Canadiens AHL/ECHL prospects 2009-10 review

By Ian Bross

The Canadiens AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, have enjoyed a good deal of success this season. While a total of 17 Montreal prospects have resided in the AHL this year, two others spent their time in the ECHL.

AHL

David Desharnais, C

Desharnais entered the year with something to prove. The start of the undrafted 23-year-old’s season was delayed as the result of a foot injury. Desharnais was unhindered upon his return to competition, however. Opening the 2009-10 season with a seven-game point streak was a sign of what was to come throughout, finishing with a total of 27 goals and 51 assists. Both figures were career highs. The combined 78 points, despite an abbreviated season of 60 games, were best on the Bulldog roster. Desharnais is also currently the team’s leader in points in the playoffs, with five goals and six assists in 11 games. Desharnais is certainly making a strong case that his lack of size at 5’7 shouldn’t discount his talent.

Brock Trotter, C

In his third AHL season, Trotter was due to carry more of the offensive load, and even so was arguably one of, if not, the most pleasantly surprising player for the Bulldogs in 2009-10. Another forward without size on his side at 5’9, Trotter surpassed expectations with drastic improvements to his scoring totals. The undrafted pivot managed to double his goals from 2008-09 – going from 18 goals to 36 goals – good enough to lead the team in that category. Trotter makes good use of his quickness and hands, but is also not uneducated defensively. Naturally, at an NHL level, his ability to adapt will be put to the test. Though promising, dressing in two games for Montreal this season, it remains to be seen whether Trotter’s success will translate to the highest level of play.

Ben Maxwell, C

The 22-year-old Maxwell was able to more or less match his output from his rookie year. Through 57 games in Hamilton, Maxwell scored 16 goals and assisted on 28. Though solid numbers, Maxwell did not elevate his scoring to the level he was perhaps expected. He also made a dozen appearances with the Canadiens during the year in which he was unable to register any points. While his production plateaus, Maxwell’s stock drops, and his place in Montreal depth chart diminishes. A heady player, a second-round draft choice in 2006, he will have to perform better next season if he hopes to regain the status that he once had.

Ryan White, C

White has excelled as a role player for the Bulldogs this year, a definite factor for the success the team has enjoyed in the regular season. Never passive on a shift, White has brought tenacity and work ethic, in addition to scoring depth. White skated in 62 contests with Hamilton, and in addition to 173 penalty minutes, contributed on the scoresheet with 17 goals and 17 assists. The Canadiens required White’s services this year as well. In 16 games, the 22-year-old pitched in with two assists and 16 penalty minutes. His value to the Bulldogs has only grown in postseason play, with three goals and three assists in 10 games. White has been a noticeable player this year in more ways than one, which should bode well for his future NHL prospects.

Tom Pyatt, C

Pyatt has exceeded expectations since his not-so-celebrated arrival in the Montreal system during the offseason. The 23-year-old notched 13 goals and 22 assists through 41 games since being acquired from the Rangers. It was his third AHL season. Beyond the numbers, Pyatt has been able to parlay his efforts into visits to the Canadiens lineup this season, and has been good enough to remain an active member of club thus far during their improbable playoff run. Pyatt has established himself as a trustworthy checking forward. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has an unquestionable work ethic and a responsible two-way mindset which makes him a welcome presence under head coach Jacques Martin.

Aaron Palushaj, RW

This was the Palushaj’s first full professional campaign after departing from the NCAA after two seasons. The 20-year-old joined Hamilton after he was acquired at the trade deadline in exchange for Matt D’Agostini. Palushaj’s time was divided between the Bulldogs and the St. Louis Blues AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. Since arriving, in 18 games, he scored three goals and seven assists. Overall, he finished his rookie year with eight goals and 24 assists in 62 games. Palushaj is a well-rounded forward, who should be a more influential scoring presence next season. He likely has at least one more full year in the minors ahead of him before he challenges for an NHL spot. 

Dany Masse, LW

Masse was signed as a free agent to a three-year contract by Montreal in April 2009. Injured initially, Masse hasn’t gotten much play on a deep Hamilton roster. What sparse ice time the soon-to-be 22-year-old has received has been mostly as a fourth-line forward. Dressed for 25 games this season, he has scored three goals and two assists. He has one assist in five postseason appearances. Masse was a prolific scorer in the QMJHL. He has worked hard since going pro, and seems as though he will be given his opportunity to establish himself with the Bulldogs next season.

