Danny Kristo tops among NCAA and European prospects for Montreal Canadiens

By Ian Bross
Photo: Joonas Nattinen is one of several Canadiens prospects currently playing in Europe. There is a good chance he could play in North America next season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Montreal Canadiens have a combined 14 prospects in the NCAA and Europe, including top prospect Danny Kristo.


NCAA

Danny Kristo, RW, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2008


After a season of accolades as a freshman, Kristo got off to a slow start as a sophomore with the University of North Dakota. It was not until mid-November that Kristo registered his first goal. Once finding his form, Kristo has had a terrific year for the Fighting Sioux, playing with confidence and offensive creativity while remaining responsible defensively. That is, before being stalled by frostbite in his foot. In all, Kristo has managed five goals and 17 assists in 29 games. Though his recovery has gone smoothly, there is still no timetable for a return to action.

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

A season ago, Quailer seemed poised for a strong sophomore season, to take on added responsibility for the Northeastern Huskies. Suffering from a leg injury, he was not able to participate in any of his team’s games. This year, in his return to the lineup, Quailer has been impressive. Quailer’s biggest improvement has likely been his added muscle and strength, which suits his power forward style of play. Along with some added grittiness, Quailer is better equipped and noticeably more effective protecting and battling for pucks. He has scored three goals and 10 assists in 37 games.


Dustin Walsh, C, 19
Acquired: 6th round, 169th overall, 2009

Walsh has had a respectable year for Dartmouth. He has been able to remain healthy as a sophomore after dressing in 22 games during his freshman campaign. With nine goals and nine assists, Walsh, one of three NHL draft selections in the Big Green lineup, has been a solid contributor. Perhaps Walsh could produce at a higher clip, but he is certainly not being inhibited by a lack of effort. The 6’3, 190-pound forward is not afraid to work. The soon-to-be 20-year-old has held his own, comfortably within the top 10 in scoring for Dartmouth once again. With several of the team’s offensive leaders set to return next year, if Walsh hopes for an expanded role, he will have to seize it.

Michael Cichy, C, 20
Acquired: 7th round, 199th overall, 2009

Cichy has not emerged in a prominent role for perennial power UND, and as such has been unable to find his stride offensively. He has thus far been outshined by upperclassmen and fellow sophomores such as Corban Knight (FLA) and the aforementioned Kristo. He has three goals and four assists in 25 games for the Fighting Sioux. With three of the team’s current top-five point scorers set to graduate at season’s end — Evan Trupp, Brad Malone (COL), and Hobey Baker candidate Matt Frattin (TOR) — Cichy will be in prime position to make a name for himself next season as a junior.


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

Bennett has progressed well, and settled into NCAA play as a freshman for the University of Michigan. In 26 games, the 19-year-old (Montreal’s youngest NCAA prospect) has scored two goals and nine assists. A great skater with good hands and awareness, he has undergone his fair share of growing pains. The one area that Bennett needs work on is his decision-making. Bennett has been guilty of some indiscretions when it comes to joining the offensive rush. Caught out of position on several occasions this year, this has in some instances resulted in goals for Michigan’s opposition.

Greg Pateryn, D, 20
Acquired: via trade, July 2008

A teammate of Bennett’s, Pateryn, a Michigan native, is in his junior year with the University of Michigan. He has set new personal marks with three goals, 12 assists and 15 points in a season.Though he has shown he can contribute on offense when willing, at 6’3 and 214 pounds, Pateryn has assumed a role as one of the Wolverines’ toughest and most physical defenders. The 20-year-old utilizes his body very well, both in delivering checks as well as matching up against some of the CCHA’s bigger forwards.

Joe Stejskal, D, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2007

A teammate of Walsh with Dartmouth, Stejskal has been a stalwart for the Big Green as a senior. Stejskal is not one to put up points, having scored three goals and two assists on the year. Rather, he is a defense-first type of blueliner, and likely the team’s best this season, logging lots of ice time. Stejskal boasts exceptional positioning and overall play in his own zone, something which the fifth-round draft pick has improved upon with each successive season of his collegiate career. Standing 6’3 and 205 pounds, Stejskal has also added some grit to his game. For his efforts, the 22-year-old was named third-team all-ECAC.

