Montreal Canadiens depth analysis, Fall 2010

By Ian Bross

The Canadiens may lack size, but they have plenty of depth on defense and at center. The Canadiens have a large amount of prospects already on the professional circuit. They also have a new general manager Pierre Gauthier, and a wider spread of prospects — from the BCHL to WHL, Russia, Sweden, and others.

Left Wing

On paper, the left wing is one of the weakest positions in the Montreal prospect pool. With the exception of goaltenders, left wingers are the most scarce position in system.

Playing professionally are Andrew Conboy and Dany Masse. Conboy, entering his third season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, is also a unique Canadiens prospect due to his size and physicality. Over the years, the team’s tendency has been to either favor or ignore size. Masse, though standing a modest 5’10, is nevertheless also a physical player, but has not established himself at the AHL level as of yet.

Playing professionally in Sweden, a member of MODO hockey in the SEL, is John Westin. A seventh-round pick, the Canadiens’ last in 2010, Westin too is an exceptionally physical player. At 6’0 and 183 pounds, Westin is considered a hardworking and aggressive checker with scoring upside. Early in what was to be Westin’s rookie year, he suffered a broken arm that will keep him sidelined for several months.

Philippe Lefebvre‘s fourth season in the QMJHL is underway. After playing three campaigns with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Lefebvre has joined the Montreal Juniors. The 19-year-old is off to a fast start on the scoresheet so far, with 15 points in 11 games played.

And finally, playing in the BCHL, fourth-round 2010 draft choice Mark MacMillan. MacMillan is skating with the Penticton Vees this season, before he heads to the University of North Dakota in 2011-2012.

Center

The Canadiens organization is deepest at the pivot position. Boasting such a glut of natural centers, many will convert to the wing if they haven’t already at times done so.

Two prime examples are Lars Eller and Tom Pyatt — the only current forward prospects to break into the NHL. Pyatt earned his spot late last season as a winger, before returning to the middle early on in 2010-11. Eller made the team out of training camp, lining up on the wing. Both players have skated in all five of the team’s contests thus far.

The trio of David Desharnais, Ben Maxwell and Ryan White have all become regulars with Hamilton in the AHL. All three have valiantly challenged for spots in the NHL, and have fallen just short, dressing in bleu blanc et rouge, but unable to stick with the team. Maxwell has skated in a combined 20 games over the past two seasons; White played 16 games with the Canadiens last season, and came tantalizingly close to making the team out of camp this year; and Desharnais, an offensive dynamo for the Bulldogs, has only appeared in six games for the Canadiens.

Also at the AHL level: Andreas Engqvist, Gabriel Dumont, Olivier Fortier, and Ryan Russell. All but Russell, back with the Bulldogs for the fourth time, are relative newcomers to the Hamilton lineup. Dumont advanced from the QMJHL at the conclusion of his club’s season, as did Fortier. Dumont, however, dressed for more games. After multiple seasons in the SEL, Enggvist is receiving his first taste of North American hockey in 2010-11. Lastly, Hunter Bishop, after joining the Bulldogs at the end of last season, will be out of action indefinitely due to post-concussion syndrome.

Competing in Europe: former AHL‘er Brock Trotter, and Joonas Nattinen. Trotter, recently a top scorer for the Bulldogs, will spend the season in the KHL with Riga Dynamo. And attempting to enter full-time duty in the SM-Liiga, the 19-year-old Nattinen is recovering from achilles tendon surgery.

In the QMJHL, is Louis Leblanc, a teammate of Philippe Lefebvre with the Montreal Juniors. Leblanc made the move to the QMJHL after a successful freshman year with Harvard in the NCAA. He is expected to have a highly productive season. He has already amassed 16 points in nine games.

Currently in the NCAA are Mike Cichy of the University of North Dakota, Dustin Walsh of Dartmouth College, and Patrick Johnson of the University of Wisconsin. Cichy and Walsh are entering their sophomore years, and Johnson is entering his senior year with the Badgers, last season’s NCAA Division I tournament runner-up.

Right Wing

At right wing, returning to action at the AHL level again are Aaron Palushaj and J.T. Wyman. Palushaj will play his first full season in the Montreal organization, and should be an offensive catalyst for Hamilton. Wyman is a familiar face in the organization, returning to the Bulldogs for a third season. Also trying to establish themselves as pros are Alexander Avtsin and Ian Schultz. With an abundance of skill, the Russian import Avtsin will aim for a standout season as a rookie in North America.

At the collegiate level, UND’s Danny Kristo, and Steve Quailer of Northeastern University. Expectations will be high for Kristo as a sophomore, after a season of accolades. And Quailer will try and bounce back from a knee injury that erased his entire 2009-10 season before it even began.

The Canadiens lone WHL prospect is Brendan Gallagher. Taken in round five of last summer’s entry draft, the 5’8 Vancouver Giant has started the season on a tear, with 10 goals and nine assists in the first 12 games. And the team’s only remaining European forward prospect, with Avtsin and Engqvist crossing over to North America this season, is Maxim Trunev. The 20-year-old Trunev is entering his third season with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets. It is also the last of his current contract.

Defense

At the top of the heap is P.K. Subban, the only rookie on the Montreal Canadiens blue line this season.

Two of his defensive counterparts — Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle — have made brief appearances as well. Weber and Carle will carry on in the AHL. Weber will be back for his third go-around and Carle his fourth, though the 23-year-old’s 2009-10 campaign was cut short due to injury. Neither have been able to get over the hump as of yet. Both have contracts that expire at the end of the year and will be restricted free agents.

The Canadiens will have two defensive prospects in the junior ranks this year, both 2010 draft picks. Joining fourth-round pick Morgan Ellis will be first-round pick Jarred Tinordi. Tinordi decided to become a member of the OHL‘s London Knights rather than play in the NCAA. In the year prior, he was captain of the US National Development Team in the USHL. Ellis too, will wear the ‘C’ on his sweater, after being named captain of the QMJHL‘s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles this summer.

There will be a quartet of defensemen in the NCAA representing the Canadiens this season. A recent addition, along with Scott Kishel, Greg Pateryn, and Joe Stejskal, is former Cedar Rapids RoughRider Mac Bennett. As a freshman, Bennett will join junior Greg Pateryn with the University of Michigan. Also in his junior season: Kishel with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Stejskal will be a senior with Dartmouth College.

And in Russia, Alexei Yemelin remains with AK Bars Kazan through the end of the 2010-11 season. Though noted for his physical play, the Canadiens’ third-round pick in 2004 has scored three goals and four assists through the first 12 games of the season.

Goaltending

With the departure of Cedrick Desjardins, the goaltending position continues to evolve in the Montreal organization. Signed as an undrafted free agent, the Czech-born Robert Mayer opened the 2010-11 season in net for the Hamilton Bulldogs, earning himself a win. Mayer will have to compete with veteran Curtis Sanford for playing time. And after attending training camp as an invitee, Peter Delmas was signed to a one-year contract by the Bulldogs. Delmas was a draft choice of the Colorado Avalanche.

Lastly, Petteri Simila is still trying to find his place, traveling through various levels of competition in Finland. A wildcard in the organization, the 20-year-old appears as though he will be a long-term project.