Canadiens Top 20 prospects

By Dan Linn

With the ending of the 2003-2004 season, it’s time to rerank the Montreal Canadiens prospects. Two new players join the list, NCAA goaltending standout and Hobey Baker finalist, Yann Danis, who was signed as a free agent once his hockey career had finished with Brown University and Danny Stewart who enjoyed a career year with Rimouski of the QMJHL. Keeping his spot at the top of the list is the Belarus native Andrei Kastsitsyn, whose pure offensive talent is something that was sorely needed in the Canadiens organization.

With an impressive group of prospects, the Canadiens were named by Hockey’s Future as the No. 1 stable of prospects in the NHL, after being near the bottom of the barrel only two years ago. Thanks to the drafting of Andre Savard and Trevor Timmins, the prospect depth has done a complete 180 degree turn around. Next month they will restock the shelves again for the year.

1. (previous rank: 1) Andrei Kastsitsyn, LW/RW – Kastsitsyn stays at first overall, after being ranked No. 1 for the first time at the mid-season point when Mike Komisarek was called up to the NHL full time. The latest first round pick, taken tenth overall, had a shaky season playing for one of the tougher coaches to get along with, Victor Tikhonov, but enjoy a great deal of success playing in the Russian junior league, and several international tournaments including the U-20’s and World Championship for Team Belarus. There is talk that the Canadiens will make a strong effort to get their number one pick of 2003 under contract for next season and to adapt to the North American game.

2. (2) Alex Perezhogin, RW – Perezhogin also stays at second, but several questions are being raised as to what effect his recent one-year AHL suspension will have on him. He was suspended from playing in the AHL for the rest of the 2004 playoffs and one full year for hitting a player in the face with his stick. It’s the longest suspension ever handed out by the AHL, but it does not stop him from playing in other leagues if he gets approval from the NHL or IIHF to play back in Russia where he was last year. This season Perezhogin started to find his offensive game as he became more comfortable on the smaller ice surface, and ended up fourth in rookie scoring in the AHL as he caught fire towards the end of the season. It will be interesting to see the effect the suspension will have on his development.

3. (3) Chris Higgins, C/LW – Higgins also remains at the same spot at third. The former 2002 first round pick, taken 14th overall, decided to leave Yale after his sophomore season, where he was a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker award. He made the switch to professional hockey and never looked out of place, even though he went from playing around 30 games a year with Yale to just about 70 games this year, as he even saw a few games in the NHL. Not only did he not look out of place, but Higgins ended up finishing sixth overall in rookie scoring in the AHL, even though he missed a chunk of games due to a head injury.

4. (4) Tomas Plekanec, C – Plekanec remains at No. 4, as he enjoyed another very solid year in just his second season playing in North America. Taken in the 2001 draft in the third round, 71st overall, Plekanec ended up the year as the top scorer on his team, and for his efforts was named to the AHL All-Star team and even got to dress in two NHL games this year. Not only did he lead his team in scoring, but he also led them in game winning goals and plus/minus as well, and was 13th in the league in scoring as well, as he helped his team get into the second round of the playoffs.

5. (not ranked) Yann Danis, G – Danis makes an impressive debut to the top 20 list, as he was recently signed by Bob Gainey after having an outstanding career in the NCAA putting up numbers not seen since the great Ken Dryden. He has accomplished a great deal in his short career so far, and he will be able to help the organization with his exceptional skills. Danis holds several Brown and ECAC records, and for his efforts was awarded the ECAC player of the year, the Ivy league player of the year, a finalist for the Hobey Baker, First All American, two-time ECAC All Academic team, the USCHO defensive player of the year and the Leonard Fowle Award for MVP of New England. In his limited time in the AHL this year after being signed, Danis was able to win both games he appeared in, getting a shutout in his first professional game.

6. (5) Ron Hainsey, D – Hainsey drops one spot from the last ranking, as he has not shown a great deal of improvement in his development. After being sent down early in the year, he was not able to get himself back into the NHL. The former first round pick of the 2000 draft, taken 13th overall, Hainsey has spent time in the AHL for the last three seasons, and even made the AHL All-Stars in his first season, but it seems his development has stalled. The offensive defensemen did have a good season offensively, but did not improve on the areas of concern and was shutdown in the second round of the playoffs. With all the skill that Hainsey possess, it’s only a matter of time before he figures out what he needs to do to get back into the NHL.

7. (7) Cory Urquhart, C – Urquhart remains at No. 7. He was the second leading scorer on his team, despite having various injuries throughout the season. Taken in the second round of the 2003 draft, 40th overall, Urquhart is an offensive player first and foremost, as he was one of the top scorers in the QMJHL all season, and was named to Team QMJHL for the RE/MAX series. It’s unclear if he will be returning to the Q next year, as he stands a good chance of playing in the AHL next season, where he will have to overcome a lack of a physical game.

8. (10) Maxime Lapierre, C – Lapierre moves up two spots. He was able to find his offensive game this year, and seems to be turning into a solid all round player who gives it his all every night. Taken in the second round of the 2003 draft, 61st overall thanks to a trade with Philadelphia, Lapierre is showing why the Habs shocked the scouting world when they drafted two players from the same team in the same round. Lapierre was able to get time on the top line, forming an all Hab line that was one of the most effective lines in the Q this year. Next season will be a big test for the 19-year-old, as he will likely be the go-to guy for PEI, and heavily used by Coach Alain Vigneault, but this should be great for his development as he continues to improve his offensive game.

