Future appears bright for Montreal Canadiens

By David Thicke
Michael Bournival - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Michael Bournival is one of many Montreal Canadiens prospects to make his professional debut in 2012-13 (Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

Using the 2012 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens' greatly improved their organizational prospect pool over the past off-season. GM Marc Bergevin has changed the organizational philosophy by adding a bigger management staff, more scouting, and a development team to work with the prospects at all hockey levels and leagues.

The Canadiens have cast a wide net looking for talent, claiming prospects from the USHL, NCAA, the three leagues in the CHL, and all over Europe. The future is bright for the Montreal Canadiens but it could take a few years to see any concrete results at the NHL level.

Left Wing

The left wing is still one of the weaker positions in the Montreal prospect pool but it has been greatly improved with the team's 2012 NHL Entry Draft selections. The Canadiens can convert some centermen or right wingers to fill the left wing position in the AHL with Hamilton this season.

There are only two prospects, Blake Geoffrion and Philippe Lefebvre, who could be playing at the AHL level this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Geoffrion will start his first full season with the Canadiens in the AHL with the Bulldogs on the team's top forward line and be a leader for this young Hamilton squad. The physical two-way forward has the offensive skills, good hockey sense, and vision while thriving at the physical game down low. The skilled winger has a good hard shot; he just needs to use it more often. He is expected to compete for a roster spot in Montreal if or when the NHL ends its lockout.

In his sophomore season, Lefebvre will have a fight to secure a regular spot in Hamilton's lineup. He needs to bring his two-way play more consistently every game while showing some offensive upside to his game in order to return to the AHL Bulldogs. On October 8th, 2012, the defensive winger was assigned to the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL.

Mark MacMillan is the only left winger at the NCAA level. He is a highly skilled two-way forward with good speed who likes to play a physical game but must continue to add muscle mass to his lanky frame. MacMillan has started his sophomore year with the University of North Dakota Sioux. He will receive more playing time on the top two forward lines and both specialty team units after a very successful ending to his 2011-12 NCAA season.

The Canadiens have three offensively talented left wingers playing at the junior level in Olivier Archambault, Tim Bozon, and Charles Hudon.

Archambault will play his fourth year in the QMJHL for the Drummondville Voltigeurs and second season with the team. He will be expected to provide more offense while using his linemates more often. The talented winger has jumped out to a good start to the regular season and leading his team in points, scoring five goals along with five assists and a respectable plus one-rating in 11 QMJHL games.

Tim Bozon was selected third round, 64th overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft, and has returned to play in the WHL. In his second season with the Kamloops Blazers, the sniper will be expected to bring even more offense to his game but needs to improve his physical and defensive play away from the puck. Off to a great start this season, the offensively talented winger has scored eight goals along with eight assists and a plus-11 rating in only 11 games.

Charles Hudon was selected in the fifth round, 122nd overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft and will continue his development in the QMJHL. In his third season with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, the gritty little winger suffered a high ankle sprain in an early pre-season game but missed just one regular season game. The talented winger is his team's leading point getter with nine goals along seven assists and a solid plus-four rating in 11 games. The third year junior had a strong showing for Team Canada at the Canada-Russia Challenge in early September and will likely be chosen to play for Team Canada at the 2013 WJC tournament this year.

Erik Nystrom is the only left winger playing in Europe. He was selected in the sixth round, 154th overall at the 2012 NHL entry draft and will continue developing while playing in his native Sweden for the 2012-13 season. In his fourth season with MODO J20 in the Super-elite, the speedy winger is showing his excellent vision and ability to make things happen in the offensive zone every game. In 12 regular season games thus far, Nyström has scored only two goals, but has 11 assists and a plus-two rating.

Center

The Canadiens' organization have many prospects at the center ice position but not necessarily ready for the NHL level. Montreal has some natural centermen while others have the hockey IQ and versatility to be converted to the wing if needed in the organization. The Canadiens have really improved their depth and skill up the middle with the additions of 2012 NHL selections Alex Galchenyuk and Brady Vail.

At the AHL level, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Leblanc, and Joonas Nattinen are all healthy and returning to the AHL with the Bulldogs. Michael Bournival will be starting his first professional season in the AHL.

Dumont will be playing his third AHL season and will be expected to help lead the young Hamilton team. The two-way center will most likely play on the fourth line in an energy role while providing solid physical play and trying to provide a spark for his team. The skilled centerman can play on both specialty teams and has enough offensive talent to fill in on the top lines for the Bulldogs as an injury replacement.

