Montreal Canadiens Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By David Thicke
Photo: Taken in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, Nathan Beaulieu is the top offensive prospect for the Canadiens. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)


The Montreal Canadiens are lacking size and grit in the organization, though they made an effort this past off-season to address those deficiencies. Of all the prospects, the defensemen have the most depth and are the strength in the organization. Montreal has been able to fill positions with rookies playing alongside veterans to develop their youth at the NHL level. Under Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin, the team has needed their AHL prospects to step into the Canadiens’ starting lineup to replace their injured players who were placed on long-term IR. P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Yannick Webber, and Ryan White all stepped up in the second half of last season and won themselves starting positions for the 2011-12 season. Gauthier was forced to re-stock the organization’s prospects with draft picks, trades and free-agent signings over the summer and pre-season. The Canadiens have chosen their prospects from the BCHL, NCAA, the three leagues in the CHL, Russia and the KHL, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Left Wing

The left wing is one of the weakest positions in the Montreal prospect pool and the Canadiens will probably convert some centermen to fill the left wing position.

There are three prospects, Andrew Conboy, Dany Masse, and Philippe Lefebvre playing at the AHL level this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Conboy is entering his third full season with the Bulldogs and the final year of his entry level contract. He is a unique Canadiens prospect due to his larger size and physicality with some offensive skill but he must continue to improve his overall game to play at the NHL level.

Dany Masse, stands only a modest 5’10 but isn’t afraid to be a physical player with good speed and some offensive skills. He has started the 2011-12 season at the AHL level but will need to work hard to keep from being sent down again to the ECHL Nailers.

Lefebvre has started his rookie season with the Bulldogs and needs to bring his two-way play to the professional level while showing some offensive upside to his game in order to stay in Hamilton for the whole season.

John Westin is playing professionally in Sweden as a member of MODO hockey in the SEL. A seventh-round pick in 2010, Westin is considered a hardworking and aggressive checker with some scoring potential when he goes hard to the net. Early in Westin’s rookie year, he suffered a broken arm that kept him sidelined for several months but he has gained bulk to his 6′ frame over this past season. Westin will probably follow the same path as most Swedes by honoring his contract until 2013 before trying to play at the NHL level.

Olivier Archambault, a fourth round pick, 108th overall in 2011, will play his third year in the QMJHL for the Drummondville Voltigeurs after being traded on June 4, 2011 by the Val-d’Or Foreurs just prior to the 2011 QJMHL Entry Draft. He will have to contribute more offensively to the Voltigeurs while developing a better defensive game over the next couple of years to play at the NHL level.

Mark MacMillian, fourth round pick, 113th overall in 2011, is a skilled two-way forward with good speed who likes to play a physical game but must add bulk to his 6′ frame. MacMillan has started his freshman year with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and has seen playing time on all of the top three forward lines to start the 2011-12 NCAA season.

Center

The Canadiens’ organization have many prospects at the center ice position but not necessarily ready for the NHL level. They have some natural centerman while others have the hockey IQ to be converted to the wing if needed in the organization.

At the AHL level; Andreas Engqvist, Gabriel Dumont, Joonas Nattinen are all healthy and playing with the Bulldogs. Engqvist started the season being called up to the NHL level as an injury replacement for Ryan White and Lars Eller. He was re-assigned to Hamilton when the Canadiens acquired NHL veteran Petteri Nokelainen and Garrett Stafford from the Phoenix Coyotes for Brock Trotter and a seventh round pick in 2012.

Dumont has started his second season with the Bulldogs but has only one goal along with a minus three rating in five games.

Nattinen is playing his first season in North America and the AHL after playing last season in his native Finland for HPK SM liiga. He has scored one goal along with an even rating in four AHL games.

The three other AHL centerman; Hunter Bishop, Olivier Fortier, and Louis Leblanc have all started the season on the IR. Bishop suffered an upper body (shoulder) injury in an NHL pre-season game against the Buffalo Sabres and is out long term.

