Deep farm system promises to keep Canadiens loaded for the foreseeable future

By Shawn Wilken
Photo: Jeremiah Addison has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 18 games with the Ottawa 67’s this season. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Photo: Jeremiah Addison has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 18 games with the Ottawa 67’s this season. (Courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

When Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk was drafted in 2012, most NHL pundits referred to the situation as a major shake-up. One thing that did not change was the man in power, Trevor Timmins, who was majorly responsible for how the Canadiens drafted over the last decade or so. Since 2003, he has aided in re-stocking the historic franchise’s cupboards.

Loaded with the potential to become an even more dangerous team in the near-future, Montreal is stacked with prospects that, although not considered blue-chip, could become contributing factors on a successful team sooner than later. The team focused on building depth down the middle and adding some promise on the blue-line, while never shying away from sleeper selections out of Europe. Canadiens fans are hoping the diverse yet talented pool of prospects exceed expectations in the upcoming years.

Left Wing

The introduction of Tomas Fleischmann, Alex Semin and Paul Byron to the team allowed General Manager Marc Bergevin to put more emphasis on development when it came to certain prospects. Names like Charles Hudon and Jacob de la Rose, who received an extended look last season with the big club, are both in St. John’s. While de la Rose has struggled to find his offensive game, registering just two assists in his first 12 games, Hudon put up four goals and six assists in 12 games, while also leading the team with a plus-7 rating.

Free-agent signing Daniel Carr got off to a rocking start with the IceCaps, scoring three goals and adding five assists in the month of October. The leading goal-scorer for the team last season, he’ll need to be at his best if the IceCaps want to compete. Tim Bozon hoped to make an impact in his first full season with the IceCaps, but a shoulder injury sustained during the preseason has kept him sidelined for the entirety of October. He is expected to be back sometime in November.

Connor Crisp started the season the way most pegged him for: no points, a minus-6 rating and sharing the team lead in penalty minutes in the month of October, with 25. To be fair, 15 of those minutes came in a single game, against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Switching from the Finnish style of hockey to the Swedish brand, Artturi Lehkonen exploded for 11 points in 13 games, while averaging around 14:30 of ice time per game. Lehkonen made the transition to center this season following the departure of Dallas Stars‘ prospect Mattias Janmark, and his work in the offseason is paying off.

Martin Reway‘s story is somewhat different. There is no doubting his contribution to any team he plays for, be it in the CHL or Europe, but it came as a shock to many when he was discharged from Sparta Prague late in October. Two weeks later, Reway returned to the ice for Team Slovakia and was slotted on the first line. He looked to impress management early on, showing up to the team’s first practice two hours early.

The Ottawa 67’s got off to a rough start and Jeremiah Addison was among the many players who struggled. However, Travis Konecny started to play at a 1.5 point-per-game pace, while Addison registered five goals and five assists in 12 games in October. When Addison was reunited with his linemates, the two players combined for 16 points in their first six games together.

Center

Predominantly featured on the IceCaps’ fourth line, Jeremy Gregoire‘s skillset of quick hands and hockey IQ has made him a valued member of the team, even if he scored just one goal in October. The important thing is that he has proved to be a team guy and will stand up for teammates when necessary, which he did in a game against the Binghamton Senators against Max McCormick.

One of the bigger surprises to come out of the Canadiens camp in the 2015 draft was the selection of Lukas Vejdemo, although the cloud of mystery surrounding the Swedish-born center has quickly vanished. With just two points in his first 11 games with Djurgardens, Vejdemo has played in a variety of different circumstances, logging as little as 5:53 TOI during one game while playing 15:44 two weeks later, showing confidence building between him and his coach.

Mark MacMillan made his AHL debut with the IceCaps this season but was promptly sent back down to Brampton after registering a minus-2 rating and looking out of place. During his first three games in the ECHL this season, MacMillan has been held pointless with a minus-4 rating, demonstrating early struggle in his move from NCAA hockey to pro.

It should come to no surprise that Daniel Audette started off the 2014-15 season lighting up the QMJHL, something he has done in each of the last three seasons with Sherbrooke. Even after being held off the scoresheet for three consecutive games, Audette responded with a four point performance the following week. Towards the end of October, Audette suffered a shoulder injury which would knock him out of action for (an expected) four weeks.

A respectable yet underwhelming start to Matt Bradley‘s season in Medicine Hat has been the result of a musical chairs performance that is his linemates for the night. However, with the trade of one player and an injury to another, Bradley was trusted with the second-line center position and took the bull by the horns—scoring three goals in his first three games. His tenacious attitude and battle spirit, despite his smallish size, has him producing scoring chances almost every shift as he evolves into one of the bigger leaders on the team.

Right Wing

Arguably the organization’s strongest aspect is the talent developing on the right wing, and at the top of that list is young Nikita Scherbak. Sidelined with an injury in the offseason, he returned to game-form with St. John’s and registered three points in his first eight games in the AHL before sustaining an injury in on October 25th. After missing the next four games, Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre said Scherbak was “about a week away,” and had already started skating.

Mike McCarron‘s biggest trait may not be his size, as large as he is, but rather his versatility to play both right wing and center. In his first 12 games as an AHLer, Big Mac registered six goals and nine points, demonstrating the capability of taking the next big step en route to becoming a regular in the NHL. He still has a ways to go, mainly with his consistency and conditioning, but his large frame and smart play could pay off in the long run, especially on a team that is considered small.

