Habs’ Prospects Improving

By Chris Boucher
When trying to determine whether a player will develop NHL calibre skills, we tend to look at how that player is improving year to year. A prospect is just that; a prospect. Only by improving year to year will any player develop the skills necessary to produce at the NHL level. Skating, speed and strength are difficult attributes to measure on a year to year basis. They are far less tangible than raw stats, but in no way less important. The easiest way to measure a player’s improvement is by breaking down their production into a point per game basis. Then comparing that number to the previous year’s total.

When comparing The Montreal Canadiens’ prospects’ point per game totals from this season with those of a year ago, Ron Hainsey shows the greatest improvement. Habs’ scouts seem to have made the right decision when they chose him with the Canadiens’ first pick in last years’ draft. The 6’3″, 194 Lbs. defenseman averaged 0.37 PPG last season. Thirteen games into this season he’s averaging an incredible 1.23 PPG; an improvement of 0.86. Canadiens’ fans will be keeping a close eye on The UML defenseman during the upcoming World Junior Championship. He should see a lot of ice-time as he suits up for the American squad.

A close second to Hainsey is Chicoutimi’s Christian Larrivée. The Habs’ chose Larrivée in the fourth round of the 2000 draft. He has already scored more goals this year than he did during the entire 99-00 season. The 6’3′, 195 Lbs. center averaged only 0.33 PPG last year. Through 33 games this season He’s averaging 1.15 PPG; a solid improvement of 0.82 PPG. Larrivée must however, improve his defensive game. He finished last season with an ugly plus/minus rating of -41. Eighteen games into the season he was a solid +6, but 15 games later he’s fallen to a disappointing -9.

Marcel Hossa has shown the third-best improvement. Like Hainsey, Hossa was chosen in the first round of last year’s draft. Consistency was the only thing lacking in the 6’0″, 200 Lbs. center’s game last season. But he’s been much more consistent of late; having been held off the score-sheet in only 6 of Portland’s 22 games. Last season Hossa averaged a respectable 0.88 PPG. Through 22 games this season he’s averaging 1.50 PPG; a strong improvement of 0.62 PPG. Hossa will be playing in the upcoming World Junior Championship. He’ll be suiting up for his native Slovakia.

Josef Balej , Hossa’s compatriot, as well as his teammate with Portland has shown the fourth-best improvement. The 5’11”, 170 Lbs. right winger can skate like the wind, and his scoring touch isn’t too bad either. Chosen in third round of last year’s draft, Balej has scored 10 powerplay goals this season. In fact, he has more than twice as many goals (17), as he does assists (8). During 65 games last season, Balej averaged 0.69 PPG. Though 20 games this season, he’s averaging 1.25 PPG; an improvement of 0.56 PPG. An interesting note on Balej is that during the 1997-98 season he played for Dukla- Trencin of the Slovak JR. league. Among his teammates that year were Marion Gaborik, and Marcel Hossa. Balej led his entire team in scoring that year with 97 points. He averaged 1.87 PPG. Gaborik averaged 1.64, and Hossa came in at 1.26. If his re-occurring back injury allows him, Balej will be suiting up for Slovakia during the World Junior Championship.

Fifth on the list is 5’11” 198 Lbs. Andrei Bashkirov. The left winger’s strong play with Quebec has given him the opportunity to play a regular shift with the Habs. He was chosen in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. Last season he averaged 0.78 PPG with the Citadelles. This season (prior to his promotion) he was averaging 1.29 PPG; an improvement of 0.51 PPG.

Skills are what separate players. It is only by improving their skating, speed, and strength that players can develop into NHLers. Points per game may not be the best way to determine a players’ improvement, but it certainly is the most tangible.

Player differential (this season)- (last season)

  R. Hainsey        +0.86
  J. Eneqvist**     +0.86
  C. Larrivee       +0.82
  M. Hossa          +0.62
  J. Balej          +0.56
  A. Bashkirov      +0.51
  M. Guren          +0.50
  A. Asham          +0.45
  J. Marois         +0.42
  J. Ward           +0.40
  A. Buturlin       +0.39
  M. Shasby         +0.39
  M. Descoteaux    +0.29
  G. Razin          +0.21
  M.A. Thinel       +0.21
  T. Hanchuk        +0.08
  M. Carkner        -0.06
  J. Gauthier       -0.06
  S. Dixon          -0.06
  M. Higgins        -0.22
  D. Jamieson       -0.28
  C. Dyment         -0.35
  E. Chouinard       N/A
  M. Ribiero         N/A
  S. Selig           N/A
  P. Chvojka         N/A
  M. Ryder           N/A
  F. Beauchemin     N/A
  R. Glenn           N/A

N/A = Did not play at the same level last season

** = Has only played 2 games this season