Olivier Fortier is practicing with the Bulldogs but has not yet been cleared for contact from an undisclosed injury (shoulder from last season) which has sidelined him through the NHL training camp, pre-season games and start of the AHL 2011-12 season.

Leblanc had shoulder surgery in the off-season and also was unable to have contact through the NHL training camp, Pre-season games and the start of the AHL 2011-12 season. He has started practicing with contact in Hamilton and has been listed to play on October 27th for the Bulldogs.

In the QJMHL, there is Michael Bournival who was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’ Bryne. The young centerman had a solid pre-season showing in some games for the Canadiens before being returned to his junior club in Shawinigan. He started the season with the Cataractes on fire by scoring ten goals along with three assists and a plus six rating in only seven games. Bournival suffered an upper body injury and will be out of action for about four weeks.

Currently in the NCAA are Mike Cichy and Dustin Walsh. Cichy transferred to Western Michigan University so he cannot play in the 2011-12 season as per the NCAA rules. Walsh has started his junior year with Dartmouth College and will carry some of the offensive load this year for the Big Green.

Daniel Pribyl was selected in the sixth round, 168th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and he will continue developing while playing in his native Czech Republic for the 2011-12 season.

Right Wing

The right wing position has the most offensively talented prospects. At the AHL level again this season are Aaron Palushaj, Alexander Avtsin, and Ian Schultz. Palushaj was called up to help the Canadiens as an injury replacement for Mike Cammalleri but returned to Hamilton and should provide offense for the Bulldogs.

Avtsin has plenty of offensive skill but the Russian winger struggles still with consistency and his defensive play. He will need to become a more complete player to make it to the NHL level but it is only his second AHL season and adjusting to North America, on and off the ice.

Schultz has the physicality needed in the organization but he needs to play a better two-way game while contributing more offense and must stay in the Bulldogs lineup for the whole season.

The newcomer, Alain Berger will play his first North American season in the AHL while adjusting to the style and speed of the game. He is a big, physical, fore-checking forward who will drive hard to the net but needs to work on his defensive game. Berger will need to correct his skating technique enabling him to increase both speed and power, similar to Max Pacioretty in order to make the NHL level.

At the NCAA level, there are Danny Kristo at the University of North Dakota and Steve Quailer of Northeastern University. Kristo will be looking to bounce back after a difficult injury-shortened season as a sophomore. He has started his junior 2011-12 season by scoring four goals along with seven assists and a plus five rating in seven WCHA games.

Quailer also will be trying to bounce back from a poor junior year where he was unable to get back to his previous form prior to suffering a knee injury. The big physical winger brings energy to the Huskies when he plays up to his capabilities. He has started this season scoring a goal along with an assist and a minus two rating in three WCHA games.

The Canadiens have one WHL prospect, Brendan Gallagher, who was drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall in the2010 NHL Entry Draft. The exciting offensively skilled forward was one of the last cuts made at the end of the pre-season. The Vancouver Giants dynamo has started his 2011-12 season on a tear, scoring 11 goals along with eight assists in 11 WHL games.

Maxim Trunev is playing his fifth season with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets and also with Almaz of the MHL. He was drafted in the fifth round, 138th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Canadiens but will continue to play in Russia. Trunev has made no mention of trying to playing in the NHL at this time.

Defense

The Canadiens have both Yannick Weber and Alexei Emelin playing in the NHL. Weber started the season on right wing but was moved back to play on defense after injuries to Spacek and Campoli. His versatility to play forward and defense will probably keep him in Montreal for the 2011-12 season.

Emelin is playing in his rookie North American season after playing three years for AK Bars Kazan in the KHL. He was signed this past summer to a one-year entry-level contract and has played six NHL games with a minus two rating while adjusting to the speed, size and skill of the NHL.

At the AHL level, the Canadiens have only three prospects; Mark Mitera, Joe Stejskal and Brendon Nash. Mitera was acquired in the summer from the Anaheim Ducks for Mathieu Carle and will be playing his third AHL season in Hamilton.