George Holloway leads the IceCaps in scoring, and is fourth in the league with 15 points. Meanwhile, Christian Thomas has 11 points. With five goals to start the season, he has found the confidence and wicked wrist shot needed to be a prominent goal-scoring forward at the pro level. With a refreshing look to the team, Thomas’ production is benefiting greatly as he has almost half of last year’s totals in just a fifth of the games played this season.

A third-round pick in 2013, Sven Andrighetto had hoped to capture momentum in a bottle and continue pushing towards a full-time job in the NHL, but those hopes were dashed with a preseason performance that left much to be desired. Scoring nine points to start the season in St. John’s, the Swiss-native has formed one of the most lethal lines in the AHL with Hudon and Holloway. In fact, they closed out the month of October by combining for four goals and four assists in the final three games. Despite the team struggling as of late, Andighetto and his line push the team forward, and he hopes this surge in offense is something the Canadiens could use in the near-future.

Stefan Fournier has spent time between the ECHL and AHL over the last two seasons and nothing seems to be changing this year, considering his call-up to the IceCaps in early November. Prior to that, the big-bodied winger had posted just one assist in five games with Brampton, before registering a minus-1 rating in his 2015-16 debut in St. John’s. In doing so, he became the fourth player this season to make the move from ECHL to the AHL, as the team looks to find answers to their struggling ways and injuries. Fournier may not provide much offense, but his tough-as-nails mentality is something Lefebvre looks to utilize to keep the game respectable.

Normally, a seventh-round pick is nothing to write home about but for Jake Evans, this season is all about beating those odds. He’s already off to a sensational start in his second year with Notre Dame, putting up seven points in his first seven games of the season, including a three-point performance against the University of Minnesota, and being a stable force up front. He’s only 19 and still has quite a bit of frame to build on physically, but Evans’ mix of hard work and smooth skating, along with his recent move to third-line center, shows just how hot a commodity he can turn out to be in the long run.

At the age of 25, there isn’t much room left for Maxim Trunev to grow and it’s almost certain he’ll never see an NHL rink on a full-time basis. In the last two seasons, Trunev has spent time with four different teams and has never reached the 20-point plateau. In the month of October, he has averaged anywhere from 9:15 to 16:00 minutes of ice-time but has yet to produce anything more than a few measly points. The Canadiens hold on to his rights until 2017.

Defense

Big man Jarred Tinordi has been caught in limbo as a healthy scratch in Montreal since the start of the season. The problem with that is he hasn’t played a game at any level since early October, and that was preseason. The speculation circus has concocted the idea of trading Tinordi, as teams look for defense and the knowledge of Montreal currently carrying eight of them. Fortunately for Bergevin and company, the team is rolling on all cylinders, so it has given him the opportunity to be patient and wait until the right deal swings their way. The bad news is, it seems Tinordi will have to enjoy the view from the press box for the time being.

Making the move from WHL to ECHL to AHL in three years, Dalton Thrower is slowly evolving into a more dependable defenseman in the Canadiens organization. While it’s still tough to rely on consistency from him, his big body and rough nature are more than enough reason to continue giving him looks at the pro level. While his preseason performance lacked certain qualities, and his play in two games in St. John’s was average, Thrower has the mindset to continue improving his overall game—and the good news is that he knows he needs to get better.

Morgan Ellis continues to impress everyone that watches his game, as he shines on St. John’s blue-line. Good at both ends of the ice and a stable presence, Ellis and his pairing partner of Mark Barberio have been one of the brightest spots in St. John’s this season. He registered four points in his first 12 games of the season, and along with strong showing on the blueline, he has puffed out his chest and engaged in chippy play, racking up 25 penalty minutes—including 17 in a game against the Rochester Americans.

Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower’s former defense partner for the Saskatoon Blades, continues to struggle. His production has been rather inconsistent, as there have been gaps of three or four games in between offensive contribution, but his play on the defensive side of the puck has been inconsistent at best. One of only six IceCaps drafted in the Pierre Gauthier era, Dietz’s future is rather unknown at this point. His game is average at the AHL level, but the chances of him making the Canadiens roster ahead of the pack of promising prospects is about as likely as Thrower’s at this point.

Names like Brett Lernout, Nikolas Koberstein and Mac Bennett continue to contribute to the team, more-so on a physicality aspect and defending the crease, while Ryan Johnston remains sidelined indefinitely after having surgery on his back.

Colin Sullivan continues to develop at Miami University, while Noah Juulsen is racking up the points as a member of the Everett Silvertips (five points in his first nine games). Simon Bourque has taken on a larger role with Rimouski and has flourished, with 12 points in 16 games to start the year. His ability to play in any situation has showcased what a true leader he is to the team. Finally, Magnus Nygren has started the year in the SHL, scoring 11 points in his first 16 games and averaging well over 20 minutes of ice-time per game.

Goaltenders

What more can be said about Mike Condon. In his first six starts at the NHL level, he has burst onto the scene with a record of 5-0-1, a .941 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against. In the absence of star netminder Carey Price, Condon has eased the blow to the team’s morale by offering inspiring goaltending performances and keeping his team in every game.

The battle in the AHL has been mostly about Zachary Fucale and Dustin Tokarski. Fucale has had his ups and downs this year with St. John’s, which seems to be a reflection of his junior career. His rebound control continues to be a worry to most critics, and he’ll have to find consistency in his overall game in order to snatch away more starts.

Michael McNiven signed on with the Habs as a free agent in a feel-good story, and opened the season with three consecutive starts and eight wins in his first 16. His stats—2.51 and .920—are evidence that he is the least of the team’s worries. Hayden Hawkey his first start in 11 months on Halloween, and allowed three goals on 27 shots in a winning effort.