P.K. Subban continues his reign as the Montreal Canadiens top prospect

By Ian Bross
Photo: Montreal Canadiens top prospect P.K. Subban.

(Photo courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)

With the continued growth of prospects such as P.K. Subban and new additions such as 2010 first-round draft pick Jarred Tinordi and trade acquisition Lars Eller, the Canadiens’ prospect pool is flush with high-end talent. Several of the prospects, including Subban and Eller, will also be pushing for full-time NHL duties in the coming season.

01. (1) P.K. Subban, D, (8.0B)
02. (NR) Lars Eller, C, (7.5C)
03. (2) Danny Kristo, LW, (7.5C)
04. (3) Louis Leblanc, C, (7.5C)
05. (NR) Jarred Tinordi, D, (7.5C)
06. (4) Yannick Weber, D, (7.0B)
07. (9) Mathieu Carle, D, (7.0C)
08. (5) Aaron Palushaj, RW, (7.0C)
09. (6) Ben Maxwell, C, (6.5B)
10. (18) David Desharnais, C, (7.0D)
11. (11) Andreas Engqvist, C, (7.0D)
12. (17) Alexander Avtsin, RW, (7.0D)
13. (16) Gabriel Dumont, C, (7.0D)
14. (8) Ryan White, C, (6.5B)
15. (14) Steve Quailer, RW, (7.0D)
16. (13) Mac Bennett, D, (6.5C)
17. (12) Cedrick Desjardins, G, (6.5C)
18. (NR) Brock Trotter, C, (7.0D)
19. (19) Maxim Trunev, RW, (7.0D)
20. (7) Joonas Nattinen, C, (7.0D)

01. P.K. Subban, D, 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2007

Subban is the crown jewel of the Montreal prospect pool. The 21-year-old seamlessly transitioned from junior to the pros with the AHL‘s Hamilton Bulldogs. He scored 18 goals and 35 assists and registered a plus-46 rating, a narrow second to Arturs Kulda (ATL) with 11 additional games played. Subban was a member of the AHL All-Rookie team, and was named a first team AHL All-Star. He led all rookie defensemen in points in 2009-10, placed third in scoring among defensemen league wide, and fourth among all rookies. In July, he was the recipient of the AHL‘s President’s Award, in recognition of his accomplishments over the course of the season.

Subban was also called-up to Montreal during the 2009-10 NHL playoffs, due to the Canadiens’ blueline being weakened by injuries, including defensive leader Andrei Markov. With only two NHL regular season games under his belt, Subban’s play helped the team to first- and second-round upsets against heavily favored Washington and Pittsburgh.

Subban possesses elite skill and creativity, in addition to a high amount confidence and poise. He could potentially earn a full-time spot on the Montreal blue line next season.

02. Lars Eller, C, 21
Acquired: via trade (June 2010)

The 21-year-old was acquired in July as part of a deal that sent Jaroslav Halak, whose standout postseason performance helped the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference finals, to the St. Louis Blues. As a member of the Peoria Rivermen, Eller finished his first season in the AHL with 18 goals and 39 assists in 70 games. Of his 39 assists, 22 came with the man advantage. His goal and assist totals, as well as his points total (57), were second-best on the team. Eller’s performance earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie team. The Danish forward also saw a brief stint with the Blues, worth seven games, in which he managed to score two goals.

A first-round draft pick in 2007, Eller is a good skater and hard worker with playmaking ability. He could contend for a spot on the Canadiens lineup as early as next season.

03. Danny Kristo, LW, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2008

As a 19-year-old freshman with University of North Dakota, Kristo managed 15 goals and 21 assists in 41 games. His year-end point total (36) placed him third behind senior Chris VandeVelde (EDM), and Jason Gregoire (NYI). He was named WCHA Rookie of the Year. Kristo was also a member of the gold medal-winning United States WJC team. One of only three players to return from the year prior, including American career points and assists leader Jordan Schroeder (VAN), Kristo scored five goals and three assists.

