Montreal Canadiens own young, skilled group at major junior level

By David Thicke

Brady Vail - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Forward Brady Vail is just one of the many gifted junior players the Montreal Canadiens selected in the 2012 NHL Draft. (CHL Images)

The Montreal Canadiens have seven prospects at the junior level this year; two in the OHL, two in the QJMHL, and three in the WHL. Five of the seven prospects are forwards and the other two are defensemen. The forwards are a skilled mix of size, speed, playmaking ability, and natural scorers that are led by Montreal's 2012 first round selection, Alex Galchenyuk. Both defensemen possess a blend of size, grit, and physicality along with good offensive skills.

OHL

Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia Sting
Acquired: 1st round, 3rd overall, 2012

Galchenyuk started slowly out of the blocks for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, which was to be expected with the big forward missing all but eight games in 2011-12. More of a natural centerman, he was moved from center to left wing, though he possesses the versatility, hockey sense, and vision to play any forward position, as well as the point on the team's power play.

There are a couple of possible reasons that Coach Jacques Beaulieu decided to switch his star center to the wing position so early in the season. The first reason could be to reduce the strain and stress on the repaired left knee which will be sore or bothersome at times over the course of a long season. By playing the wing position, Galchenyuk does not have to skate the whole two hundred feet of ice surface to help his defensemen in the corners and in front of the net, giving him more energy for the offensive attack. The second possible reason is to open up the offensive game for Sarnia, who were struggling to score goals early on. Regardless of the reason, his being on wing should help the team get out of the defensive zone much quicker. By having Galchenyuk out on the opposition's defenseman near the blue line, his elite talent forces the defenders to back out sooner from the offensive zone in order to protect against getting beat by his playmaking abilities or explosive speed.

The Sting's captain has been on fire of late, collecting 14 points in his last six games, and is now among the top scorers in the league. Through 22 games he has 13 goals (two on the power play), 22 assists, and a good plus-seven rating. The American-born forward is a lock to play for Team USA at the 2013 WJC tournament in Ufa, Russia, and is the only Montreal prospect at the junior level that can be recalled at the start of the 2012-13 NHL season. If Galchenyuk continues at his present scoring pace then he will almost certainly warrant a long look by the Canadiens' management and coaching staff, should the NHL lockout finally end.

Brady Vail, C, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 4th round, 94th overall, 2012

Vail started his third year in the OHL with the Spitfires looking to improve his offensive game and show the Canadiens' organization that they made a good choice at the 2012 NHL draft. The two-way centerman did not disappoint, getting off to a torrid pace and creating offensive opportunities for his linemates. The big center's offense has slowed as he has been forced to concentrate more on the defensive shutdown side of his game. Windsor has struggled with consistency and has recently had difficulty winning games.

Vail is his team's leading point getter, scoring 10 goals along with 15 assists and a solid minus-one rating in 23 games for the defensively poor Spitfires. The alternate captain has shown improvement in his overall game so far this season, but still needs to work on the release of his shot and must learn to get himself into a better shooting position. The American-born centerman should get the opportunity to represent his country at the 2013 WJC tournament. Vail is still very much on track to have a breakout offensive season in the OHL.

QMJHL

Olivier Archambault, LW, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Acquired: 4th round, 108th overall, 2011

In his fourth year in the QMJHL, Archambault needs to put his overall game together and mature into a better two-way hockey player. The offensively talented winger has been much more responsible in the defensive zone and has at times shown the ability to move the puck well with his linemates. He still has a tendency to try to make things happen on his own in the offensive zone, especially when his team is behind on the scoreboard. The fourth round pick has such incredible hands, speed, and offensive vision but he seems to lack all-round hockey sense.

Archambault had a good start to his season but slumped offensively late in October and into early November. He is one of the offensive leaders on the Voltigeurs, managing 12 goals (eight on the power play) and 13 assists. If the talented winger can play with more consistency each game and stay healthy, then it could be his best season at the junior level. It is up to the Canadiens' Director of Player Development, Martin Lapointe, to work with the highly skilled forward and press upon him the advantages of using his linemates to produce more offense. Archambault has enough hockey skills and offensive talent for Montreal to take the risk of signing him to an NHL entry-level contract before the summer deadline.

