The Montreal Canadiens have vastly improved their organizational depth with the addition of their 2012 NHL Entry Draft selections, though it could take four to five years to ultimately see the results. Five of the team's seven new draftees have such high skill levels at this stage of their development that they have made the Canadiens' Top 20 list.
Newly drafted Alex Galchenyuk has supplanted Nathan Beaulieu as the number one prospect in the Montreal Canadiens' organization. Blake Geoffrion has dropped the most on the Top 20 list but it's more due to the increase of talent and improvement of a few others. Brendon Nash, Alexander Avtsin, and Daniel Pribyl have moved out the Top 20 and Joonas Nattinen has appeared for the first time after his solid 2011-12 rookie year in the AHL. Alexei Emelin graduated to the NHL and Ryan White has only one game left to graduate so he was left off this Top 20 list.
1. (NR) Alex Galchenyuk, C, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2012
Galchenyuk is the big playmaking centerman the Canadiens have coveted for well over a decade and has the high-end offensive talent to eventually center their top line. The big center has excellent offensive skill, vision, and hockey sense, but also possesses good character and a strong work ethic. He has also shown a commitment to the defensive side of the game.
The 18-year-old forward will need improvement his four-step acceleration, strength, physicality, and defensive zone positioning to be successful at the NHL level. The knee injury has lagged his overall development this past year and it might be better for the team's number one draft pick to play at least other season in the OHL.
2. (1) Nathan Beaulieu, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2011
Beaulieu is a highly mobile defenseman who carries the puck well and can make things happen on the rush. He has high-end offensive skills from the back-end, can run the power play, and is equally adept at shooting and distributing the puck. He is smart about limiting the amount of risks he takes but still needs to mature mentally and physically while improving his overall defensive game.
The offensively talented blueliner projects into a top-three defenseman in the NHL within the next few years if his development continues on its present pace. Beaulieu needs a strong NHL training camp in order to show Canadiens' management that it would be more beneficial for him professionally to start the 2012-13 season in the AHL rather than return to juniors for a fifth year.
3. (3) Louis Leblanc, C, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2009
After having shoulder surgery then starting in the AHL late in October with no training camp, Leblanc showed his hockey smarts, the physical grit and versatility to play on the wing or at center within the Canadiens' top-nine forwards. Leblanc will need to continue his development as a two-way forward while adding more muscle to his thin frame and adjusting to the speed of the NHL level to become a possible top-six forward.
Leblanc will have a full, healthy summer of training and NHL training camp this year to compete for a spot in the Canadiens' lineup for the 2012-13 NHL season. It might be more beneficial for young forward's development to play the full year in the AHL and be only an injury replacement call-up for Montreal.
4. (4) Jarred Tinordi, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2010
Tinordi really impressed people with his overall improvement and played big minutes in key situations for the London Knights throughout the 2011-12 season. The big defender can play the shutdown role, fills the shooting lanes, has an active stick and is a shot-blocking machine with his big size. The Knight's captain skates pretty well for a big man but his strengths are his character, leadership and physicality with a mean streak. He's the big, physical blueliner that the Canadiens are missing in their lineup.
Tinordi could eventually develop into a physical shutdown defenseman capable of making a good first pass, and playing top four minutes but he remains a project at this point. He has played his final season in the OHL and will be starting his professional career most likely in the AHL for Hamilton this upcoming season.
5. (NR) Sebastian Collberg, RW 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2012
Regarded in many circles as a first-round quality talent, Collberg is a very skilled forward with good speed and excellent one-on-one moves. The Swedish forward doesn't shy away from the dirty areas, knows how to find the soft spots to score goals, and has an elite wrist shot which he can release in a hurry with great accuracy and velocity. His offensive skills are just below Galchenyuk but he's more of a sniper than a playmaker.
Collberg not scoring in the SEL as a fourth liner playing low minutes wasn't indicative of his real offensive talent and was a big reason for his drop in this year's draft. He just needs to get stronger and heavier to play along the boards against men. The 18-year-old will play another season with Frölunda in the SEL and should help Sweden defend their gold medal at the 2013 WJC.
6. (5) Brendan Gallagher, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2010
Gallagher has an excellent work ethic, grit, really good hands, and a very quick, accurate release on his shot. The small physical winger doesn't need a lot of time or space to strike offensively and will take advantage of the smallest of chances. He is dynamic on every shift and his drive, desire and passion will get him to the NHL in some capacity. Gallagher might not have the high end offensive skills that Collberg or Galchenyuk possess, but he will get his nose dirty and finds ways to score.