Joe Skejskal was signed to a two-year entry-level contract on March 22, 2011 after four years at Dartmouth College in the ECAC. He played only four AHL games to start the season when he suffered a concussion and is now out for at least three weeks.

Nash was hoping to show his abilities at the 2011 Canadiens NHL training camp but was forced to have shoulder surgery on September 21, 2011 and was placed on the IR. He hopes to return sometime this season as it is the final year of his entry-level contract.

The Canadiens have four defensive prospects in the CHL ranks this year; Morgan Ellis, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and Darren Dietz. Ellis will play a bigger offensive role while trying to provide leadership and solid defense for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles this season. He has scored four goals on the power play along with seven assists and a minus-three rating in 14 QJMHL games.

Tinordi will be asked to play more offensively while bringing a physical presence, leadership as the team captain and solid defense for the London Knights this season. He has contributed only two assists but has a plus-seven rating while taking 22 penalty minutes (two fighting majors) in six OHL games.

Beaulieu is the Canadiens’ number one prospect after being drafted in the first round, 17th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry draft. The big, offensive defenseman has been asked to improve his defensive game while continuing to show his offensive skills but must play with more physicality and character for the Memorial Cup Champion, St. John Sea Dogs. He has scored four goals (one power play, one shorthanded) along with six assists and a plus-nine rating while taking 39 penalty minutes (three fighting majors) in 14 QJMHL games.

Dietz was drafted in the fifth round, 138th overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft. The physical defenseman will play a big role for the Saskatoon Blades this season as some of the team’s older players have moved on to the AHL. He has scored twice along with seven assists and a plus-two rating in 13 games.

There will be four defensemen in the NCAA representing the Canadiens this season, Josiah Didier, Scott Kishel, Greg Pateryn, Mac Bennett. Didier was drafted in the fourth round, 97th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and shortly after, agreed to start his freshman year at the University of Denver this season.

Kishel is playing his senior year with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After only playing in seven games in his junior season, the puck moving defenseman has been given an average of 24 minutes playing time in each of the Bulldogs seven games this season. Kishel had a four game assist streak going which was snapped against Providence College and has been playing the blue line on the Bulldogs’ number one power play unit.

Pateryn will play a big role as the only senior on the defense corps for the University of Michigan Wolverines this season. The big, physical shutdown defenseman will play big minutes and will try to bring more offense to his game. He has scored two goals along with four assists in eight games to start the 2011-12 season.

Bennett is playing his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. He will need to make better decisions with the puck and choose the right time to join in the offense while continuing to play a solid defensive game. Bennett has five assists along with a plus six rating in six CCHA games for the Wolverines to start the 2011-12 season.

Magnus Nygren was drafted in the fourth round, 113th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft as an older player from Sweden. He has started the 2011-12 season playing for the Farjestads BK Karlstad (SEL) where he leads the team in scoring with five goals along with three assists but has a poor minus-four rating in 16 games. Nygren is an offensive defenseman with a rocket of a shot but will need to improve his defensive play to ever play in the NHL.

Colin Sullivan was drafted in the seventh round, 198th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft as a high risk to reward pick by the Canadiens out of Avon Farms (CT) prep school. He will return to his high school Varsity team for this season before joining Yale University in 2012-13.

Goaltending

The Canadiens have only two prospects in their organization at the goaltender position which has left them very weak behind Carey Price.

Signed as an undrafted free agent, the Czech-born Robert Mayer will play the backup role behind Nathan Lawton with the Bulldogs in his second AHL season. Mayer needs to be more consistent when given the chance to start and continue developing his overall game.

Peter Delmas was signed as a free-agent on July 5, 2011 to a three year entry level contract after having played last season with the ECHL Nailers. The young goaltender was re-assigned to the Nailers again for this season in order to develop as a starting goalie, not sitting as a back-up in Hamilton. He could be called up to the Bulldogs if Mayer struggles with his game.