Leblanc is the closest Bulldog player to playing in the NHL, but the young, gritty centerman will probably be converted to the wing position at the NHL level if his skating speed does not improve. The smart forward will play on the top-two lines in Hamilton and is expected to put up good offensive numbers in the AHL. If the NHL returns to action this season then expect Leblanc to get the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Canadiens' lineup.

Nattinen will be returning for his second year in Hamilton and North America. The smooth skating center adjusted nicely to the AHL game and show solid improvement throughout last season. He should bring more offense due to the playmaking centerman seeing more action on the top-two forward lines and playing with more offensively talented wingers this year.

Bournival has a solid two-way game with good offensive upside to play anywhere in the Bulldogs lineup in his rookie season. The versatile centerman could end up playing wing, where his speed and physicality could help produce more offensive opportunities. As the rookie adjusts to the size and speed of the AHL, he will see plenty of time on the penalty kill and might see action on the Bulldogs' second power play unit.

Michael Cichy and Dustin Walsh are currently the only centerman playing at the NCAA level. Cichy transferred to Western Michigan University but could not play in the 2011-12 season as per the NCAA rules. His development could be stunted after missing a whole season of play if he did not work hard on his overall game during his time out collegiate hockey. Western Michigan coach Andy Murray can help him make the jump to the professional level by the end of his time at the NCAA Level.

Walsh has started his senior year with Dartmouth College and will carry most of the offensive load this season for the low ranked, Big Green. The big playmaking center struggled with a hip injury and played only eight games last year. He needs to stay healthy and put up good offensive numbers in order to receive an entry level contract from the Canadiens before the 2013 summer deadline. 

Daniel Pribyl is the only centerman playing in Europe. He will continue his development while playing in his native Czech Republic for the 2012-13 season. Pribyl is expected to play for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech league but was injured to start the season and consequentially has appeared in only two games. The big center could find himself playing again in the Czech 2 league this season with all the NHL stars coming to Europe to play during the NHL lockout.

Montreal has two excellent centerman prospects in the CHL ranks this year in Galchenyuk and Vail. Galchenyuk is the Canadiens number one prospect after being selected in the first round, third overall at the 2012 NHL entry draft and will continue his development in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting. The newly appointed captain will be expected to carry the scoring load on an offensively starved Sarnia team this year. The playmaking center has excellent offensive skills, vision and hockey sense along with an ability to make the difficult plays look easy. He will be trying to get his timing back while banging off the game rust after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Galchenyuk is the only junior level Canadiens' prospect that can be assigned to Montreal should the NHL lockout end in time to have a season. The talented forward is slowly getting his game back, having scored four goals along with nine assists and a minus-two rating in 10 games.

Vail was selected in the fourth round, 94th overall at the 2012 NHL entry draft and will continue developing his overall game at the OHL level with the Windsor Spitfires. A playmaking centerman, Vail has the patience and vision to set-up his linemates, but also has the size and strength to protect the puck down low and drive the net to score goals. He is off to a hot start in his third season with the Spitfires, scoring five goals and nine assists and an even rating in 11 OHL games.

Right Wing

The right wing position is still the most offensively talented prospects of the Canadiens' talent pool. At the AHL level, returning players, Alexander Avtsin, Aaron Palushaj, Alain Berger, and Ian Schultz will be competing for roster spots with the first year professionals Brendan Gallagher, Patrick Holland, and Steve Quailer.

Avtsin will be playing his third season in the AHL and North America but needs to show more consistency and physicality to complement his high level of offensive skill. The big Russian-born winger will have a difficult time cracking the starting lineup in Hamilton this season with the addition of such versatile, hardworking and offensively talented rookies like, Gallagher, Holland, and Quailer.

Aaron Palushaj will play his third full season with the Bulldogs and is expected to provide offensive leadership to the young Hamilton team. The speed winger has gained more size and strength in the off-season which could make him more difficult to move off the puck along the boards. He should get the opportunity to compete for a roster spot with the Canadiens if or when the NHL lockout is finally settled.

Alain Berger will play his second season in the AHL but will need to make the most of his chances in the Bulldogs starting lineup. The big winger needs to be more physical and drive to the net more often. He owns a heavy shot which he is not afraid to use but it has to hit its target with more regularity this season. He might spend time in the ECHL if the rookies play up to their abilities and keep the second year pro out of the lineup for long periods of time.

Ian Schultz was supposed to compete for a starting lineup job after solid improvement in his overall play at the end of last season, but the third year forward showed up to Hamilton's training camp overweight and out of shape. In hopes of sending a strong message to Schultz, team management sent him to the ECHL Wheeling Nailers in the first round of player cuts.

