats Naslund, the Montreal Canadiens have been on the forefront of European scouting. This is the organization that drafted Viacheslav Fetisov in 1978 and Vladislav Tretiak in 1983, anticipating the Russian invasion by over a decade. Even a cursory glance over their NHL roster confirms that the Habs have nurtured a fruitful European pipeline. The newest batch of European talent features crafty wingers like Artturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway, who are looking to follow in the steps of Naslund.

Along with their organizational commitment to winning the scouting war in Europe, Montreal also invests draft capital in NCAA talent. In recent years, the Canadiens have hedged, waiting until the mid to late rounds to test the collegiate waters. Still, Director of Scouting Trevor Timmins may have hit on some long-term potential. Josiah Didier, in particular, is a rugged defenseman with loads of intangibles that may develop into a valuable bottom-pairing asset down the road.

NCAA

Mark MacMillan, LW, North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 4th Round, 113th Overall, 2010

In 29 games for North Dakota, MacMillan has recorded 16 goals and 9 assists, leading the team in goals and becoming the school’s active leader in assists and total points. Along with his offensive exploits, the two-way forward was a superb penalty-killer and was relied upon for several crucial face-offs.

As a senior, MacMillan served as Alternate Captain. North Dakota battled through injuries to the top of NHCH standings, winning the Penrose Cup. Formerly known as the Fighting Sioux, they are favored to capture the conference title at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. However, the team will have to do so without the services of MacMillan who was ruled out for the season after suffering a lower body injury while blocking a shot against Colorado College.

Josiah Didier, D, Denver (NCHC)
Drafted 4th Round, 97th Overall, 2011

Serving as an Alternate Captain in his senior season, Didier contributed 2 goals and 7 assists in 36 games for the University of Denver. The Pioneers finished their regular season in the middle of the NCHC pack. They swept their 3-game series against Minnesota-Duluth to earn a berth in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

Didier was tasked in a shutdown role throughout the season. Head Coach Jim Montgomery leaned on Didier’s leadership when he frequently paired him with the talented but inexperienced freshman, Adam Plant. At other points, he was paired with one of the team’s puck-moving defenseman, relied upon to cover the back end.

Jake Evans, RW, Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th Round, 207th Overall, 2014 

Notre Dame skated to a fifth place finish in their second campaign as a member of the powerful Hockey East Conference. They came up short in the postseason, losing their quarterfinal series to UMass-Lowell and missing out on a trip to Boston for the Hockey East Semifinals. In Game One, Evans assisted on the first goal, opening the scoring on a quintuple-overtime game that lasted nearly six hours—the longest NCAA hockey game ever played.

Evans scored 7 goals and 10 assists for the Fighting Irish, deployed sparingly on the power play and scoring lines. Though the freshman’s production dried up down the stretch, it was a productive transitional year for the winger.

Colin Sullivan, D, Miami of Ohio (NCHC)
Drafted 7th Round, 198th Overall, 2011

Sullivan enrolled at Miami following a transfer from Boston College. In 2012-13, he found himself buried on the Eagles depth chart. NCAA transfer protocol forced him to sit out a year, so he spent 2013-14 with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. After finally getting into the RedHawks lineup in 2014-15, he missed huge chunks of time due to injury, appearing in just 8 games.

Sullivan was healthy for the NCHC tournament. The strong-skating defenseman flashed some excellent puck-distribution instincts as Miami won their quarterfinal series against Western Michigan, setting up a semifinal meeting with the Denver Pioneers.

Europe

Artturi Lehkonen, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
Drafted 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2013

Lehkonen has struggled to find consistency in his first season in the Swedish League. Known for his puckhandling and dynamic one-on-one ability, he only managed 8 goals and 8 assists in 47 games with Frolunda. However, he did step up his rate of production in Champions League action, registering 7 points in 12 games. He has been a streaky scorer throughout the season.

Frolunda finished the regular season in second place overall. In their playoff series with Lulea, Lehkonen has seen deployment on Frolunda’s top scoring line with Ryan Lasch and Joel Lunqvist. However, he has only managed a single assist in the series which Lulea currently leads 2-1.

Martin Reway, LW, HC Sparta Praha (Czech)
Drafted 4th Round, 116th Overall, 2013

Reway is consistently deployed on Sparta Praha’s top scoring line. He is also force-fed power play minutes. As a result, a considerable amount of his production comes off the man advantage.

Sparta Praha finished the Czech Republic League regular season in 4th place. Despite missing close to 20 games due to injury and international hockey commitments, Reway was their third leading scorer with nine goals and 28 assists. Sparta Praha faced Hradec Kralove in the playoffs. Reway tallied a goal and 3 assists as Sparta Praha took a stranglehold on the series, three games games to none.

Joonas Nattinen, C, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 3rd Round, 65th Overall, 2009

After 3 seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Nattinen elected to play in the SHL in 2014-15. It was a mutually beneficial decision, allowing Montreal to table a difficult choice about whether or not he was ready for an NHL roster spot.

AHL hockey has molded Naatinen into a seasoned two-way forward with dangerous playmaking ability, among many other tools. None of this could help MODO in 2014-15—they finished dead last in the SHL standings. Nattinen scored 7 goals and 11 assists. With several talented prospects moving up the pipeline into the professional ranks, it seems unlikely Nattinen will return to North American in 2015-16.

Maxim Trunev, RW, Cherepovets (KHL)
Drafted 5th Round, 138th Overall, 2008

Trunev is a player whose hands are full just trying to stick around in the KHL. His inclusion in this update is academic—he is unlikely to be considered for a contract at any level of the Montreal Canadiens organization.

For the record, Trunev split time between two KHL teams in 2014-15, Nizhnekamsk dealt him back to Cherepovets, the hockey club that developed him early in his career. Overall, he registered 10 goals and 6 assists in 46 KHL games. These are troubling numbers for a well-seasoned, primarily offensive player. Cherepovets finished near the bottom of the Tarasov Division, leaving them out of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens Prospect of the Month – Jacob de la Rose

Jacob de la Rose - LeksandsAs hockey seasons at all levels and around the world hit their stretch run, several Canadiens prospects are playing excellent hockey. As noted, Reway and Lehkonen are dynamic scorers among men in their respective leagues. Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron are key pieces for their CHL teams, both of whom are at the top of their respective divisions. However, Jacob de la Rose’s accomplishments have been, quite literally, amazing.

When he was drafted in the second round in 2013, scouts and fans alike were impressed and optimistic about his potential. Nobody thought that 18 months later, he would be centering the third line of an NHL team challenging for the Presidents’ Trophy. It was far beyond the realm of possibility.

It is difficult to overstate how remarkable his emergence has been. He is not being fed NHL minutes just for the sake of experience. He is being deployed tactically in clutch scenarios: penalty kills, shut-down situations, defensive-zone faceoffs. His speed is evident and his physicality is unexpected for a teenager. By all appearances, he will ride on that third line right through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.