Canadiens Top 20 prospects

By Dan Linn

The 2004-2005 season did not start off very well for many of the Canadiens prospects but things turned around in the second half. Chris Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn and Ron Hainsey both turned around their seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Alex Perezhogin worked his way into the top 20 in scoring in the Russian Super League and Kyle Chipchura returned from what was thought to be a season-ending injury.

In addition, Yann Danis and Corey Locke both had impressive rookie seasons, while Tomas Plekanec continued to lead the Hamilton Bulldogs in scoring for the second year in a row in his third season in North America. Christopher-Heino Lindberg, Mikhail Grabovsky and Marcel Hossa all enjoyed a successful season in the Euro leagues, with Jaroslav Halak, and Greg Stewart playing very well in the CHL and Ryan O’Byrne showed a good deal of improvement in his sophomore season in the NCAA.

Montreal Canadiens Top 20 at a Glance

1. Alex Perezhogin, RW – 21- Avangard Omsk (RSL)
2. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
3. Chris Higgins, LW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
4. Yann Danis, G – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
5. Kyle Chipchura, C – 19 – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
6. Tomas Plekanec, C – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
7. Marcel Hossa- LW, 23 – Mora IK (SEL)
8. Ron Hainsey, D – 24 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
9. Ryan O’Byrne, D – 20 – Cornell (ECAC)
10. Corey Locke, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
11. Oskari Korpikari, D – 21 – Karpat (FNL)
12. Christopher Heino-Lindberg, G – 20 – Hammarby IK (tier-2)
13. Mikhail Grabovsky, LW – 21 – Neftekhimik (RSL)
14. Jaroslav Halak, G – 19 – Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL)
15. Maxime Lapierre, C – 20 – PEI Rocket (QMJHL)
16. Duncan Milroy, RW – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
17. Konstantin Korneev, D – 20 – Ak Bars (RSL)
18. Michael Lambert, LW – 21 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
19. Cory Urquhart, C – 20 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
20. Alexi Yemelin, D – 19 – Lada Tolyatti (RSL)

Key: Current rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age, team, (league)
Draft postion, and grade.

1. (2) Alex Perezhogin, RW – 21 – Avangard Omsk (RSL)
Draft: 1st round, 25th overall 2001, Grade: 8.5 B

After enjoying a very successful rookie year in the AHL last season, Perezhogin went back to the Russian Super league during a suspension for the entire season after a stick swinging incident during the playoffs last year. As the season progressed so did Perezhogin. He was able to work his way into the top 20 in scoring in the league despite missing a chunk of games at the start of the season due to his legal troubles. He was also named to the Russian National team, and he saw time during the Euro Cup and while he was named to the preliminary roster for the World Championships, an injury ruined any chance of making the team. Perezhogin had 33 points this year in 43 games, playing in what was a tougher league with the influx of NHLers this year.

2. (1) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 10th overall 2003, Grade: 8.5 B

Kostitsyn moves down one spot as he had some difficulty adapting to North American hockey. He’s had a tough time learning the language and his offensive production was not what was expected from such a high skilled player. That said, he did show a great deal of improvement in his defensive play and his play without the puck, under coach Jarvis who was once a great defensive forward during his NHL days. Next season Kostitsyn will be looked upon to carry more of the offensive load for the Bulldogs. They could lose a few key players next season and he will need to score more than the 12 goals and 23 points he had this season in 66 games.

3. (3) Chris Higgins, LW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 14th overall 2002, Grade: 8.0 B

Higgins, like Perezhogin, also enjoyed a very successful rookie season in the AHL last year, and while he did fall into a bit of the sophomore slump at the start of the season, things fell into place for him as the season wore on. While he was getting his chances, they just weren’t going in. He started scoring in bunches just as the Hamilton Bulldogs started their drive to the AHL playoffs. Higgins ended up setting a career high in goals with 28, points with 51, game-winning goals with six, short handed goals with four, power play goals with eight and shots with 248 all in 76 games. He carried that over into the playoffs, as he led the Dogs in scoring with an impressive six points in four games, also setting a career high for playoff hockey in assists and points.

4. (6) Yann Danis, G – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2004 Free Agent, Grade: 8.0 A

Danis had a great senior year with Brown of the ECAC in which he set various school and conference records and ended with him being a Hobey Baker finalist. He made the jump to professional hockey at the end of last year for two games. This year Danis became the number one goalie in Hamilton and was in the running for AHL rookie goaltender of the year. He showed some very impressive skills, including his positioning and ability to read the play. Danis was able to set a team record for wins in a season with 28, and he tied a club record with an impressive five shutouts.