9. (8) Marcel Hossa, LW – Hossa moves down one spot, as he continues to struggle with his consistency and intensity throughout the season. This is one of the major reasons why he was sent down again after spending parts of the last two seasons in the NHL. The former first round pick of the 2000 draft, taken 16th overall, Hossa has the package of size and skill that most teams are looking for, but has an inability to put it all together on a daily basis. He did show flashes towards the end of the season and parts of the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if he will continue to develop, as he lives under the shadow of being the brother of one of the top hockey players in the world.

10. (12) Ryan O’Byrne, D – Rounding out the top 10, O’Byrne moves up two spots, as he had a solid freshman season in the NCAA, playing for a very well defensively coached Cornell team. The third round pick of the 2003 draft, taken 79th overall, O’Byrne had some difficulty adapting to the NCAA after playing in the BCJHL last year, but as the season went on, he was able to fit into the system well even though it took him to his final game of the season to record his first point. O’Byrne brings an impressive package of size, skating and physical presence, but will need to improve on his offensive game and overall defensive game as well.

11. (9) Konstantin Korneev, D – Korneev drops two spots from the last ranking, due to others progressing more rapidly and a limited amount of ice time with AK Bars of the Russian Super League. Taken late in the 2002 draft, 275th overall, Korneev was named to the Russian National Senior team as a 19-year-old and was captain of the junior team in his final appearance, but playing on one of the deeper defensive teams in the RSL, Korneev was used on the bottom pairing so his ice time was limited. One major concern is the lack of size the young blueliner has, so a good test for him would be to play in the AHL, but for now he’ll play in Russia unless signed by the Habs.

12. (13) Michael Lambert, LW – Lambert moves up one spot, as he finally had a breakout year for PEI of the QMJHL. Playing on the wing of Urquhart, Lambert was able to rack up the goals, points, and shots, as he was near the league leaders all season long and was also named to Team QMJHL for the RE/MAX games. The former fourth round pick of the 2002 draft, taken 99th overall, Lambert must be signed in the next two weeks or he will reenter the draft.

13. (16) Corey Locke, C – Locke moves up three spots as he was the top scorer in the OHL for the second season in a row, and was named the top player in the OHL again, as he’s a finalist for the CHL player of the year, which he won last year. The fourth round pick of the 2003 draft, taken 113th overall, Locke is on the small side, but his vision and playmaking skills are of NHL quality. The real test for him will be in the AHL, where he will be up against bigger, stronger, faster players, but the 20-year-old has the work ethic and skill level to get there. It would be a surprise to see him back in the OHL next year, after his last two seasons have been so successful, and Hamilton could use his offensive abilities.

14. (11) Oskari Korpikari, D – Korpikari drops three spots, due to the fine seasons of other players in front of him and a shoulder injury which cost him development time in the Sm-liiga. He was sent down to the junior league after returning. Taken in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, 217th overall thanks to a trade with Washington, Korpikari was able to play for Finland’s National Junior team, but was injured halfway through the tournament. Next season should see him back in the Sm-liiga, but playing on a team with other solid young defensemen will make ice time hard to come by, although he does have a very good coach so he’s getting a great deal of experience even with limited ice time.

15. (17) Duncan Milroy, RW – Milroy moves up two spots, as he was able to step up his game when called upon later in the season and in the playoffs. After an injury and a slow start to the season, Milroy had some difficult times but when injuries and call-ups hit the Dogs, he was moved onto the top lines and was able to contribute offensively. Next year should be a better one for him, as he was a scoring star in the WHL, but seemed to be a step behind in his first professional season. Taken in the second round of the 2001 draft, 37th overall, Milroy has shown flashes of why he was taken so high, but will need to improve on a few areas of his game to be an effective player.

16. (14) Jaroslav Halak, G – Halak moves down a few spots, but not for his play this season, as he put up impressive numbers in every league he’s played and was named to Slovakia’s National Junior team as the starting goalie. The 18-year-old should have a few more years to develop his game, and getting more time in the men’s league would be a good start for him to hone his skills. Taken in the ninth round, 271st overall, Halak got scouts’ attention with an impressive performance at the U-18’s where he was named the top goalie of the tournament and helped his team win the silver. Things didn’t go as well at the U-20 tournament this year, but he still was able to put up good numbers and had some very good games as well, which bodes well for his future with the Canadiens.

17. (15) Jonathan Ferland, RW – Ferland moves down two spots. Taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, 212th overall, Ferland was able to have a solid rookie season in the AHL, after an impressive career in the QMJHL. Ferland did have a hard time finding any offense in the playoffs, but got a good look at what it takes to win at the second highest level, and what he will need to do to get there.

18. (18) Andrew Archer, D – Archer stays where he was, even though he had a tough season, as he found the jump from the OHL to the AHL is not an easy one. An early season injury put him behind schedule, and from there on in he had a hard time getting much ice time, and even spent a few games in the ECHL this year. Taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, 203rd overall, Archer in a big stay at home defensemen who plays a safe solid game, who should get more ice time next year, with the expected loss of NHL defensemen Dykhuis and Traverse.

19. (19) Mark Flood, D – Flood most likely finished up his OHL career, after he had a solid season this year for the Petes, even though they did not make the playoffs. Taken in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, 188th overall thanks to a trade with Toronto, Flood enjoyed was an OHL All-Star this year, and was even signed to a part time tryout with Hamilton, but was not able to dress for any games.

20th. (not ranked) Danny Stewart, C/LW – Making his first appearance on the Top 20 list, Stewart was able to enjoy a strong season with Rimouski, as he was third on his team in scoring. Taken in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, 123rd overall, thanks to a trade with Washington, Stewart often goes unnoticed playing behind Sidney Crosby, but he was able to help his team go far in the playoffs with his offensive abilities, as he is not afraid to shoot the puck. Stewart will need to add some muscle over the next few years, but his offensive abilities should give him a chance at the next level down the road.