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 1999-2000, Johan Eneqvist shows the greatest improvement. The young Swede was chosen with one of the Canadiens’ 4th round picks, 109th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The 6’0″, 183 lbs. center averaged 0.64 PPG during the 99-00 season. Through 21 games this season he averaged an incredible 1.62 PPG; an improvement of 0.98. Canadiens’ fans will be keeping a close eye on Eneqvist’s progression next season.

A close second to Eneqvist is Chicoutimi’s Christian Larrivée. Chosen in the 4th round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Larrivée scored more goals this year than he did points during the entire 99-00 season. The 6’3′, 195 Lbs. center averaged only 0.33 PPG in 99-00. Through 72 games this season He averaged 1.11 PPG; a solid improvement of 0.78 PPG. Larrivée must however, improve his defensive game. He finished 99-00 with an ugly plus/minus rating of -41. Eighteen games into the 00-01 season he was a solid +6, but he eventually fell to a disappointing -38.

Ron Hainsey showed the third-best improvement. Habs’ scouts seem to have made the right decision when they chose him with the Canadiens’ first pick in the 2000 draft. The 6’3″, 194 Lbs. defenseman averaged 0.37 PPG in 99-00. Through 33 games this season he averaged an incredible 1.09 PPG; an improvement of 0.72 PPG. Hainsey’s play eventually secured a contract offer from Habs’ management. He played his first professional hockey game on April 4th, and finished the 2000-2001 season with 5 AHL games under his belt; including 1 game during the second round of the playoffs.

Marcel Hossa has shown the fourth-best improvement. Like Hainsey, Hossa was chosen in the first round of the 2000 draft. Consistency was one of the things lacking in the 6’0″, 200 Lbs. center’s game in 99-00, but he’s been much more consistent this season. In 99-00 Hossa averaged a respectable 0.88 PPG. Through 58 games this season he averaged 1.55 PPG; a strong improvement of 0.67 PPG. Although Portland is playing well in the WHL playoffs, Marian’s younger brother has not been contributing at his regular season pace. He has only 7 points (3-4-7) through 11 playoff games.

Josef Balej , Hossa’s compatriot, as well as his teammate with Portland has shown the fifth-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 the 2000 draft, Balej scored 14 powerplay goals this season. In fact, he had 50% more goals (32), than he did assists (21). During 65 games in 99-00, Balej averaged 0.69 PPG. Though 46 games this season, he averaged 1.15 PPG; an improvement of 0.46 PPG. Unlike Hossa, Balej has been having a strong playoff with Portland. He has 11 points (4-7-11) through 11 playoff games. An interesting note on Balej is that he’s a right handed shot. The Habs’ current roster has only 3 forwards who shoot right-handed. They are Jason Ward, Aaron Asham, and Jim Campbell. This fact, combined with Balej’s speed, scoring touch, and 2000 training camp could make Balej the odds-on favourite (among prospects) to break camp with the “big boys” next season.

Skills and determination are what separate players. It is only by improving their skating, speed, and strength that players can develop into NHL’ers. 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)

J. Eneqvist+0.98
C. Larrivée+0.78
R. Hainsey+0.72
M. Hossa+0.67
J. Balej+0.46
A. Asham+0.38
J. Ward        +0.36
E. Landry+0.35
A. Buturlin+0.30
M. Descoteaux+0.29
M.A. Thinel+0.28
J. Marois+0.28
M. Shasby+0.27
K. Staal+0.17
G. Razin+0.15
D. Jamieson+0.10
M. Guren+0.09
I. Mikkola+0.09
S. Dixon+0.08
T. Hanchuk+0.07
M. Carkner+0.04
E. Bertrand+0.04
M. Hyytia+0.02
A. Bashkirov+0.01
J. Dewolf-0.05
J. Gauthier-0.07
P. Strom-0.10
M. Higgins-0.13
N. Anger-0.18
A. Kuki        -0.22
T. Vertala-0.25
X. Delisle-0.38
C. Dyment-0.44
M. RibieroN/A
E. ChouinardN/A
S. SeligN/A
P. ChvojkaN/A
M. RyderN/A
F. BeaucheminN/A
R. GlennN/A

N/A = Did not play at the same level in 99-00.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments. Just click on my name at the top of this page. I am a former goaltender with writing, scouting, and coaching experience.