Montreal’s diverse pool of prospects participated in professional and amateur leagues throughout Europe and North America in 2014-15. Several, such as Mike McCarron, flashed glimpses of their potential while others, like Magnus Nygren, regressed.
The Hamilton Bulldogs’ bid for a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs came up short. Despite a breakout season from Charles Hudon and strong contributions from others such as Gabriel Dumont, Sven Andrighetto, and Daniel Carr, Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre was unable to inspire his squad to elevate their play in crucial games late in the regular season.
Several of Montreal’s most intriguing prospects played in the CHL. Nikita Scherbak’s Everett Silvertips and Brett Lernout’s Swift Current Broncos both bowed out of the WHL playoffs early. Meanwhile, Zachary Fucale’s Quebec Ramparts will host the Mastercard Memorial Cup and Mike McCarron’s Oshawa Generals are looking like a good bet to represent the OHL at the tournament.
In the NCAA, Mark MacMillan’s choice to return for his senior year proved fruitful as North Dakota surged into the Frozen Four. Artturri Lehkonen went to the SHL semifinals with Frolunda, while Martin Reway looked effective in his first season of professional hockey with the Czech Extraliga’s HC Sparta Praha. Reway then joined Slovakia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in May.
2015 Canadiens Prospect Awards
Hardest Worker: Tim Bozon, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
A life-threatening bout with Neisseria meningitidis essentially robbed Bozon of a year of development. While other prospects in his draft class were adding muscle mass in the gym, Bozon spent his summer learning how to walk and talk again. It’s a testament to his work ethic that he was able to return to competitive hockey in 2014-15.
Mark Macmillan is an honorable mention for this award. The left wing returned to the University of North Dakota, where his determined two-way play set a tone for the program, helping them to the NCHC championship and a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four. Along the way, MacMillan won the Lowes 2015 Senior CLASS Award and was a finalist for the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award.
Hardest Shot: Christian Thomas, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
If this title were awarded to the prospect with the most impressive reading on the radar gun, it would probably go to Magnus Nygren. However, a hard shot is only effective if it can reach the net in game situations. Under these circumstances, Thomas is a slightly more worthy recipient. Despite his smallish stature, he has a surprisingly heavy shot. He can unload it quickly in heavy traffic with his feet moving.
Thomas played 18 NHL games but he seemed apprehensive about shooting, usually choosing to perpetuate the cycle. He should shoot more.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jarred Tinordi, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
While it may seem that prospects like Greg Pateryn and even Darren Dietz have passed him in light of his many setbacks this season, Tinordi certainly has the highest ceiling of any defender in the prospect pool. His size and skill are a rare combination of attributes. Further, in some of the actions which cost him in 2014-15, one can find clues about his character.
He was knocked out fighting Andrey Pedan, one of the AHL’s most dangerous fighters—a testament to his physical courage. His return to the ice after suffering head, facial, and dental injuries in the bout speaks to his mental make-up.
He also hid a wrist injury from the medical staff, an extremely ill-advised decision and something he should never do again. Such a tendency, however immature, indicates a more useful makeup than the player who runs to the trainer’s room for treatment on every bump and bruise.
Montreal, with a fleet of puck-moving defensemen on their NHL roster, could certainly find a place for Tinordi’s size, grit and old-school approach.
Fastest Skater: Daniel Audette, C, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Montreal has several excellent skaters among their forward prospects. Charles Hudon, Martin Reway and Artturri Lehkonen all boast excellent skating ability among their core attributes, but Audette is the best of them. The son of former NHL player Donald Audette, he uses his wheels to generate space and scoring opportunities.
Audette was not selected until the 5th round because of his lack of size and strength. In order to find success at the professional level he needs to learn to combine his speed with hockey sense. This will enable him to identify mismatches to be exploited as well as create turnovers in defensive situations.
Prospect of the Year: Jacob de la Rose, C, Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
Drafted in the 2nd round in 2013, de la Rose was touted as a responsible two-way forward with maturity beyond his years. This season has proved that these were more than just typical draft-day superlatives.
De la Rose impressed at training camp, and was one of the final cuts. His 11 points in 37 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs suggest he was having difficulty transitioning to the AHL, but this fails to account for his deployment in a shutdown role.
De la Rose captained Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships. Following that tournament he was recalled to the Montreal Canadiens. What started out as an audition evolved into an extended stay. In 33 NHL games, he scored only 4 goals and 2 assists because he was tasked with surprisingly difficult minutes. Head Coach Michel Therrien deployed the 19 year old on the wing with Lars Eller, starting a disproportionate amount of shifts in the defensive zone and against the opposition’s top lines.