Brendan Gallagher has an excellent work ethic, grit, really good hands and a very quick, accurate release on his shot. The rookie winger will take some time to get untracked offensively as he adjusts to the speed and size at the AHL level. He has gained some speed and weight over the off-season but must add more in order to absorb the physical abuse that he should receive over his rookie season in the AHL. A feisty fireball of a player, Gallagher should bring a spark to the Bulldogs offense every game as his never-quit attitude should have a contagious effect on his teammates.

Patrick Holland's game is very similar to Bournival in terms of versatility but he is a much better playmaker and has good offensive vision. He is not overly physical but has a high hockey IQ which allows him to think the game at high speed and read plays quickly in order to get to the right place on the ice. The rookie forward will adjust faster than others to the speed and size at the AHL and should see time on the power play for the Bulldogs. Holland's abilities to play any of the forward positions will help him stay in Hamilton's starting lineup as the coaches will have more options with their forward lines. Canadiens' fans will see just how good a player the organization picked up in the Mike Cammalleri deal with the Calgary Flames, by the end of the 2012-13 AHL season.

Steve Quailer brings leadership, character, and energy along with his physicality and strong play in the corners. The big winger has very good hands around the net and can make space for him and his linemates. He just needs to stay healthy and avoid the bad penalties as he adjusts to the pro game. The rookie forward should surprise a lot of people with his solid offensive play as he gains more exposure playing in Hamilton this year.

At the NCAA level, Danny Kristo is the only right winger this year. The senior forward decided to forgo turning professional in the summer to return to the University of North Dakota in search of a National Championship with the Sioux. Kristo was suspended for the opening two games of the season along other teammates due to an off-ice issue. The highly skilled forward needs to show more maturity and consistency this season while setting the tone offensively for his teammates. The Canadiens' management is looking for their 2008, second rounder to have his best NCAA season and sign him to an NHL entry level contract in the spring.

Sebastian Collberg and Maxim Trunev are the only right wingers of the Canadiens' prospects playing in Europe this year. Collberg was selected in the second round, 33rd overall at the 2012 NHL entry draft, and will continue his development with Frölunda of the Swedish Elite league. When given more ice time, the talented winger needs to produce points and creating offensive chances on every opportunity. It is going to be a difficult task for the 18-year-old with more NHL stars arriving to play in the SEL during the NHL lockout. He could be sent down to the J20 Super Elite team to give the young forward more ice time. The sniper will help Sweden defend their gold medal at the 2013 WJC and show his talent against the elite of his age group.

Trunev signed a three year contract to play for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL. He will get the opportunity to prove himself and improve his overall game on the new team being rebuilt after the tragic plane crash last September. The offensively skilled winger has scored two goals along with just one assist and a minus two rating in eight KHL games this season. It is highly unlikely that the Russian will be coming to the NHL any time in the near future.

Defense

At the AHL level, the Canadiens have only two returning prospects from the Bulldogs' team of last year in Joe Stejskal and Brendon Nash. They will both be challenged by first year pros Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis, Greg Pateryn, and Jarred Tinordi.

Brendan Nash will play the mentor role to the rookie defenseman along with veteran, Frederic St-Denis on the Bulldogs' blue line corps this season. The big mobile defender will be pushed by the coaching staff to step up his performance but should be highly motivated to take a leading role on Hamilton's defense corps after missing the entire season last year. He will be looking to bounce back up on the Canadiens' depth chart and get another chance to play at the NHL level if needed, should the lockout end.

Joe Stejskal was sent down to the ECHL Wheeling Nailers to play a more regular shift and regain his confidence after a difficult season last year. The big defensive defenseman was expendable when the new rookie defense prospects showed their abilities to play well at the AHL level in Hamilton's training camp and pre-season games. If there are any injuries on the Bulldogs' defense corps or a player struggles then Stejskal could be recalled from the ECHL.

Nathan 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. The rookie blueliner will need to learn quickly from any mistake when carrying the puck and adjust his overall game to the higher level of play in the AHL. This will be a big step in his development towards having an NHL career as a top-three defenseman with the Canadiens.

Morgan Ellis is a solid all-round defenseman who plays with grit and physicality which allows him to play the shutdown role and on both specialty teams. He has poise with the puck, quick strike passing, and hard accurate point shot. The rookie defender has a lower body injury from Hamilton's training camp and is out of the Bulldogs lineup to start the season. He will have a learning year in the AHL as the young blueliner adjusts to the size and speed of the game.