Coming off of a successful first season in the NCAA, Kristo will likely see his role expanded further in 2010-11.

04. Louis Leblanc, C, 19
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall, 2009

A standout freshman in his own right, Leblanc became a go-to player for the Harvard Crimson this past season. The 19-year-old scored 11 goals and 12 assists in 31 games played. His goal total as well as his point total (23), were best on the team. For his efforts, Leblanc was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was named to the ECAC All-Rookie team, and was nominated for ECAC Rookie of the Year.

Leblanc will not be returning for his sophomore season with the Crimson, after agreeing to a three-year entry-level contract with Montreal in late July. Barring any unexpected developments, however, the skil
led two-way center will spend the upcoming season with the Montreal Juniors of the QMJHL.

05. Jarred Tinordi, D, 18
Acquired: 1st round, 22nd overall, 2010

The Canadiens specifically targeted Tinordi for their first-round selection this past June, sending a second-round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes to move up from 27th to 22nd overall. They also received an extra fourth-round pick in the process.

With the USNTDP, Tinordi scored four goals and five assists in 26 games in 2009-10. He registered a plus-14 rating, and 68 penalty minutes. Tinordi also won a gold medal as a representative of the United States in the 2010 World U-18 championships.

Standing 6’6 tall, Tinordi brings imposing size as well as an NHL pedigree, son of former defenseman Mark Tinordi. Captain of both the USNTDP team and U-18 team, the Millersville, Maryland native skates well for his size, brings grit and toughness in the mold of a defensive defenseman, as well as leadership capability.

Tinordi was committed to the University of Notre Dame for the 2010-2011 season. However, reports have surfaced that he will play with the London Knights of the OHL, in lieu of the NCAA.

06. Yannick Weber, D, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2007

Though his stats declined slightly in 2009-10, Weber was the first Hamilton blueliner to be called up to Montreal this season. The 21-year-old scored six goals and 25 assists in 65 games. He skated in three games in the AHL playoffs before being sidelined with an injury. Weber represented Switzerland in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He registered no points and a minus-2 rating.

Weber distributes the puck well, particularly in transition, and likes to put shots on net. Primarily a puck-moving defenseman, he made strides in his defensive play this season. He has rounded out his game further, by increasing his physical play. He is improving in key areas, ways that will help him compete for a spot with the Habs next season.

07. Mathieu Carle, D, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2006

Carle has been challenged by injuries in recent years. In 2009-10, Carle skated in only 31 games with Hamilton, scoring five goals and 10 assists, before being taken out of action yet again. The 22-year-old returned for the Bulldogs’ final postseason contest, in which he registered no points. Carle possesses no shortage of talent, so long as he is able to stay healthy. Carle agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with Montreal this summer. His performance this season may very well determine his long-term standing with the Canadiens.

08. Aaron Palushaj, RW, 20
Acquired: via trade (March 2010)

Palushaj joined the Hamilton Bulldogs after being acquired in trade deadline swap between Montreal and St. Louis. Playing in 62 games last season, he scored eight goals and 24 assists. Palushaj skated in 18 games during the regular season with Hamilton, and 19 during the postseason. In the playoffs, he contributed two goals and 10 assists.

Palushaj is a well-rounded forward with excellent speed who has demonstrated a measure of playmaking ability in the early stages of his professional career. At least another full season in the Montreal system should give the 20-year-old the chance to further hone his game. He can be expected to return to Hamilton in 2010-11.

09. Ben Maxwell, C, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2006

Maxwell has been able to remain healthy in recent years, though injuries in the latter portion of his junior career threatened to stunt his development. He has established himself as a consistent performer at the AHL level, scoring 16 goals and 28 assists in 57 games in 2009-10. In consecutive seasons, Maxwell ranked third among Bulldogs forwards in scoring. Though contributing offense at the minor league level, in a combined 20 appearances over the last two years, Maxwell has tallied zero NHL points.