Although he has improved on his skating speed and added more muscle mass, the undersized forward will still need to increase both in order to play his style of game in the dirty areas around the net in the NHL. Gallagher will start his professional career in the Canadiens' organization at the AHL or NHL level this coming season.
7. (6) Danny Kristo, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2008
Kristo is coming off a huge season with the University of North Dakota, where he managed 19 goals and 26 assists in 42 games. Possessing quick acceleration and a powerful stride, Kristo uses his explosive speed to help make space offensively. The talented winger is equally fast with or without the puck and has developed the ability to shoot the puck while in full stride toward the net with a quick, accurate release.
The Minnesota native projects as a top-six forward but still needs to play with more consistency and has to bring better work ethic and desire if he hopes to make the NHL. Kristo decided to return for his senior year to hopefully complete the unfinished business of winning a National Championship with North Dakota.
Palushaj has a good two-way game, with a combination of hockey intelligence, speed, and work ethic. He can stickhandle and make smart passes, and will fight for possession of the puck along the boards. The offensively skilled winger has been improperly used at the NHL level as fourth line role player. He needs to get stronger on the puck and drive harder to the net while not playing on the perimeter so much to have success on the Canadiens' top nine forwards.
Palushaj could be passed by Michael Bournival and Patrick Holland on the team's depth chart as they both have more overall skills compared to him and better versatility in their games. He could have a standout season on Hamilton's top line in the AHL if he can't break into the Canadiens line-up out of training camp but will likely be an injury replacement call-up to the NHL team.
9. (12) Morgan Ellis, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall, 2010
Probably the best all-round defenseman of the Canadiens prospects right now, Ellis is not great at any particular facet of the game but he is very good at everything. He can play the big minutes as a shutdown defender and on both specialty team units. The solid blueliner has poise with the puck, quick strike passing, and a hard accurate point shot. The smooth skater also brings leadership, character, and a calm demeanor both on and off the ice but has to show more aggression deep in the defensive zone at the professional level.
Ellis showed such a big improvement in his overall game last season after being traded to Shawinigan and throughout the playoffs right into the Memorial Cup championship win. He will need to bring his overall play up another notch in his rookie AHL season in order to prove that his solid game can translate at the professional level.
10. (10) Michael Bournival, C 7.0C
Trade with the Colorado Avalanche, November 11th, 2010
Bournival is a gritty two-way centerman who brings energy on every shift while working hard at both ends of the ice. He has the versatility to play all the forward positions while taking important faceoffs and playing the shutdown role against opposing top lines. The quick skating forward will need to add more muscle mass to play his physical style or it could lead to more injuries against bigger men at the AHL Level.
The all-round centerman projects as a top-six forward but could easily fill the role of a third line checker with some offensive upside at the NHL level. He could move up farther on the next Top 20 list depending on how his rookie AHL season with Hamilton plays out
11. (11) Patrick Holland, RW, 7.0C
Trade with the Calgary Flames, January 12th, 2012
Holland had an incredible final season in the WHL improving his overall game and surpassed his previous season's offensive totals by almost 50 points. The two-way forward finished sixth in the WHL regular season scoring race and was ninth in the league for the payoff scoring. The hard working winger has a high hockey IQ which allows him to learn quickly and absorbs everything he's taught by his coaches. He is a coach's dream player both on and off the ice with his ability to play anywhere and in any situation.
The forward's game is very similar to Bournival in terms of versatility but he's a much better playmaker and has good offensive vision. He is less physical than Bournival, but smart with or without the puck and a much improved skater from when he was first drafted. He keeps adding size to his frame over each summer's training and could be a solid NHL player if he continues to gain strength. Holland will start his the 2012-13 season in the AHL with Hamilton so he can adjust to the size and speed of the pro game.
12. (12) Darren Dietz, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2011
Dietz has high offensive talent, can skate, moves the puck well, and has a real hard shot along with grit and physicality to match his skills. The tough, physical defenseman plays big minutes in the shutdown role while playing on both the power play and penalty killings units. The Saskatoon Blades defensive corps was much depleted with injuries in 2011-12 and Dietz was the only defenseman to play all their games.
The gritty defenseman will be returning to the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades for his third full year at the junior level where he will be expected to lead provide leadership for his team.
