Frequently shuffled Montreal Canadiens prospects can’t help IceCaps into playoffs

By Chris Roberts
Photo: With 53 points, Charles Hudon finished second in St. John's IceCaps team scoring. (Courtesy of Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Photo: With 53 points, Charles Hudon finished second in St. John’s IceCaps team scoring. (Courtesy of Graig Abel/Getty Images)

 

 

It has been one of the more tumultuous seasons in Montreal Canadiens history, and, as a result, players have shuttled up and down from its AHL affiliate in St. John’s at a higher volume than anticipated. Before the season began, it was unlikely that young players like Daniel Carr, Mike McCarron or Joel Hanley would wear the bleu, blanc et rouge this season, but instead those and several more have filled gaps in Montreal. As a result, 45 players have dressed for the IceCaps in St. John’s. But that hasn’t been the biggest story in Newfoundland, especially since the arrival of NHL all-star John Scott, who has now suited up in 26 games for the IceCaps.

The IceCaps maintained a .500 record for most of the season, but have struggled down the stretch with a lot of their players playing in the NHL. The team won’t make the AHL playoffs, but there have been more than a few notable performances from the organization’s young prospects.

AHL

Charles Hudon, LW, 21

Arguably the most important player to the IceCaps and the forward who should have the brightest future in the organization, it’s no surprise the Canadiens have, for the most part, kept Hudon away from the turmoil in Montreal this year. The Habs have called up players much less heralded than Hudon for lengthier stretches, but the 5’10, 195lb winger played in three games for the big club, recording a pair of assists.

With the IceCaps, Hudon has proven he is ready for the next step in his career. Through 64 games the Alma, Que. native has a team-leading 26 goals and is second in points with 50. Of his 26 goals, 10 have come with the man advantage and three were game-winners. He scored eight times in 11 games in the month of March. Hudon was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2014-15 and judging from this season his time in the minor leagues should be behind him.

Morgan Ellis, D, 23

An offensive-minded defenseman with a strong shot, Ellis has been a catalyst for the IceCaps’ offense this season, his fourth in the AHL. Ellis knows how to jump into the rush and has done that particularly well this season, a result of increased ice time, confidence and trust from his coaches. He is fourth on the IceCaps in scoring with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 68 games.

Just last season Ellis was showcasing his offensive ability in the ECHL, playing in 39 games for the Wheeling Nailers. He recorded 26 points during that stint and more than anything it seemed to have given him the confidence in his offensive ability. The increased power-play time has helped, but it should be noted that only three of Ellis’ 14 goals have been power-play markers. He still gets beat to the puck and doesn’t yet have a reputation for being a strong, smart defensive defender, but he’s improving. He has a plus-one rating with the IceCaps and was also rewarded this season with a three-game stint in Montreal.

Mike McCarron, RW, 21

Michigan native Mike McCarron had little trouble making the leap to pro hockey this season after winning a Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals in 2014-15. He is the fifth leading scorer for the IceCaps with 34 points in 54 games, despite being in Montreal for 19 games, where he has two points.

When he’s not contributing offensively, it’s not hard to see the impact McCarron makes away from the puck. He’s 6’6 and 231lbs and seems to know how to use his size to his advantage, particularly in front of the net. He got off to a great start with the IceCaps, recording a hat trick in just his fourth career game. Of course, there have been tough games for him at the NHL level, and there are deficiencies in his game, but he looks to have a career at the NHL level.

Zach Fucale, G, 20

It has been an up-and-down season for rookie netminder Zach Fucale. The former Canadian World Junior star has appeared in 40 games with the IceCaps, recording a 15-18-4 record to go along with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Fucale won six of his first eight starts, but allowed a season-worst eight goals on 31 shots in his ninth start. He has also given up six and five goals twice respectively this season. In five starts in March, Fucale allowed 20 goals. He had a very strong February, however. But that has been the problem with Fucale’s season – the inconsistencies. He should be in line for a significant increase in starts next season as he continues to handle the big-league schedule.

Sven Andrighetto, RW, 23

A proven scorer at the AHL level, Sven Andrighetto earned a look in Montreal this year and he has stuck, playing 40 games with the team while recording 17 points. A big scorer in junior with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the 23-year-old has been a bright spot for the Canadiens and if he had spent the year in St. John’s it’s likely he would be leading the team in scoring.

Still, Andrighetto remains sixth on the IceCaps in scoring despite playing just 26 games, where he accumulated 23 points. Prior to being called up full time, Andrighetto had recorded 14 points in his last 12 games with the IceCaps.

Daniel Carr, LW, 23

Carr, like Andrighetto above him, has made the most of the situation in Montreal, earning himself a recall early in the year. He played 21 games in the first two months for the IceCaps, recording 17 points before being recalled. And he wasted little time showing his scoring touch in the NHL, scoring his first career goal in his first NHL game on Dec. 5.

