1. Andrei Kostsitsyn, LW/RW – Kostsitsyn stays at first overall on the Canadiens Top 20 list, 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. Taken tenth overall in 2003, Kostsitsyn had a shaky season in 2003-04 playing for one of the tougher coaches to get along with, Victor Tikhonov. But he enjoyed 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 him under contract for next season and to adapt to the North American game.
2. Alex Perezhogin, RW – 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 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 for the Habs or back in Russia where he was last year. Aside from one bad choice, 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 how he deals with what has happened and what effect this will have on his development.
3. Chris Higgins, C/LW – Higgins is right up there as one of the Habs top prospects. 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. 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. Tomas Plekanec, C – Plekanec 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 the Hamilton Bulldogs, 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 he helped his team get into the second round of the playoffs.
5. Yann Danis, G – Danis is coming an outstanding year at Brown. He has accomplished a lot in his short career so far, and it won’t take long to see how 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, 1st 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. 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, 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-Star team in his first season, but it seems his development has stalled. The offensive defenseman did have a good season statistically, but did not improve on the areas of concern and was shut down in the second round of the playoffs. With all the skill that Hainsey possesses, it’s only a matter of time before he figures out what he needs to do to get back into the NHL.
7. Kyle Chipchura, C – Chipchura makes his debut at No. 7 in the Canadiens Top 20, after being selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft. Although an injury kept him from reaching impressive offensive numbers, the scouting staff wanted to address the lack of size down the middle which has been overlooked in past drafts. Chipchura has been invited to Team Canada’s selection camp this summer, although he will have a tough time of making the team as an 18-year-old, as Canada has a large number of players returning from last year’s team.
8. Cory Urquhart, C – Urquhart 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, he 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.
9. Maxime Lapierre, C – Lapierre 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.
10. Marcel Hossa, LW – Hossa continues to struggle with his consistency and intensity throughout the season, which 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.
11. Ryan O’Byrne, D – O’Byrne 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.
12. Konstantin Korneev, D – Korneev drops from the last ranking, but it’s 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, as he just resigned with AK Bars this summer.
13. Michael Lambert, LW – Lambert 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.
14. Corey Locke, C – Locke 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.
15. Alex Yemelin, D – Yemelin makes his debut to the Canadiens top 20 after being selected in the 2004 NHL entry draft, where he was the second pick of the Habs in the third round, 84th overall. Yemelin is a product of the Lada system, and had success in the High league this season in a physical stay at home role, which the Habs also seem to lack to their system.
16. Oskari Korpikari, D – Korpikari had a shoulder injury which cost him development time in the sm-liiga, as 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 Finlands National Junior team, but was injured half way 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.
17. Jaroslav Halak, G – Halak 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. He has also been drafted by Lewiston of the QMJHL in the CHL import draft, and could be headed to Maine next season.
18. James Wyman, RW – Wyman makes his debut in the Canadiens top 20, after being selected in the fourth round of the 2004 entry draft, 100th overall. Wyman is one of the very rare players to be selected out of the USHS system by the Canadiens. He is headed to the ECAC, which the Canadiens often have used as a solid developmental league in the past. Wyman will head to Dartmouth next season, where he will look to show off his offensive skills while getting a great education at one of the top schools in the USA.
19. Duncan Milroy, RW – Milroy 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, he 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.
20. Jonathan Ferland, RW – Taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, 212th overall, Ferland had a solid rookie season in the AHL after an impressive career in the QMJHL. He 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.