13. (NR) Dalton Thrower, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2012
A teammate of Dietz, Dalton Thrower has good offensive skills, a hard shot, makes good outlet passes, and can be a puck mover from the back-end. The tough defender brings grit, character, and physicality while making life miserable for the opposing top forwards. He also holds the opposition accountable for crossing over the line with his teammates and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Thrower needs to improve his overall defensive game and better pick his times to drop the gloves, which should increase his offensive production.
Thrower will be returning to the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades for his fourth year at the junior level where the solid blueliner will be expected to play a bigger role on the team and lead the power play unit.
14. (NR) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2012
Bozon has breakaway speed, some slick dekes, a nose for the net, and one of the quickest and accurate releases of the 2012 draft class. The sniper has a unique ability to find the soft spots around the net but also needs very little time or space to score goals. The lanky winger is a natural goal scorer but needs to increase his skating balance, add more muscle mass and improve on his defensive game.
The Swiss forward will return to the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers for at least another season to further the development of his overall game. Now that he is adjusted to the North American game, could really light it up offensively in 2012-13.
15. (NR) Charles Hudon, LW 7.5D
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2012
Hudon is gifted with superior hockey sense, great vision, and quick hands which allow him to control the play in the offensive zone and create chances. Hudon has a better defensive game than expected and has much more offensive upside to his game. Despite being one of the youngest draft picks in 2012, the 18-years-old has shown a maturity beyond his age by providing leadership, character, and a strong work ethic.
The smallish forward must add more muscle mass to withstand the physical play along the boards. He also needs to improve his skating edge control and his four step acceleration. Hudon will be returning for his third season in the QJMHL and has a good possibility of playing for Team Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
16. (7) Blake Geoffrion, LW, 6.0B
Trade with the Nashville Predators, February 17th, 2012
The NHL's first fourth-generation player, Geoffrion is an excellent two-way forward that combines size, power, and energy. He has good hockey sense and vision while thriving at the physical game down low and along the boards. The skilled winger has a good hard shot and can get pucks through to the net but he just needs to shoot more often. The 24-year-old needs to increase his strength and skating speed while driving harder to the front of the net and showing his willingness to go into the difficult areas to make the play.
Geoffrion should challenge for a roster spot on the Canadiens out of training camp but might start the season in the AHL with the Bulldogs and be the first call-up as an injury replacement. The big left winger could be a third or fourth line NHL player if he plays his game.
17. (15) Steve Quailer, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2008
Despite missing four weeks to a sprained knee, Steve Quailer had a solid junior year with Northeastern University. The forward combines leadership and energy with physicality and strong play in the corners to create time and space for him and his linemates. He could develop into a power forward but must learn to not to take bad penalties at the and play with more sandpaper in his game. He also must remain healthy.
Quailer decided to forego his final year at Northeastern to start his professional career and will probably play at the AHL level in Hamilton for the upcoming season. He has the versatility in his game to play on any line successfully but should thrive in the top six.
18. (16) Mac Bennett, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2009
Bennett is a smooth-skating, two-way defenseman who has excellent mobility, good hands and the ability to join the rush. He has improved his defensive zone positioning but at times makes poor decisions with the puck which can lead to turnovers. Bennett must add size and strength to his frame while also upgrading his overall game. He also needs to prove that he can play effectively without defensive partner Greg Pateryn, who graduated this past season.
The two-way defenseman will return for his junior year at Michigan where he will look to take on a much larger role on defense.
Pateryn is a solid all-around defenseman who combines good defensive zone positioning with solid work ethic, character, grit, and a calming on-ice presence. Possessing good size, he is also a strong physical presence around his net. The big defenseman can play a shutdown role and on both specialty team units.
Pateryn is a nasty, physical, defensive defender similar to Brendon Nash, and could be a good partner to help mentor and develop Beaulieu in Hamilton. He should start his professional career in the AHL with the Bulldogs and will be looking to show Canadiens management he could be capable of joining the NHL very soon.
20. (NR) Joonas Nattinen, C/W, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2009
Nattinen adjusted well in his first North American season in 2011-12 and has a good all-round game with some offensive upside. The Finn is a good skater who reads the play well on both sides of the ice and likes to create offensive plays, though he needs to use his good shot more often. He possesses good size but needs to play with physicality and improve his strength.
Headed into his second season in the AHL, Nattinen will play a bigger role on a very inexperienced Hamilton team and will be expected to produce more offensively for the upcoming season. At this time, he showed more improvement and potential than the prospects who were dropped or left off this list.