J.T. Wyman, RW

Quiet in his rookie year, spent between the AHL and ECHL with Cincinnati, Wyman enjoyed a breakout season of sorts in 2009-10. He struggled somewhat to score consistently, posting 10 points in 12 games in December, and a combined six points in January and February. Nevertheless, spread throughout the lineup in different roles, Wyman has been a useful component for the Bulldogs. He has has lined up at different positions on the ice this year. He had an uneventful three-game stint with Montreal in November. Wyman’s skill set is that of an offense-first forward. In addition to his talent, Wyman has good size, which sets him apart from many of his teammates. The 24-year-old’s contract ends this season.

Ryan Russell, C

Russell has helped provide Hamilton with excellent depth as they rolled to a 50-plus win season. Individually, in terms of pure statistics, Russell’s production declined slightly from 2008-09. This was more than likely merely a byproduct of the depth the Bulldogs boasted this year rather than anything else. Russell brings blazing speed, and consistent work ethic in addition to bonus offense. The 23-year-old had 19 tallies, three of which came shorthanded, and 18 assists in 74 games. He was only charged with eight penalty minutes. A seventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2005, Russell can hold his own in the attacking zone. He could be a valuable bottom-six asset going forward if Montreal chooses to renew his contract which expires this year.

Andrew Conboy, LW

This season was Conboy’s first full season as a professional. The soon-to-be 22-year-old joined Hamilton last season after his freshman campaign in the NCAA with Michigan State University. At 6’4 200 lbs, Conboy brings size and toughness to the Hamilton lineup. In a fourth-line role, he has been most effective when engaging physically. He scored eight goals and added five assists in 65 games. Far from a lazy player, Conboy sticks up for his teammates. He recorded 73 penalty minutes this season, dropping the gloves on five occasions. At different times, he has played both center and wing. Conboy has two additional years left on his contract. He’ll need another full year in the AHL before he can hope to be considered a viable NHLer.

Greg Stewart, RW

Stewart began the year with the Bulldogs. As the team accumulated depth, the roster evolved, his ice time waned. Stewart was reassigned on March 10, loaned to the the Chicago Wolves. He recorded five goals and five assists in 45 games with Hamilton, and one goal in nine games with Chicago for a total of 11 points in 54 games. An eighth-round pick in 2004, Stewart is an extremely gritty, highly-spirited grinder. He will drop the gloves when necessary, even against larger opponents. Postseason play has not been too kind to Stewart. He has scored one point and is a -5 in nine games. Stewart is still property of the Canadiens, though his contract expires this year. It seems unlikely that he’ll remain in the organization.

Mikael Johansson, C

A ninth-round draft choice of the Red Wings in 2003, the 24-year-old Swede signed a one-year contract with Montreal late last May. Stalled by injury, Johansson joined the Bulldogs for a sum of 20 games. The 5’9 center scored three goals and assisted on three others before returning to his home country and his former team, Farjestads BK. Apparently not a fit in North America, with his contract concluding in the coming months, Johansson does not seem as though he will remain in the Montreal organization in the future.

Olivier Fortier, C

After signing a three-year professional contract with Montreal last March, a shoulder injury virtually erased the entirety of Fortier’s year. The third-round pick was idle for all but one contest in the 2009-10 regular season, what would have been his rookie campaign. Fortier finally made his first appearance on Apr. 10, the Bulldogs last regular-season game. He did not register a point. He has one goal in four postseason games.

P.K. Subban, D

Subban’s transition from junior to the pros has been quite seamless. A dynamic offensive force from the rearguard, pegged by critics as a liability in his own end, he hasn’t missed a beat on the defensive side of the game. Over the course of the 2009-10 season, the 20-year-old has put on a display of his high-end skill and natural hockey sense. Subban’s stats have been impressive all around. He scored 18 goals and 35 assists for 53 points – tops among Hamilton defensemen, third among defensemen league-wide, and fourth among all rookies league-wide. Subban was second in the league in plus/minus rating. His +46 was narrowly bettered only by Arturs Kulda (ATL).

