Now that we have passed the midway mark of the
2003-2004 season, it’s time to evaluate how the prospects have progressed so
far this year. For this mid-season
report, a few players had to be moved off the top 20 list for various reasons,
with some new names also making it onto the list as well. Mike Komisarek who has been the Habs
No. 1 prospect for some time now, has been moved off the prospect list and into
the graduated section, as he is now seeing time in the NHL. Francois Beauchemin and J-F
Damphousse are no longer prospects, as they have played too many AHL
games. Making his first appearance on
the Top 20 is Peterborough Pete’s Mark Flood, as he is having a career
year playing on the top pairing where he is a major part of the team’s success.
1. Andrei Kastsitsyn, F (Former rank: 2nd)
Kastsitsyn moves up one spot from second to first, as he is having a great
season in the Russian junior league.
Taken in the recent draft at tenth overall, the Habs have found a pure
offensive talent, which is why he is the new No.1 prospect in the Canadiens
organization. After taking part in his
impressive fourth World Juniors tournament, he put up some impressive numbers
against the weaker competition.
Spending time between the men’s league with CSKA, where he is gaining a
wealth of knowledge under the famous Russian coach, and at times he will play
for the junior team, CSKA-2 where he is scoring close to a goal a game on
average against players his age.
2. Alex Perezhogin, RW (4th)
Perezhogin moves up from fourth to second, as he is starting to show why he was
selected in the first round, 25th overall in 2001. It took the young Russian some time to adapt
to the smaller ice surface, but when you have that much skill, it’s only a
matter of time before the puck starts going in. Playing under a veteran coach in Doug Jarvis, and having a fellow
countryman in Alex Svitov, Perezhogin has been able to use his speed and
excellent shot to get points on the board, as he is currently tied for second
in team scoring for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs among active players.
3. Chris Higgins, C/LW (3rd)
Higgins stays at third, but that’s not for lack of improvement, as he has been
very impressive in his rookie professional season, and a real force for the
Bulldogs of the AHL. Playing a solid
all around game, Higgins may be the safest bet of the Habs prospects to have a
solid career in the NHL, as he is one of the more intelligent and harder
working players in the organization, and he’s not even 21 years old. Playing in the ECAC last year, Higgins
attended one of the top colleges in the world.
4. Tomas Plekanec, C (7th)
Plekanec moves up a few spots due to having a very good season in his second
year in North America, and in the AHL as well.
After an impressive rookie season, Plekanec has shown a large amount of
progress in his game, as he has been able to improve upon his weaker areas,
along the boards, and in his own end, while not regressing in any other
areas. For his efforts and hard work,
Plekanec has been given the chance to see some time in the NHL this season, a
sign of how good he’s been this season, as he has been one of the Bulldogs top
players and scorers all season long.
5. Ron Hainsey, D (5th)
Hainsey stays in the same slot, as he has struggled to earn a spot in the NHL
just yet. He has been very good in the AHL, and may be the Bulldogs top
defensemen in the last few weeks that he’s been in Hamilton. Blessed with outstanding natural abilities,
Hainsey can be very effective while on the power play or helping the offense in
general, as he shoots and passes well.
The defensive end of the ice is where the trouble has been, as he
continues to develop that side of his game in the AHL, where he has adapted
well from the more wide open NCAA where he spent two seasons before being
signed by the Habs.
6. Josef Balej, RW (9th) Balej
jumps a few spots, as he is having a breakout year for the Bulldogs, in his
second professional season. After
suffering from an injury early in the season last year, Balej struggled to find
his game or ice time, as he played for the top team in the AHL. Things weren’t looking good for him when the
new season started, as he was one of the first cuts to be made by the Canadiens
brass, which had to be a big disappointment to the young Slovak, but instead he
didn’t let get to him as he has been one of the top scorers in Hamilton and the
AHL for most of the season. Using his
explosive speed, Balej is able to generate things on offense every time he has
the puck, which makes life difficult for opposing goalies and defensemen
throughout the AHL and soon to be NHL.
7. Cory Urquhart, C (8th)
Urquhart moves up one spot as he has shown impressive development over each
year he’s played in the QMJHL. Recently
drafted in the second round, 45th overall, Urquhart has been one of
the top scorers for the Rocket over the last two seasons, and has been one of
the top scorers in the entire QMJHL all season long. A strong finish again the playoffs could land Urquhart a trip to
the AHL next season, as he has displayed the skill level, but may have trouble
with the physically stronger defensemen of the American League.
8. Marcel Hossa, LW (6th)
Hossa drops a few spots as other prospects have been enjoying a very successful
start to the season, whereas the young Slovak has had his troubles scoring
goals at times. Having a brother who is
one of the top hockey players in the world, may be causing the younger Hossa to
hold his stick too tight or not tight enough, as he has been demoted to the AHL
again, as the goals have been hard to come by.
A natural center that was moved to the left wing, Hossa may be having
difficulty adjusting to his position, as some players have trouble getting used
to the mental side of the game when moved from playing a certain spot for
several years. Some time in the AHL
should do him some good, as he can work on things without the heavy pressure of
the Montreal media questioning his every move or lack thereof.