Charles Hudon, LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Acquired: 5th round, 122nd overall, 2012

Hudon has been the offensive engine for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in his third year at the junior level. The talented winger suffered a concussion on a headshot in a game on October 17th and was only able to return to action on November 2nd. His team went winless during his six-game absence and their alternate captain took a couple games to shake off the cobwebs. He has powered his team's offense all year, scoring 12 goals (four on the power play) along with 13 assists and a good plus-10 rating in 18 games.

Hudon represented the QMJHL at the Subway Super Series against Team Russia and was given the assignment of shadowing star winger, Nail Yakupov (EDM) for the two games. The gritty little winger did an excellent job minimizing the Russian star to only three points for the series and even frustrated him into taking a roughing penalty, allowing the Quebec team to dominate the Russians in the second game of the series. Hudon has to be a sure-fire choice to play for Team Canada at the 2013 WJC tournament. If the talented winger can just remain healthy for the rest of the year, he will definitely have his best season in the QJMHL.

WHL

Tim Bozon, RW, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2012

Bozon started his second year with the Blazers hoping to improve on the impressive offensive numbers he posted in his rookie year and develop a better overall game. Kamloops jumped out to an incredible 14-0 start to their season and the sniper had very good chemistry with his linemates. The third round pick seemed to be brimming with confidence in his playmaking skills and displaying excellent offensive vision while being defensively responsible in his zone.

Since the start of November, Bozon has at times disappeared offensively, managing only one goal in his past nine games. While there are several reasons for the drop in his production, one of the biggest is philosophical. He has not been shooting the puck as often lately, opting to instead pass it, sometimes to the detriment of his team. The talented winger has tried to be more physical but has been undisciplined, allowing the opposition to agitate him and get under his skin. Bozon was suspended one game for a spitting incident with Keegan Lowe (CAR) at the end of his team's 2-1 loss to the Oil Kings. Despite this incident, the streaky scorer has excellent numbers to start the year, scoring 15 goals (six on the power play) along with 21 assists and a good plus-19 rating in 24 games. The offensively skilled forward is on pace for a possible 100 point season if he can stay healthy and do what he does best, score.

Darren Dietz, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2011

Dietz started his fourth season with the Blades hoping to improve on his defensive game and bring more offense from the back-end. Saskatoon has struggled out to a poor start this year due to their lack of scoring, poor defensive play around their net, and weak goaltending at times. With Dalton Thrower having trouble staying in the team's lineup, Dietz has been forced to play even more offensively than usual and play big minutes in the shutdown role alongside Duncan Siemens (COL).

The 19-year-old has recently improved his overall play but has not been overly physical like the previous years in the WHL. He plays his best hockey a little angry, aggressive, and on the edge. The hard shooting blueliner has scored six goals, all on the power play, along with six assists in 21 games. He has ballooned to a poor minus-10 rating on a weak Blades team while registering 33 penalty minutes and only one fighting major this season.

Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 2nd round, 51st overall, 2012

Thrower has had a difficult start to his fourth season with the Blades and has struggled to get back on track. The tough defenseman was suspended for two games by his coaches for discipline issues in the first few games. He received another two game suspension for a check to the head of Axel Blomqvist on Oct 15th, in a game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Despite his four lost games, the two-way defenseman has scored one goal along with five assists in 13 games this year. He has played well defensively with a plus-three rating on a struggling Saskatoon team and has brought his usual physicality, racking up 23 penalty minutes, though so far no fighting majors this season.

Thrower has been out with an upper-body injury since November 4th and there is no word of his return date. He is an important part of the Blades' defensive play in their own zone and adds to the team's power play unit. The second round pick needs to get fully healthy and back to playing his kind of hockey for Saskatoon if the team is going to improve in time for the 2013 Memorial Cup they host in May. With more than two-thirds of the hockey year left to play, Thrower still has plenty of time to turn his season's fortunes around. Canadiens' fans have yet to see the best of Dalton Thrower so far this season.

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