Dominant play in the AHL playoffs (three goals and six assists in six games) coupled with injuries on the Montreal blueline has earned Subban a spot on the Canadiens as they compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has made a strong impression thus far, and could compete for a full-time spot next season.

Yannick Weber, D

Weber was the first Hamilton blueliner to be called up to Montreal this season. With Hamilton, the puck-moving defenseman has seen his stats drop off somewhat from a season ago. He scored six goals and 25 assists in 65 games. Weber is nevertheless an excellent passer, effective in the transition, a right-handed shooter, and experienced power-play quarterback. The presence of Subban likely had an effect on Weber’s reduced stats. Weber showed that he is a capable defender, more so than simply a power-play quarterback. The 21-year-old played with more physicality this year than in the past.

Weber has skated in three games in the playoffs. He has not registered any points and has an even plus/minus rating. He is currently out of action, listed as day-to-day. With two full seasons under his belt in the AHL, Weber should be close to NHL ready. He will compete for a spot with the Habs next season.

Mathieu Carle, D

In the last few years with Hamilton, Carle showed he had a knack for the offensive game, despite nagging injuries. Along with Weber, he figured to be a top-pairing defenseman for the Bulldogs in 2009-10. And also, like Weber, Carle made strides to hone his play at his own end this season. However the second-round pick in 2006 was sidelined in early January with a wrist injury, from which he did not return. With his season cut short, Carle counted up five goals and 10 assists in 31 games. Though he is not expected to be ready for any further Calder Cup competition, Carle should be fully healed in time for next season. He will be in the running for a spot with Montreal in 2010-11.

Cedrick Desjardins, G

Desjardins was a stand-out during the 2009-10 season – along with Trotter, one of Hamilton’s most pleasant surprises. He was recognized as the Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Month in December. That month he had an 8-0 record, surrendering a total of nine goals and was credited with a 1.16 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage. Entering the year, the 24-year-old Desjardins seemed destined to occupy the backup role to offseason acquisition, veteran netminder Curtis Sanford.

With strong play, the undrafted Desjardins proved he was capable of more. He finished the year with a league-best 2.00 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage, and a 29-9-4 record. Sanford himself was strong, and the pair made a formidable combination all year, sharing the goaltending duties on the team. Yet Desjardins’ individual success provided a strong foundation for the success Hamilton had this season.

ECHL

Michael Busto, D

Busto was acquired in the offseason deal which brought Scott Gomez to Montreal. The 2009-10 season was not a successful one for the 23-year-old. After consecutive complete seasons in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers, Busto participated in two games with the Dayton Gems of the IHL, before being reassigned to the ECHL Elmira Jackals for nine games. He scored one goal and three assists. He did not skate with the Elmira in their first-round playoff series, in which the Jackals were defeated in five games.

Though possessing appropriate size and grit, Busto’s skating ability is sub-par. At his age, an inability to stick at the ECHL level – let alone the AHL level – suffice it to say, is a big concern. Originally a free-agent signing of the Rangers, Busto’s professional contract officially expires this summer.

Robert Mayer, G

Mayer moved on from the QMJHL to the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones this season. Cyclones head coach Chuck Weber spoke to Hockey’s Future in March about the 20-year-old Czech-born goaltender’s progress thus far.

“He’s learning what it takes to be in the pro game,” Weber said. “That’s the thing he’s got to work on is his day-in and day-out preparation. I think we’re starting to see that.”

Weber believes Mayer has done well fitting in as a professional. “For a rookie it’s tough coming in,” Weber said. “I think he’s made a good adjustment.”

Mayer posted a 2.81 goals-against average with Cincinnati, a .881 save percentage, and a 19-10-3 record. He appeared in one game in the AHL with the Bulldogs before their season concluded. He stepped in between the pipes for Hamilton’s final game, a shootout loss to Toronto. In 65 minutes of play, Mayer gave up two goals. In the playoffs, the Cyclones went with fellow pro rookie Jeremy Smith (NAS) over Mayer. They are down 3-1 in the conference finals.

Mayer, who speaks Czech, French, and English, is described by Weber as a long, athletic goaltender, exceptional at playing the puck. He is at his best when playing aggressively – out on top of crease, and staying on his feet. Mayer has a strong ability to read the play, and controls his rebounds well.