Canadiens prospects playoff preview

By Dan Linn

With the 2004-2005 regular season wrapping up in the CHL, NCAA, and European leagues, several of the Montreal Canadiens prospects enter postseason hockey, always considered an excellent environment for young players to experience. For some of these players, how they fare in the playoffs could go a long way towards securing a contract this summer. Several players like Mark Flood, Danny Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, Maxime Lapierre and Jimmy Bonneau all are eligible to play in the AHL next season, so management will likely be watching closely. Here’s a look at the Canadiens prospects that will be playing playoff hockey around the globe.

The Canadiens have three prospects in the NCAA, and all of them will take part in postseason play. Ryan O’Byrne and Jon Gleed both play for the ECAC champion Cornell Big Red, and J T Wyman for Dartmouth. While Cornell enjoyed a first round bye for their first place finish, Dartmouth fell short of getting a bye week, thus they had to face Yale who surprised the Big Green in game two, but overall fell short. Dartmouth took the series and will move on to play Vermont this weekend. Wyman, a freshman, picked up an assist in his first playoff appearance.

Still currently injured, Canadiens 2004 first round draft pick Kyle Chipchura will see his team Prince Albert take on the Saskatoon Blades in just under two weeks. It’s still unclear if Chipchura will be ready in time to see any action in the first round of the playoffs, but if his team could win some games, perhaps he will get the chance to suit up after all. For Chipchura it would be difficult to jump back into play after missing about 40 games this season, although Prince Albert could use the offense he provided in last year’s playoffs when he had six points in six games.

The Canadiens have only two prospects currently playing in the OHL, both in the same organization, the Peterborough Petes. With the Petes already locking up a spot in the playoffs, both Mark Flood and Greg Stewart will get the chance to help their team go far. The Petes are enjoying an impressive turnaround from last season as they lead the East Division. Second year player Stewart it will be his first trip to the playoffs, but for overage Flood, it will be his third and final trip to the playoffs.

It’s still in question as to who will play and who will get an early summer in the QMJHL, but it is already assured that Rimouski will be in the playoffs this year. This will give Danny Stewart a chance to show the Canadiens they should consider signing him, as he hasn’t had the best season so far this year. Also securing a spot in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak will look to backstop Lewiston, as he has enjoyed a successful rookie season this year and is considered a major part why his team will be playing postseason hockey.

The big question remains with the PEI Rocket, who are currently out of the playoff race, but still holding onto hope of making a push late in the season. Both Maxime Lapierre and Jimmy Bonneau are eligible to play in the AHL next season, so a strong showing in the playoffs would likely get management’s attention. Lapierre could be brought in with Hamilton as soon as the Rocket’s season is over. It appears as though Baie-Comeau won’t be making the trip to the postseason, although there’s still a chance. Teammates Loic Lacasse and Alexandre Dulac-Lemelin, both 19, will both be back with the Drakkar next season, but if they were to make into the playoffs, it would be their second trip after the team made the playoffs last season during their rookie years.

In the Russian Super league, both Alexi Yemelin and Konstantin Korneev’s teams will be playing in the postseason, although it’s unclear how much ice time they will receive. For the rookie Yemelin, ice time has been very hard to come by this year, but playing for one of the top defensive teams should be a good experience in itself. Korneev on the other hand has seen a lot more action this season then Yemelin, a regular in the RSL since he was an 18-year-old, but he happens to play on the star-filled AK Bars which could mean little actual playing time for the defenseman. Management has to be extremely pleased with the progression they have seen from their 2001 first round pick, Alex Perezhogin, who is having an outstanding season this year while playing for last year’s RSL champs, Avangard Omsk. Perezhogin was worked his way into the top 20 scorers in the league, after missing time for injuries and playing for the National team during the Euro Cup, as well as missing time to take care of legal matters in regards to last year’s stick-swinging incident. The one question remains is will Neftekhimik hold the final playoff spot or end the season early. Mikhail Grabovsky did appear in the playoffs last year in his rookie season, but was held scoreless. Management must also be very pleased with the offensive production of their 2004 pick, as Grabovsky leads his team in scoring and is currently one point out of the top ten in scoring in the league.

Finland defenseman Oskari Korpikari and his team Karpat A are already taking part in the playoffs in the Finnish junior league, but so far it’s not going all that well. Things seem to be going very well for Korpikari individually, who currently leads his team in scoring, and is second in the league in playoff scoring and assists. He has the advantage of having been a regular in the sm-liiga for parts of the last two seasons, but injuries and military obligations have impacted his ice time.

Over in Sweden, teammates Christopher Heino-Lindberg and Johan Eneqvist enjoyed a very successful regular season with Hammarby of the tier-2 league. Heino-Lindberg put up numbers that placed him near the top of the league in goals against and save percentage, and backstopped the Swedish National Junior team at the World Junior Championship. Eneqvist also enjoyed a strong season, second on the team in scoring. But things did not go well for Heino-Lindberg and Eneqvist during the SuperAllsvenskan. They played against the top teams in the league, but could not muster much luck as they ended up in last place, with neither player having very solid numbers.

In the Czech Republic, journeyman defenseman Tomas Linhart has often found himself shuffled around between the extraliga and the first liga this year, as he was between the junior league and Junior National team last year. Linhart has already played in five games for HC Hradec of the first liga, as well as four games for HC Moeller Pardubice of the top men’s league, as the recently turned 21-year-old enjoys his second year of postseason play while in the extraliga.

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