Therrien’s confidence in the youngster stretched into the playoffs. In their opening round series against Ottawa, de la Rose continued to play a shutdown role while also killing penalties and being deployed in late-game defensive situations.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Tim Bozon, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
As the hardest worker in Montreal’s 2015 prospect pool, it has been outlined how Bozon battled back from meningococcus. It is an indication of his underlying skill that he was able to replicate his previous season’s production with the Kootenay Ice in the WHL. He tallied 35 goals and 28 assists in 2014-15, a nearly identical pace to his 2013-14 output.
Bozon was rewarded with a call-up to the Hamilton Bulldogs following Kootenay’s elimination from postseason contention. It should be a sign of things to come. He already possesses the speed and skill to excel offensively. An offseason dedicated to conditioning should make him more of a factor in the dirty areas.
A new perspective gained from a brush with mortality could motivate him to perfect his defensive zone coverage and other finer points of his game, making him a well-rounded and more viable prospect.
Most Improved Prospect: Mike McCarron, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Montreal’s 2013 1st round selection struggled out of the gates in the season following his draft year. As an OHL rookie in 2013-14, McCarron managed just 34 points in 66 games for the London Knights. The 6’5, 230 pound power forward looked weak on his skates and lost on the ice.
This season, McCarron came out of his shell. With a season of OHL hockey under his belt, Head Coach Dale Hunter displayed much more confidence in him. Playing on a line with Max Domi and Mitch Marner, he scored 22 goals and 19 assists while asserting himself physically all over the ice.
At midseason, he was traded to the Oshawa Generals. His production plateaued over the rest of the regular season, but he stepped up his game in the OHL playoffs. He has 7 goals and 6 assists in 15 games, helping the Generals take the lead against the North Bay Battalion in their best-of-seven series.
Overachiever: Jeremy Gregoire, C, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Like most 6th round selections, Gregoire has several holes in his game. His lack of offensive upside and slow feet are his two most glaring shortcomings. However, throughout his short career, he has been able to compensate through hard work, determination and chippiness.
Gregoire was named captain of Baie-Comeau Drakkar but missed the first half of the season with an arm injury. When he returned, his steady defensive zone presence and his , offensive production, and his level of compete helped Baie-Comeau to a 4th place finish in the East Division.
He raised his game in the playoffs, scoring 21 points in 12 games and being a thorn in the side of the opposition every night out. He led the team in scoring as the Drakkar took Val-d’Or to the full seven games before being eliminated.
Underachiever: Magnus Nygren, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
With great physical tools at his disposal, Nygren probably could have cracked the NHL simply by showing up and paying his dues. He has not been able to stay on the ice. In 2013-14, he walked off the job in Hamilton and returned to Europe. This season, he missed huge chunks of time with injuries.
Nygren is an excellent puck distributor on the back-end and wields a deadly slapshot. His right shot makes him a rare commodity, although the Canadiens seem to have a bumper crop of righties on their defensive corps. Nygren is an example of how ‘games played’ is the most important, yet most overlooked of all statistics.
Highest Risk/Highest Reward: Zachary Fucale, G, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Goaltender, by its nature, is a highly volatile position to evaluate. They tend to mature at an older age than forwards or defenseman. It is also the most cerebral position. Success is so dependent on mental makeup and confidence. Some would suggest that even the most reputable of amateur scouts are just guessing when it comes to goaltending prospects.
The majority of Fucale’s 2014-15 was subpar. He put up very pedestrian numbers for both Halifax and Quebec in the QMJHL. Despite his unimpressive play, he was still selected to return as Canada’s starting goaltender at the World Junior Championships. A couple of soft goals-against in the finals nearly sparked a comeback by the Russians.
Just when it seemed his season would end in quiet failure, he raised his game in the QMJHL playoffs, making timely saves to backstop the Remparts to the finals, which have yet to start. He holds a 2.23 goals-against and a .920 save percentage through 13 games.
Ultimately, the dominance of Carey Price provides latitude for the Canadiens to let Fucale’s development arc play out. Still, they burned a second round pick on him. If they lose confidence in his potential, it will be important to get out while he still holds value.
Prospect of the Month: Jeremy Gregoire
With the Hamilton Bulldogs falling out of contention for the Calder Cup playoffs, the AHL crop of prospects were removed from Prospect of the Month consideration. McCarron and Fucale stepped up their game in the CHL, while MacMillan went to the NCAA Frozen Four with the University of North Dakota. As good as these performances were, none stood out quite like Jeremy Gregoire.
In 12 QMJHL playoff games over the course of two rounds, Gregoire scored at nearly a two points-per-game pace, tallying 10 goals and 11 assists. Along with raising his production, he brought his trademark grit and defensive presence. With the series in the balance, he logged more ice time than any other player on the roster. Despite Gregoire’s play, the Drakkar were unable to advance to the third round.
Based on this performance, Gregoire seems like he could be a viable 4th line prospect. As he enters professional hockey, success will hinge on whether he can improve his speed or find a way to compensate for his lack of it.