5. (4) Kyle Chipchura, C – 19 – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Draft: 1st round, 18th overall 2004, Grade: 7.0 A

Chipchura was enjoying a career year in the Western Hockey league until a freak accident on December 3rd that severed his Achilles tendon by a teammates skate. It cost him four months of the season, but he was able to battle back and join his team in time for the playoffs. Things are going well for Chipchura in the playoffs. He has not missed a beat, helping his team advance to the third round with his offensive production and solid all round play. He has 11 points in 12 games. Next year should see Chipchura carry a bulk of the offense for Prince Albert and may play for Canada’s U-20 Team.

6. (5) Tomas Plekanec, C – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 3rd round, 71st overall 2001, Grade: 7.5 B

Plekanec once again led his team in scoring. For his efforts he was named to the AHL All-Star game were he won the fastest skater award as well as the game MVP. Often overlooked because of his lack of size, Plekanec makes up for it with his high level of skill, hard work as well as his strong special teams play. Plekanec was able to set a career high in goals scored with an impressive 29 goals in 80 games, which led all Bulldogs.

7 (7) Marcel Hossa, LW – 23 – Mora IK (SEL)
Draft: 1st round, 16th overall 2000, Grade: 7.0 C

After a disappointing season with Hamilton last year, Hossa decided to go overseas to try his luck in the Swedish Elite league. It turns out it was a good choice as he enjoyed a strong season, overcoming his lack of confidence. This year also gave him the chance to play with his brother of the Ottawa Senators and he was recently named to Slovakia’s World Championship team. Hossa scored 18 goals, second on the team. He had a total of 24 points in 48 games.

8. (9) Ron Hainsey, D – 24 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 13th overall 2000, Grade: 7.0 C

After a slow start to the season, Hainsey seemed to turn things around especially when fellow countryman and defensive partner Mike Komisarek reported to Hamilton. His pickup in offensive production helped him break the total scoring and goal scoring record for defensemen in Hamilton. He had a career year scoring nine goals in 68 games. Next season should see Hainsey make his push for full time NHL duty, but it remains to be seen if he can put it all together against the higher level of competition.

9. (12) Ryan O’Byrne, D – 20 – Cornell University (ECAC)
Draft: 3rd round, 79th overall 2003, Grade: 6.5 B

O’Byrne had a solid sophomore season, seeing increased ice time and even some limited power play time. He had a career year both offensively and defensively. After scoring two points all of last season, he scored three goals and 10 points, one of his goals being on the penalty kill. Known of his hulking size and physical play, O’Byrne cut down on going after the big hit that often took him out of place positionally. Next year he should see an increased role with the team with the loss of senior defensemen Charlie Cook and Jeremy Downs, which should help his development. Once again Cornell should boast one of the top teams in the country.

10. (8) Corey Locke, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 4th round, 113th overall 2003, Grade: 7.0 D

Former CHL player of the year and two-time OHL player of the year, Locke enjoyed a very strong rookie season in the AHL. While he did end the season seventh in league in rookie scoring, he had trouble finding success as the season wore on and during the playoffs. Next year he should be looked upon to pick up some of the offensive slack with the loss of several players in Hamilton. Locke was able to put up 16 goals for 43 points in 78 games, as well as being one of the team leaders in plus/minus with a +8.

11. (10) Oskari Korpikari, D – 21 – Karpart (FNL)
Draft: 7th round, 217th overall 2003, Grade: 6.5 B

Korpikari had an up and down type of season. He once again saw time playing for one of the top teams in the sm-liiga, but an early season injury and his military obligations forced him to miss much of the season. Korpikari was able to play for the junior team for Karpat during the playoffs, where he was at one time leading the league in scoring, an impressive feat for the defensive defensemen. In 21 games with Karpat this year Korpikari was held pointless. In each of the last two seasons he had one point.

12. (14) Christopher Heino-Lindberg, G – 20 – Hammarby IK (tier-2)
Draft: 6th round, 177th overall 2003, Grade: 6.5 B

After a tough season last year that saw Heino-Lindberg loaned to the worst team in the league, this year had to be a great change of pace. He was brought back to Hammarby, one of the top teams in the league. Up until the World Junior tournament started, he had started every single game for Hammarby, where he was tops in the league in goals against (1.81) and save percentage (.927). Heino-Lindberg recently signed a contract to play in the SEL next season.

13. (NR) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW – 21 – Neftekhimik (RSL)
Draft: 5th round, 150th overall 2004, Grade: 7.0 C

Grabovsky makes his debut on the Canadiens top 20 prospects list, after having a great sophomore year in the Russian Super league that saw him lead his team in scoring despite being one of the youngest players on the team. In addition, he was also in the top 20 in league scoring. After having a decent rookie year last season that saw him score six goals, Grabovsky was able to score 16 goals and 36 points, as he registered career highs across the board. Not the biggest guy, Grabovsky makes up for it with very good speed, skating and acceleration, as well as good offensive abilities. The Canadiens may be interested in bringing him over to North America this summer to join his former Team Belarus linemate Andrei Kostitsyn, but he has expressed an interest in staying in Russia for one more season. Grabovsky got high praise from the newest coach of Team Belarus, Glen Hanlon, who cited the play of Grabovsky as standout and a part of the future of the National team for Belarus. Grabovsky is enjoying a great World Championship, as one of the top scorers in the tournament after picking up four goals against Austria.

