Scherbak rises to top of Montreal Canadiens prospects heap

By Shawn Wilken
Photo: Nikita Scherbak put some muscle on during the offseason, walking into development camp at 200 pounds early in July. (Courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Photo: Nikita Scherbak put some muscle on during the offseason, walking into development camp at 200 pounds early in July. (Courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

 

The Montreal Canadiens have had a busy off-season. Starting with the draft, the management team added some depth to their prospect pool by selecting skilled, character and two-way centermen, while beefing up their need on the blue line. General Manager Marc Bergevin was hard at work with a few free-agent signings, adding Joel Hanley, Bud Holloway, Ryan Johnston and Mark Barberio, improving the farm teams considerably.

Playing in only 17 regular season games and 7 post-season games, Greg Pateryn signed a one-way contract with the Canadiens. At the age of 25, he is expected to stay up with the club in what is likely to be a 7th defenceman position. For that reason, he is not included on this list. However, 20-year-old Jacob de la Rose, who appeared in 33 regular season games and 12 post-season games, is included due to depth at offense, which could push him down to the AHL at the start of the 2015-16 season.

With some new arrivals via the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, new faces appear on this year’s top 20 list, while names like Connor Crisp, Dalton Thrower, Gabriel Dumont and Morgan Ellis have been left off.

20. (17) Daniel Audette, C, 7.0 D
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2014

In 2014-15, Daniel Audette led the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix in points for a second consecutive season, posting a career-high 29 goals and 44 assists for 73 points. Partially responsible for 32 percent of the team’s offensive production, Audette continues to showcase a ridiculous set of offensive skills, and prove to the hockey world that size is not always everything. The similarities to Brendan Gallagher go far beyond the fact that they share the same birthday and were picked at the exact same spot in the draft. Matched with a strong bloodline and a solid work ethic, one can expect an exceptional final season in Sherbrooke.

19. (NR) Mike Condon, G, 7.0 D
Free-agent signing, 2013

Signed as a free agent in 2013, Mike Condon rose to the occasion in his first full AHL season after a stellar year in the ECHL. The Hamilton Bulldogs struggled throughout the 2014-15 season, however, Condon was one of the biggest positives on the team. Posting a .921 save percentage and a record of 23-19-6, he wrestled the starting job away from an experienced veteran in Joey MacDonald and never looked back.

18. (NR) Daniel Carr, LW, 7.0 D
Free-agent signing, 2014

Another free-agent signing, Daniel Carr stepped onto the scene in a big way last season, leading all AHL rookies in goals with 24. Carr was a threat in the offensive zone, and put up a big month in February, where he scored 10 of his 24 goals. His hockey sense was already on par with his competitors, and his play without the puck was just as good with it—showing a dedication to both fore and back-checking.

17. (16) Brett Lernout, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2014

In his final year with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, Brett Lernout put up career numbers in goals, assists and points, while improving his ability to move the play up the ice. He isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, although he appeared in just four fights compared to his eleven from the season before. Thanks to his leadership qualities and ability to be physical and effective in his own end, Lernout can definitely hold a place in Saint John’s in the 2015-16 season. He brings an element to the Canadiens prospect pool that can’t be taught, and is one Montreal could use in their near future.

16. (15) Jeremy Gregoire, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2013

A wrist injury cost Jeremy Gregoire the first half of his season in the QMJHL, as well as a possible shot at the World Junior Championships. While he was reduced to just 32 games last season, he still managed to score 20 goals and finish with over a point-per-game, landing in the top-five for scoring on the team. Gregoire scored 10 goals and 21 points in 12 playoff games, leading the team in scoring during the run. After passing the test in the QMJHL, despite missing ample time at the start of the season, Gregoire will likely slot into the IceCaps third line, where he will be tasked with facing tough competition and providing some secondary scoring to a team that struggled last season.

15. (NR) Lukas Vejdemo, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2015

Despite injuries and illnesses hindering his season, Lukas Vejdemo still received a three-game stint with Djurgårdens IF, before being sent back down to the J20 team. There, he scored 23 goals and finished with 48 points in 34 games as one of the team’s alternate captains. Vejdemo was also a factor in the playoffs, scoring 4 goals and adding 2 assists in 7 games. He scored the first goal in the final, a game the team won by a score of 3-1 against Frolunda.

Vejdemo also appeared in four games at the U20s this year, recording one assist and looking a cut above the rest in terms of skating ability. Vejdemo will look to make the Djurgårdens main team this upcoming season.

14. (14) Artturi Lehkonen, LW, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2013

Arturri Lehkonen posted 8 goals and 8 assists in 47 games with Frölunda HC in 2014-15. It was the Finnish winger’s first season in Sweden, going from playing a highly-defensive structured game to more of a pressure-based system, and Lehkonen learned quickly that he’d have to improve his speed game in order to compete at a consistent level. It was a step in the right direction for his development, despite that his production left something to be desired. He still played well in the new league and made great improvements with his skating and his gap control in the neutral zone.

13. (13) Magnus Nygren, D, 6.0 B
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2011

Magnus Nygren got off to a hot start last year, scoring four goals and ten points in his first 15 games, before suffering a major concussion that knocked him out for the remainder of the year. What’s even more disheartening about the situation is that he was close to receiving a call-up to the big club after his strong start to the season. During the offseason, Nygren signed a four-year deal with Färjestad BK of the SHL, however the Canadiens have retained his rights until April 2017, after they sent him a qualifying offer.

12. (11) Christian Thomas, RW, 7.0 C
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers, 2013

Christian Thomas put up just 11 goals in 52 games with the Bulldogs, which is the same total as the season before, in three less games. Thomas also appeared in 18 games with the Canadiens, scoring one goal and finishing with a minus-2 rating. His puck possession numbers were good, despite playing less than 10 minutes per game, and his deployment was a misuse of his offensive talents, as he was started in the defensive zone 58.2% and playing on the bottom-six. For Thomas to improve and take it to the next level, perhaps all it takes is some confidence and a chance to prove his worth.

11. (9) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2012

Tim Bozon’s spot in this year’s rankings is not based on any sign of a regression in skill, but mainly due to the prospect pool improving around him and a battle with illness. Bozon arrived at camp with all of his weight back and some extra muscle packed on as well. He scored 35 goals in 57 games with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, surpassing his production from the season before in fewer games. His success masked his lack of defensive presence, and that will need to be improved upon as he makes his way to the pro level.

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