A second-round pick in 2006, Maxwell’s upside is beginning to show itself. With a new generation of young hopefuls on the horizon, his place on the organizational depth chart is beginning to drop.

10. David Desharnais, C, 23
Acquired: Free Agent (2008)

Desharnais followed up a strong rookie campaign which saw him finish second in Bulldogs’ scoring in 2008-09, by leading the Bulldogs in scoring in 2009-10. The 23-year-old scored a career high 27 goals and 51 assists, a total of 78 points in 60 games, up from 58 points in 77 games. This despite being injured to start the season. Likewise, Desharnais led Hamilton in scoring during the playoffs, with 10 goals and 13 assists in 19 games.

The most convenient aspect of Desharnais to criticize is his lack of size, standing 5’6 tall. The undrafted Quebec native, however, has ably demonstrated that his diminutive stature is not a hindrance to him at the AHL level. Desharnais re-signed with the Canadiens this summer to a one year, two-way contract. This year will be his chance to prove he can succeed beyond the minor leagues.

11. Andreas Engqvist, C, 22
Acquired: Free Agent (2009)

Engqvist had somewhat of an inconsistent season, but a solid season nonetheless. He started strong, but his production slipped by midseason. He finished with 14 goals and 17 assists for 26 points, good enough to set new career highs in each category. Since signing with the Canadiens last July, he should be ready for the next step, which will be to test himself in the minors in North America. At 6’4 tall, Engqvist has a big frame which he uses to position himself in the slot area, a scoring touch around the net, and a hard wrist shot. He could still afford to put on weight, which will help him cope with the more physically trying North American game.

12. Alexander Avtsin, RW, 19
Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2009

Avtsin attempted to break through with the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo this year. Growing pains and a wrist injury factored in, deterring the 19-year-old. In 30 games, Avtsin had three goals and six assists. Though the season didn’t necessarily go precisely according to plan, Avtsin and the Canadiens came to an agreement on a three-year entry level contract this July. Avtsin’s goal will be to make the team out of training camp. However, the young Russian’s likely destination will be with the Hamilton Bulldogs. There, the extremely talented winger will be in prime position to receive all the seasoning he could need to reach the highest level. Avtsin has plenty of skill, and determination to match.

13. Gabriel Dumont, C, 19
Acquired: 5th roun
d, 139th overall, 2009

Dumont posted impressive stats in the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs this past season, setting new career-high marks in each of the major statistical categories. Through 61 games, he scored 51 goals and 42 assists. His total of 93 points, up from 49 a season ago, tied him for third in the QMJHL in scoring. He was also given the Guy Carbonneau Golden Puck award for Best Defensive Forward.

Dumont is blessed with strong overall hockey sense, and is not at all timid, though a modest 5’10 180 pounds. He possesses a high compete level, and is perfectly willing to mix things up. He amassed 127 penalty minutes during the regular season. After the Voltigeurs were eliminated from postseason play, Dumont joined the Hamilton Bulldogs. He dressed in 11 postseason games, and scored two goals. He should be back in Hamilton next season.

14. Ryan White, C, 22
Acquired: 3rd round, 66th overall, 2006

In his second year pro, as a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs, White’s level of involvement has gone up heavily. Far from a top-flight talent, the 22-year-old contributes occasional offense while displaying all of the characteristics of a prototypical role player. White works hard, brings energy and grit, is responsible defensively, and is more than willing to throw his weight around. Along with these qualities, he provided 17 goals and 17 assists and 173 penalty minutes in 62 games.

White’s development over the years as a player has gone precisely to plan. After dressing in 16 games for the Canadiens in 2009-10, in which he had two assists and 16 penalty minutes, a permanent move to the NHL may not be far off.