14. (19) Jaroslav Halak, G – 19 – Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL)
Draft: 9th round, 271st overall 2003, Grade: 6.0 B

Halak made his North American debut this year with the Lewiston Maineiacs after a very good year in the Slovak junior league where he was one of the league’s top goalies. Halak was able to carry Lewiston into the playoffs, despite the team having many key injuries and a defense that had two 16-year-old defensemen as regulars. Up until Halak had to face the explosive Rimouski Oceanic, he was leading the QMJHL in goals against and save percentage. He could not find any success against the offensive powerhouse known as the Sidney Crosby show, where he faced over 40 shots a game. Halak spent some time with the Hamilton Bulldogs after Lewiston was knocked out of the playoffs, working out with the team.

15. (11) Maxime Lapierre, C – 20 – PEI Rocket (QMJHL)
Draft: 2nd round, 61st overall 2003, Grade: 6.0 A

Lapierre continued to play his intense all out style but with the loss of key offensive players Cory Urquhart and Michael Lambert, he had difficulty at times with his offensive production. He was still second on the team in goals with 25. Lapierre was very consistent with his play all season long, despite playing for a young team lacking in top notch offensive talent. After a strong career in the QMJHL, it would seem likely that he will be given a shot to make the Hamilton Bulldogs next season. It is doubtful he will return to the QMJHL as an overager.

16. (13) Duncan Milroy, RW – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd round 37th overall 2001, Grade: 6.0 C

After a tough rookie season in Hamilton last year, Milroy showed a good bit of improvement this year, especially when paired with Chris Higgins and Corey Locke early. He was able to find the back of the net with some consistency. Next year Milroy will be looked upon to carry more of the offensive load for Hamilton, as they likely will lose a few key forwards and it will be the final year of his rookie contract. Milroy did set a career high in everything as he went from four goals last year to 15 this year, for a total of 33 points in 76 games.

17. (15) Konstantin Korneev, D – 20 – Ak Bars (RSL)
Draft: 9th round, 275th overall 2002, Grade: 6.5 C

Korneev saw the effects of the NHL lockout first hand, losing his roster spot with Ak Bars who signed a number of high profile NHLers. While it didn’t work out too well for the team, it also cost the young defenseman some development time. He has been a regular in the RSL for the past three years, an impressive feat for the smallish blueliner. Korneev had his lowest point total of his three-year RSL career, held to zero goals for the first time and only five points all season. When the NHL comes back to action, he should see regular ice time again.

18. (17) Michael Lambert, LW – 21 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
Draft: 4th round, 99th overall 2002, Grade: 6.5 D

Lambert was able to earn a roster spot with the Hamilton Bulldogs at the start of the season, but ice time was hard to come by and his offensive production was limited at best. With the addition of Steve Begin, Lambert was sent down to Long Beach where he would see a good amount of ice time. Next season Lambert will need to step up his offensive production. He struggled to find the back of the net with any consistency this year, but did show flashes of his excellent speed, skating and slap shot. In the AHL, Lambert was held to only three goals in 40 games, but in Long Beach he scored five goals in 18 games, and went on to led the Ice Dogs in goals in the playoffs with five goals in seven games.

19. (16) Cory Urquhart, C – 20 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
Draft: 2nd round, 40th overall 2003, Grade: 6.5 D

Urquhart only played in one game for Hamilton this year. He was sent to the Ice Dogs early in the season so he could get a more ice time. Urquhart scored 16 goals and 31 points in 63 games with Long Beach. He was one of the youngest players in the league, turning 20 on October 1, and struggled to assert himself physically. He was even sat out for one playoff game and was held pointless during the entire playoffs.

20. (18) Alexi Yemelin, D – 19 – Lada Tolyatti (RSL)
Draft: 3rd round, 84th overall 2004, Grade: 6.0 B

Yemelin also saw the effects of the NHL lockout. The just turned 19-year-old was able to earn a roster spot with one of the top teams in the Russian Super league, but saw very limited ice time. Yemelin did make a good impression with his showing at the 2005 World Junior Championships, showing his physical game and even scoring a goal in the gold medal game. It may have been better for him if he stayed in the High league where he could have played in every game, instead of playing less then the 14 games he appeared in this season. He was held to only one point.

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