9. Konstantin Korneev, D (10th)
Korneev moves up a spot after recently taking part in his third World Junior
Championships. After winning the gold in his first two trips, this year did not
go well for Team Russia, but Korneev was able to be the leading scoring
defensemen on his team, and has been a regular in the Russian Super League for
two seasons now, and is still only 19 years old. A late pick of the 2002 draft, taken 275th overall,
Korneev lacks in size, but makes up for it in skill, hard work, and solid
10. Maxim Lapierre, C (18th)
Lapierre makes the biggest jump of all Hab prospects, as he has shown a great
deal of progress from the start of the season to now. Taken in the second round of the recent draft, at 61st
overall, Lapierre has been able to develop the weaker points of his game, while
also improving his stronger assets.
Playing under Coach Vigneault seems to be very good for him, as he has
shown a solid effort on the ice, while playing a very gritty hard nosed game
that is lacking from several of the Habs prospects. In addition, he has been able to find his scoring touch, and has
been rewarded with top line ice time for his efforts.
11.Oskari Korpikari, D
(12th) Korpikari moves up one spot, as he has been a regular in the
men’s league, sm-liiga since being called up late last season, and even earned
a spot on the roster of Team Finland’s World Junior team. An effective stay at home defensemen, who
plays a safe and steady game in his own end, is gaining a ton of great
experience playing under one of Finland’s all time great defensemen.
12. Ryan O’Byrne, D (20th)
O’Byrne makes a big move up as he has shown some impressive size and skills
while playing his first season in the ECAC for one of the top programs in
college hockey, Cornell University. A
physical defensemen, who has great skating ability especially when you consider
his 6’5” frame, O’Byrne also can move the puck in a hurry or lead the rush up
13. Michael Lambert, LW (15th)
Lambert moves up a few spots, as he has shown a great deal of improvement over
a somewhat disappointing season last year.
Blessed with a very good wrist shot, size and skating, Lambert has been
one of the top scorers for the Rocket all season long, and one of the top
scorers in the entire QMJHL for most of the season. Recently minor injuries have slowed him down some, but
considering he is playing for a contract by June 1st or he reenters
the draft, he picked a good time to find his game, as he has been a major
reason why the Rocket have had so much success this year.
14. Jaroslav Halak, G (19th)
Halak moves up a few spots, as he is having a breakout season playing in
Slovakia, as he leads the junior league in goals against and save percentage,
while even being called up to the top men’s league in his country, and finding
success in that league as well. In
addition the young 18-year-old was named to be the starting goalie for Team
Slovakia’s World Junior Championship, where he played very well for the most
part, on an overmatched team.
15. Jonathan Ferland, RW (11th)
Ferland drops a few spots, but not because of his play, but due to other
prospects having so much success this season. Playing in his first pro season,
Ferland has shown he can handle the bigger stronger players of the AHL, but
scoring goals hasn’t been as easy for him, as Coach Jarvis juggles his lineup
in order to make room for so many first year players. Expect Ferland to have a much improved role on the Bulldogs next
year, as he adapts to the AHL, and improves his skating.
16. Corey Locke, C (16th)
Locke stays where he was at the start of the season, which is a bit unfair, as
he has shown an impressive ability to score with less talented wingers, but the
real test for him will be in the AHL, where he will look to show why he was
selected the CHL player of the year last season. Not blessed with NHL size, Locke has extremely impressive vision
on the ice, as he has the ability to find the open man and thread him the pass
in the tightest of areas. Locke has put
up 92 goals over the last season and half, as he was one of the highest scoring
players in the OHL over the last ten years.
17. Duncan Milroy, RW (13th)
Milroy drops a few spots, not for lack of talent or effort, but with several
other prospects playing so well, and with Milroy having some difficulty being
able to produce in the AHL, he was moved down slightly. After racking up the points in the physical
WHL, while also winning a championship and Memorial Cup, with the Kootenay Ice,
Milroy has shown he can step it up when it counts. Over the last few years, it seems that Duncan has been much more
of a second half player, so hopefully he continues this trend and gets himself
a few more goals. Look for Milroy to
have an improved role with the Bulldogs next season, as he has had some trouble
getting ice time after returning from injury.
18. Andrew Archer, D (14th)
Archer is in the same boat as Milroy, as he has dropped as well, but not for
lack of talent or effort either, but he has had some difficulty adjusting to
the AHL in his rookie season. After
missing training camp and several games at the start of the season, Archer is
finding it tough to earn a spot in the lineup, but expect the tall defenseman
to have a much more increased role with the team next year.
19. Mark Flood, D (not ranked) Flood
makes his first appearance on the Habs Top 20 list, as he is having an
impressive season for the Petes, and is considered one of the most improved
players in the OHL so far this season.
Already setting career highs in goals and close to it in points and
assists, Flood is getting valuable experience playing on the top pairing,
leading the power play.
20. Alex Buturlin, RW/LW (not ranked)
Buturlin makes the final spot, having another solid season playing on the top
line for Lada of the Russian Super League. He is on pace for a career year, as
he is one of the leaders on the team, and top scorers as well.