15. Steve Quailer, RW, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall, 2008

As a freshman for Northeastern in 2008-09, Quailer scored 10 goals and 15 assists in 41 games. With his role set to increase, in 2009-10, Quailer did not play in any official games -– suffering a season-ending ACL injury during a pre-season exhibition. Listed at 6’4 and 185 pounds, Quailer is lanky, but adding strength. With plenty of size and intelligence, Quailer could develop into a power forward down the line. First, he will have to successfully rebound from a year’s time away from in-game activity. He should be ready to go in the fall.

16. Mac Bennett, D, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2009

The 2009-10 season was Bennett’s first and last in the USHL. A top-pairing defender for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders all season, he was typically matched up against opposing team’s top scorers. Bennett was the team leader in plus/minus with a +17 rating, and in ice time on defense. He tallied nine goals and 14 assists on the year, and was named to the USHL All-Star team.

Bennett has become more responsible in his own zone since moving on to the USHL. His strongest assets continue to be his on-ice awareness, and his ability to transition to offense. Bennett is headed for the University of Michigan this season.

17. Cedrick Desjardins, G, 24
Acquired: Free Agent (2006)

Though Desjardins was not the sole owner of the starting job in Hamilton this year, his play has drastically improved his NHL prospects. At the beginning of the season, the 24-year-old was pegged as support for offseason acquisition, veteran netminder Curtis Sanford. While it was Sanford between the pipes in the Bulldog’s opening games, eventually, Desjardins forced his way into the action. With all said and done, he appeared in 47 games to Sanford’s 41. Desjardins posted a league-best 2.00 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage, and a 29-9-4 record. He managed six shutouts.

For the first time in his AHL career, Desjardins received the lion’s share of playing time in goal. With his contract expiring next summer, he will have to prove his success was not a fluke.

18. Brock Trotter, C, 22
Acquired: Free Agent (2008)

A member of the Hamilton Bulldogs going back to the 2007-08 season, Trotter met the demands on him this year that accompanied his veteran status on the team. His offensive contributions greatly increased, doubling his goal total from his rookie year (18) with 36 goals in 2009-10, best on the roster. He also had 41 assists. The undrafted 22-year-old finished second in Bulldogs’ overall scoring, trailing David Desharnais by one point. In the postseason, he added 19 points in as many games.

Trotter makes good use of his speed, his greatest weapon being his quickness and agility. An area of concern for Trotter is his grasp of the game in his own end, and his commitment to defense. Over the duration of his contract with Montreal, he only dressed with the team in two games, both this season. Trotter’s contract with Montreal expired this summer.

19. Maxim Trunev, RW, 19
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2008

Trunev traveled between the KHL with Severstal Cherepovets, and MHL with Almaz Cherepovets in 2009-10. It was a season of adjustments for the 19-year-old. Trunev played 14 games with Almaz, and amassed 24 points. In 30 games with Severstal, Trunev scored three goals and two assists. His five points in 30 games tied his total from 2008-09. Trunev also participated in the 2010 WJC for Russia, scoring two goals and two assists in six games.

In the KHL, as Severstal’s youngest player, Trunev’s efforts have been spent trying to adjust to the faster paced game compared to that of the MHL level, and trying to tighten his game defensively. Trunev also received scarce playing time. He is nevertheless a scorer a first and foremost. He has terrific skill and likes to play with finesse, at his best when handling the puck freely.

20. Joonas Nattinen, C, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall, 2009

The 19-year-old Nattinen divided his time in 2009-10 between the SM-Liiga’s Espoo Blues and Hokki of Mestis, Finland‘s second-tier professional league. Nattinen was loaned to Hokki, with the original intent to remain only briefly. Instead, the young forward’s stay lasted from January through February. Also a representative of Finland in the 2010 WJC, Nattinen had five assists in six games. The team finished in fifth place.

Nattinen’s contract with Espoo expires at the end of this coming season. As of yet he has not proven himself a regular at the highest level of competition in Finland.