Canadiens: Prospects off to good start

By Dan Linn

Off to a Good Start

The 2003-04 hockey season is only a few weeks
old, but some of the Montreal Canadiens prospects have gotten off to a good
start already.  Below is an update on
how they are doing so far.


Cory Urquhart, C (2003, 2nd
round 40th)  Urquhart may
have learned a few things at the Habs rookie camp, as he has been his team’s
top player since he was returned to the PEI Rocket for the third game of the
season.  Since his arrival, he’s been on
a goal scoring pace of one a game and close to a two points an night average.  He’s not only leading his team in scoring,
but he’s one of the top scorers in the QMJHL. 
Playing under coach Alain Vigneault, Urquhart gets top line ice time and
plays in all situations.


Corey Locke, C (2003, 4th
round 113th)  Moving to
another Corey, Ottawa 67 and the CHL leading scorer Corey Locke has also gotten
off to a quick start in the OHL.  There
were several questions in regards to Locke’s production levels without his two
wingers from last year.  Would he be
able to repeat his offensive prowess with new linemates and more attention from
opposing teams? So far Locke has answered the questions and silenced his
critics by leading the OHL in scoring in the early parts of the season. 


Johan Eneqvist, C (2000, 4th
round 109th)  Over the summer
Eneqvist announced that he was leaving the SEL for the Tier-2 league in Sweden,
as he was unhappy with the amount of ice time he was receiving.  Playing on the fourth line with Leksand,
Eneqvist saw little game action, but with his new team Hammerby, who are one of
the top teams in their league, he will see an increased amount of ice time,
playing on one of the top lines.  So far
the move has gone well, as he’s one of his team’s top scorers and already has
double the amount of goals he had all of last year in just seven games, as he
has picked up four goals so far this season.


Jaroslav Halak, G (2003, 9th
round 271st)   A no show at
the Habs rookie camp due to team obligations, Halak has played very well in the
Slovakia junior league.  He’s second in
the league in goals against, and has put up some very impressive numbers so
far.  Hopefully his good play will get
him some ice time in the men’s league, and perhaps a invitation to the U-20
National Junior team.  His .945 save %
is tops in the junior league, and very impressive even though it’s against
junior-aged players.


Danny Stewart, LW (2003, 4th
round 123rd)  Having young
phenom Sidney Crosby as a linemate will surely help increase offensive
production, but you still can’t overlook the success the recently drafted
Stewart has had so far.  After Crosby
who is second in the QMJHL in scoring, Stewart is second on his team in
scoring, and fourth in the Q in scoring with 16 points so far this season, one
ahead of Cory Urquhart.


Tomas Plekanec, C (2001, 3rd
round 71st)   A very good
rookie year with Hamilton in the AHL seems to have been a confidence booster
for Plekanec.  So far he has been
impressive at times at the Habs training camp, and throughout the
preseason.  He has been rewarded for his
efforts by still being on the team up through to the last cuts that are to be
made by coach Julien.  Even if he
doesn’t make the NHL this year, the young Czech forward will be able to build
on what he’s learned so far.


Michael Ryder, RW (‘98, 8th
round 216th)  Ryder has often
been overlooked or passed by when call-ups to the Canadiens were issued.  But he has taken it all in stride and has
continued to work hard night in and night out. 
His hard work is finally paying off, as he is leading the Canadiens in
scoring in the preseason, which is something many would never have guessed when
he was the ninth pick of the Habs in 1998 or while he was demoted to the ECHL
on two different occasions.  He has made
it to the final cuts, but if he doesn’t make it right away, it’s safe to say
this won’t be a setback for him, but another stepping stone.


Joni Puurula, G (2000, 8th
round 243rd)   Puurula has
lost his starting job with HPK in the SM-Liiga, and to make matters worse,
after watching from the bench for every game so far, Puurula finally got into
game action, only to be injured on his first save of the game.  No word as to how long he will be out, but
when he returns, he won’t be getting the ice time he has last year if his
replacement continues to do so well. 
Not good news for the young Finnish netminder, who may consider crossing
over the pond to North America next year if playing time is limited where he is


Andrei Kastsitsyn,
LW (2003, 1st round 10th)  Not the best start for the much hyped young Belarus star.  Kastsitsyn has appeared in only two games
with CSKA in the RSL, and after recording an assist on the game wining goal, he
has been sent down to the farm team CSKA-2 for now.  It’s unknown for how long he will be down there, but this could
be good for him, as it should get him a lot of playing time, and those long
cold bus rides may help him to chose to play in North America next season.


Josef Balej, RW (2000, 3rd
round 78th)  Once considered
a top notch prospect, Balej is coming off a poor season where he was injured
and inconsistent at best.  Things don’t
seem to have gotten any better for the young Slovak, as he didn’t get much
attention at the Habs training camp, and was quickly sent back to Hamilton for
the second year in a row.  All is not
lost for the speedster, but a message hopefully hits home, and that is he needs
to work very hard on several areas of his game if he wants to play in the NHL