Greg Pateryn is a solid all-round defenseman with strong defensive zone positioning and plays a tough physical game around his net. He has a solid work ethic, grit, character and leadership skills which will help set an example for the younger prospects like, Beaulieu, Ellis, and Tinordi. The big defenseman is a steady, calming presence on the backend and can play the shutdown role and on both specialty team units. The first year pro can lay devastating checks but does not venture out of position to make a hit. Pateryn could get the chance to play for the Canadiens this season if the NHL lockout ever ends and will surprise most Canadiens fans with his solid game.

Jarred Tinordi can play the shutdown role, fills the shooting lanes, has an active stick, and is a shot-blocking machine with his big size. He skates pretty well for a big man but his strengths are his character, leadership, and physicality. He will surprise people with his calm poise and has a smart offensive game when the opportunity is right. The rookie blueliner will take time to adjust to the speed and size of the game at the AHL level but the simplicity of his game will limit his mistakes in all three zones. 

The Canadiens have only two defensive prospects in the CHL ranks this year, Darren Dietz and newly drafted Dalton Thrower. Dietz will be playing his third season in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades. He has all the offensive talent, can skate, moves the puck well, and has a real hard shot along with the 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. Through 12 games Dietz has four goals (all on the powerplay) three assists, and a minus-four rating.

Dalton Thrower was selected in the second round, 51st overall at the 2012 NHL entry draft and will continue his development in the WHL. In his third season with the Saskatoon Blades, the physical defender has run into suspension troubles. The first one was for two games from his coach for doing things his own way on the ice. The second suspension was also for two games due to an illegal check to the head in a game against Lethbridge on October 13th, 2012. The bruising blueliner has good offensive skills, a hard shot, makes good outlet passes and can be a puck mover from the backend. He has scored one goal along two assists and a minus-one rating in eight games.

There will be three Canadiens' prospects playing defense at the NCAA level this season in Colin Sullivan, Josiah Didier, and Mac Bennett.

Sullivan will play his freshman season with the Boston College Eagles at the NCAA level. Canadiens fans will finally get to see what kind of defensive game the young blueliner possesses and his highly touted skating skills. The big mobile defender will have to play well to stay in the defending National Champions lineup this year. He could struggle at the start of the season as he adjusts to the size and speed of the players in the NCAA.
 
Josiah Didier has returned for his sophomore season at the University of Denver to continue his overall development and take on a bigger offensive role on the Pioneers' blue line corps. He is a physical shot-blocking defensive defenseman who plays big minutes as a shutdown defender and on the penalty killing unit. The young defender has more offensive upside and should only get bigger and stronger, but still needs to improve his puck-moving and offensive zone game over the next few years.

Mac Bennett has started his junior season at the University of Michigan and will continue his development at the NCAA level while playing a bigger role on the Wolverines defense corps this season. The mobile defender is a smooth-skating, two-way defenseman who has good hands and an ability to join the rush. He has improved his defensive zone positioning, but is prone to turnovers by taking high risk chances and, at times, making poor decisions with the puck. The junior scored one goal on the power play along with an assist and a good plus-two rating in his first two games against RIT to start his 2012-13 season.

Magnus Nygren is the only defense prospect playing in Europe. He will be playing his third year with the Farjestads BK Karlstad of the SEL. The mobile defender has started the 2012-13 season scoring four goals and three assists in 14 games. Nygren is an offensive defenseman with a rocket of a shot but will need to continue improving his defensive positioning to play at the NHL level. At this time, he is considered more of an offensive defenseman and a power play specialist.

Goaltending

The Canadiens have only two goalies prospects at the AHL level, Robert Mayer and Peter Delmas. The goaltender position is the weakest of the organizations' prospect pool but the return of veteran, Cedric Desjardins will help the young Hamilton team this season.

Robert Mayer will be playing his third season in the AHL with the Bulldogs and although he has played well in training camp, he will still have to battle Delmas for the backup role behind starter, Desjardins in Hamilton this season. Mayer needs to be more consistent when given the chance to start and continue improving his overall game, or he could find himself being sent down to the ECHL.

Peter Delmas played all of last season with the ECHL Wheeling Nailers but has not yet been returned to the ECHL due to Desjardins nursing an injury to start the 2012-13 season. The young goaltender might have to stay in Hamilton as the Nailers already have Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Patrick Killeen, so it is not a sure thing that the Delmas will be a starter in the ECHL. The Bulldogs could try to find another AHL or ECHL team to loan Delmas to, if they want him to get more game action until the NHL lockout ends.

 

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