Scott Kishel, D, 21
Acquired: 7th round, 192nd overall, 2007

Kishel was a reliable defender for the University of Minnesota-Duluth a year ago as a sophomore. Yet as a junior, with none of last year’s key defensemen graduating, and due to the growing contributions this year — such as the immediate influence of Justin Faulk (CAR) — Kishel’s role with the team has decreased significantly. The 21-year-old has appeared in seven games this season, primarily as a fill-in for his injured defensive counterparts. He has one assist.

Europe

Brock Trotter, C, 24
Acquired: Free Agent, 2008

This past offseason, the Brandon, Manitoba native left the AHL‘s Hamilton Bulldogs as a restricted free agent to join Riga Dynamo in the KHL. The 24-year-old joined a lineup which includes former NHL players such as Tomas Surovy and Sandis Ozolinsh. In his first season outside of North America, in Russia‘s (traditionally stingy) highest level of play, Trotter scored nine goals and 17 assists in 49 games.

Originally signed by the Canadiens at the age of 21 after three years in the NCAA, Trotter will graduate from prospect status at the conclusion of the season. Montreal will continue to hold the 24-year-old’s NHL rights, though he will remain under contract in the KHL through 2011-12.


Maxim Trunev, RW, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2008

As a 20-year-old, Trunev’s playing opportunities in the KHL have been relatively scarce. With Severstal Cherepovets, the young winger could not help but succumb to his more tenured teammates. He managed a goal and six assists in 39 games. For Trunev, 2010-11 was his second consecutive season in which he logged time in Russia‘s major junior league, the MHL. He accounted for three goals and four assists in eight games. Highly talented, Trunev will get the opportunity to prove himself more over time while he polishes his overall play.


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

Working his way into the professional circuit in his native Finland has been a difficult process for Nattinen. The 20-year-old, who has represented his country in the World Junior Championship tournament, hasn’t been able to find a home for himself in the SM-Liiga. He has also had to recover from an injury to his achilles tendon. Currently a member of HPK Hameenlinna, Nattinen registered two assists in 21 games this season. Due to the expiration of his contract, with whom Nattinen plays next season is not entirely certain.


John Westin, LW, 18
Acquired: 7th round, 207th overall, 2010

The Canadiens’ final selection in the most recent NHL Entry Draft, Westin is the club’s youngest prospect playing in Europe. The 18-year-old hasn’t seen much time on the ice this season due to a broken arm, skating in 12 games with the Modo Hockey Junior team. He had six goals and one assist. Signed to a three-year contract with Modo, Westin could use a significant amount of refinement in his game. He will likely see more time at lower levels of play in Sweden before he graduates to Elitserien.


Alexei Yemelin, D, 24
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2004

Yemelin has become a mainstay on the blue line for AK Bars Kazan, back-to-back winners of the Gagarin Cup as KHL champions. Noted as a tough, gritty, stay-at-home type of defenseman, the 24-year-old’s game evolved during Bars’ 2009-10 postseason run. Yemelin’s offensive production rose drastically this season, shattering previous career highs by amassing 11 goals and 15 assists. Yemelin still remained engaged in the physical side of the game, as evidenced by his team-high 117 penalty minutes (also a career high), the fourth-highest total in the league. Yemelin’s experience and style of play should position him as a viable NHL defenseman, should he elect to pursue that direction.

Petteri Simila, G, 20
Acquired: 7th round, 211th overall, 2009

Montreal’s second of two Finnish prospects, Simila is experiencing similar difficulties to those of his fellow countryman Nattinen. An unsuccessful attempt to play in the OHL at the beginning of last season resulted in Simila’s return to goal in Finland, which has not been a hospitable place. The seventh-rounder has been roughed up more often that not between the pipes. In 28 games of SM-Liiga Junior A competition, with KalPa, Simila registered a 3.03 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He did, however, make a promising yet brief appearance for SapKo of Mestis, Finland‘s second-tier professional league. In four games, he had a 2.71 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

DJ Powers also contributed to this article.

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