The Union College grad was sent back to St. John’s for three games in January and recorded four points during that stretch before being recalled by the Canadiens. Unfortunately, he played in just two more games for the Canadiens before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Nikita Scherbak, RW, 20

While some older, more unheralded players have thrived in the AHL this season it has been a bit of a struggle fitting in for former Russian first rounder Nikita Scherbak. Offensively, he hasn’t been completely disappointing, recording 21 points in 43 games, but he is far and away a team-worst minus-23.

The skilled winger missed almost all of November and December to injury, and while it took some time getting comfortable again (he had just three points in his first 10 games back), he has been an important piece of the IceCaps’ offense in March, collecting 10 points in 13 games. He’ll be hard pressed to make the Canadiens next season, but he could thrive playing top-line minutes with St. John’s.

Max Friberg, LW, 23

Acquired midseason from the Anaheim Ducks, Friberg has provided secondary scoring for the IceCaps in 37 games, scoring seven times and adding 11 assists. He plays a solid two-way game and has been consistent month to month with both the IceCaps and the San Diego Gulls. Combined he has 35 points in 62 games.

Friberg played in five NHL games for the Ducks before the trade, but hasn’t been given a chance with the Canadiens. He is nearing on three straight 40-point AHL seasons.

Mark MacMillan, C, 24

MacMillan has had to work for his ice time this season, primarily playing bottom-six minutes for the IceCaps. The University of North Dakota grad recorded 20-plus points in each of his four seasons with the team, but began the season in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast. It took just six games for the pesky forward to earn a recall, however, and he has produced a 16-point season through 57 games, while accumulating 41 penalty minutes.

Darren Dietz, D, 22

The former Saskatoon Blade is now in Montreal, where he has played nine games, thanks to a strong and steady third year in the AHL. Though he was a big point producer in junior, Dietz’s game is all about positioning and strength. The 6’1, 213lb rearguard, however, recorded 16 points in 58 games with the IceCaps. He will likely finish the AHL regular season with a minus-six rating, but that number was hurt by a minus-seven in the month of March, when the IceCaps struggled.

Joel Hanley, D, 24

Hanley was a signing that might have slipped through the cracks in the summer, but the 24-year-old has provided organizational depth for the Canadiens. That was the intention of the signing; what wasn’t intended was for Hanley to appear in six games with the Canadiens, where he has five assists. In St. John’s, Hanley had 13 points in 61 games, playing often on the penalty kill and sometimes on the team’s second power-play unit.

Brett Lernout, D, 20

First-year pro Brett Lernout has been brought along slowly by the IceCaps, thanks in part to some of the team’s veterans. But the 6’4, 213lb defenseman has been a big part of the team’s blueline, particularly in the latter half of the season. After November Lernout was a minus-seven in 20 games, but has been a plus-three in 38 games since. He has two goals and 10 assists, as well as 58 penalty minutes. He was called up by the Canadiens at the end of March.

Lucas Lessio, LW, 23

Acquired in a midseason swap for Christian Thomas, Lucas Lessio has continued to play to the level he has established through three AHL seasons. He’s just above a .5 point per game player and has exactly that this season, split between the Springfield Falcons and the IceCaps. He appeared in 18 games for St. John’s and recorded nine points before being recalled by Montreal. Lessio provides the organization with a stable offensive option (at least at the AHL level) who can contribute on the forecheck. His contract expires at the end of the season.

Ryan Johnston, D, 24

Johnston, who was signed as an undrafted defenseman following his junior year at Colgate University, missed the entire first half of the AHL season, but has been a fixture in the IceCaps’ lineup since. His inexperience has shown, however; the 5’10, 180lb rookie is a minus-17 in just 33 games. He has yet to score but has nine assists.

Jeremy Gregoire, C, 20

Gregoire was a counted-on scorer in his final two seasons of junior but the Sherbrooke, Que. native has had to adjust to a bottom-six role in his rookie season with the IceCaps. He has five goals and four assists in 57 games and went through a tough 16-game pointless streak from January until March.

Tim Bozon, LW, 22

Just over two years removed from a severe bout of meningitis that had him placed in a medically-induced coma, it’s a minor miracle that Bozon is competing at the pro level this season. That said, it hasn’t been easy for the former Kootenay Ice; he has appeared in just 36 games for St. John’s, recording six points. Bozon also dressed for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast in 15 games, where he had nine points.

Mac Bennett, D, 25

The former Michigan Wolverine had a relatively impressive rookie campaign with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season but has struggled in St. John’s. He appeared in just 33 regular season games and was sent down to the ECHL’s Brampton Beast in late March after dressing for just three games in a 14-game stretch.

Connor Crisp, C, 21

Crisp has effectively been shut down after playing in just 10 games in October, going pointless during that stretch. He left the game on Oct. 30 against Lehigh Valley and has been sidelined all year with an undisclosed injury.

ECHL

Dalton Thrower, D, 22

The fact that Dalton Thrower has spent the majority of the season in the ECHL doesn’t bode well for his career, particularly given the number of injuries and callups to Montreal, leaving plenty of space to fill in St. John’s. Yet, Thrower has played just eight games with the IceCaps. He spent all of the previous season in the ECHL as well, so it’s very unlikely he has a future with the organization unless he makes some drastic improvements to his skating.