Canadiens Top 20 prospects

By Eric Forest

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Alex Perezhogin, RW
2. (2) Andrei Kostsitsyn, RW
3. (3) Carey Price, G
4. (4) Chris Higgins, LW
5. (8) Tomas Plekanec, C
6. (7) Kyle Chipchura, C
7. (5) Yann Danis, G
8. (6) Guillaume Latendresse, RW
9. (9) Corey Locke, CW
10. (NR) Alexei Emelin, D
11. (10) Ryan O’Byrne, D
12. (13) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW
13. (NR) Sergei Kostitsyn, LW
14. (14) Jaroslav Halak, G
15. (11) Juraj Mikus, C
16. (NR) Mathieu Aubin, C
17. (16) Maxim Lapierre, C
18. (15) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G
19. (NR) Matt D’Agostini, RW
20. (12) Oskari Korpikari, D

Key: Rank (former rank) Name, Position, Age
How Acquired, Grade

1. (1) Alexander Perezhogin, RW Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall (2001) Grade: 8.0B

The Montreal Canadiens wanted a youth injection in their lineup at the start of the season and Perezhogin was a prime candidate at earning a starting spot on the roster. After a successful 2004-05 season in Russia where he played with Olympians Jaromir Jagr and Maxim Sushinsky, Perezhogin came back to North America with the AHL swinging-stick accident well behind him.

He has played 44 games with Montreal, scoring seven goals and assisting on six others for 13 points. On Oct. 6, he scored his first NHL goal in his first career game on a breakaway against the New York Rangers. While he was able to demonstrate his offensive potential, quickness and acceleration over the course of the season, his inconsistency has bothered the coaching staff. Perezhogin was sent to the AHL where he played 11 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, managing only two points. He came back to the Canadiens in late January.

Patience has been key to his development and he could break out soon.

2. (2) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW Age: 20
Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall (2003) Grade: 8.5C

Just like Perezhogin, Andrei Kostitsyn is a prospect the Canadiens have decided to bring slowly into the big league, hoping that the young Belarussian will eventually develop as a first line scoring sniper. He has at least been given a number of chances, called up and reassigned four times over two months, due to injuries in Montreal. In 12 games, Kostitsyn was able to score his first NHL goal on his first shot against the Phoenix Coyotes. He did not get a lot of playing time, but he was definitely one of the best players on the ice every time he touched the puck. He has played with a lot of confidence and could see himself back with the team soon.

In his second year with the Bulldogs, he has been able to erase some doubts on him after a disappointing 2004-05 season. He has 34 points in 49 games, which is already 11 more points than his total from last year. He has also worked on his defensive liabilities over his stay in the AHL and should be ready for a starting spot next season.

3. (3) Carey Price, G Age: 18
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall (2005) Grade: 8.0C

The Canadiens surprised a lot of people when they selected Carey Price with their fifth overall choice last summer. The Tri-City Americans netminder came to training camp with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He delivered in front of thousands of cheering fans in the exhibition games he took part with key saves and a positive attitude. Price had a chance to be Canada’s starting goaltender at the WJC, but he was cut from the team. Nevertheless, he will get his chance next year at gaining the starting duties back.

Meanwhile, Price has posted a 2.82 average and .907 save percentage with 19 wins and 22 losses with his struggling WHL team. He has three shutouts in 50 games. While he can’t score goals for his teammates, he will need to stand and rise if he wants his team to advance to the playoffs. It should be an epic battle against the Brandon Wheat Kings for the final spot in the East Division.

Price still has some polishing to do, but he is definitely a goaltender that could steal important games for the Canadiens a few years from now.

4. (4) Chris Higgins, LW Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 14th overall (2002) Grade: 7.0B
Higgins has already accomplished what was asked from management in less than a season. He has been fantastic on the penalty-kill unit, scoring a game-winning goal and two shorthanded goals in 56 games. He led the Canadiens in that category along with Steve Begin.

Higgins is known for his work ethic and confidence. He has already been praised by teammates and trainers for his consistency and willingness to play hard every night. His defensive abilities are up to par and while he missed a lot of scoring chance at the beginning of the season, a 20-goal plateau wouldn’t be out of the question in the future for the Yale graduate. Higgins might not have the most potential out of Montreal prospects, but his maturity certainly makes him the most NHL ready. He should be a leader in Montreal, but also an important piece for Team USA for the next 15 years.

5. (8) Tomas Plekanec, C Age: 23
Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall (2001) Grade: 7.0B

A third round selection in 2001, Plekanec has been more than a pleasant surprise for the Canadiens. A native of Klado, Czech Republic, in 2002 he came over and gradually learned the pro game in North America. In his last two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Plekanec played hard and was Hamilton’s scoring leader with 66 and then 64 points. He was also the 2004-05 AHL All-Star game MVP. His forechecking, two-way play and playmaking abilities earned him a roster spot on the Canadiens at the start of the season and he didn’t disappoint, scoring seven goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 44 games.

Plekanec could become a solid second line center. He already has a major role on the penalty kill unit alongside Higgins. He has also seen some time on the power play, scoring his first power play goal against Phoenix on Dec. 13. His work ethic and defensive awareness could make him a future regular for Team Czech Republic in the future.

6. (7) Kyle Chipchura, C Age: 19
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall (2004) Grade: 6.5B

Few people were surprised to learn that Kyle Chipchura was named by head coach Brent Sutter to be Team Canada’s captain at the WJC. However, what people didn’t expect to see was Chipchura scoring four goals in the tournament, one being a game-winner, and leading the team in that category with Dustin Boyd (CAL). A known leader and hard-working center, Chipchura’s offensive potential is still a mystery. He should develop into a solid third line center, a player giving his best on every shift and making things happen in the locker room and on the ice.

He is currently leading the Prince Albert Raiders with 45 points in 51 games and should hit the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his WHL career. He has been hit by a lot of injuries in the last three years but seems to have recovered perfectly this season. He will probably join the farm team next season.

7. (5) Yann Danis, G Age: 24
Acquired: Free Agency Grade 7.0C

Injuries are a part of the game, but for Yann Danis, injuries have sounded like sweet music, letting the Brown graduate start six NHL games this season. After shutting down the Atlanta Thrashers in his first-ever NHL game, the 24-year-old netminder gained confidence and played backup for the Canadiens while newcomer Cristobal Huet recovered from his injury. Danis was sent back to Hamilton in November and has played 32 games for the Bulldogs. He was their representative for the AHL All-Star game and stopped 12 of 13 shots in the second period. This performance earned him the MVP Award.

Acquired as a free agent, Danis has moved up the depth chart and has cemented his value, having the potential to be a very good starter in the NHL. He has quick reflexes and keeps his cool whenever the offensive lines enter his territory. Jose Theodore’s injury might prove to be a turning point in his career if he gets some starts between the pipes in the next few weeks.

8. (6) Guillaume Latendresse, RW Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall (2005) Grade: 7.5C

Latendresse had a successful training camp in Montreal where he delighted the crowd with his aggressive style and hard-nosed scoring touch. Due to a large numbers of rookies making their way onto the team, Guillaume returned to Drummondville with the intent of dominating the QMJHL. Surprisingly, his return changed the Voltigeurs’ chemistry and brought a long losing streak to the team. Latendresse was selected for the WJCs and was expected to be a solid contributor for Team Canada. It was quite the opposite, however, as he didn’t see a lot of ice time under Brent Sutter’s system.

The native of Ste-Catherine has rebounded and been playing quite well over the last month. He has scored 34 goals and has 31 assists for 65 points in 42 games. It has been a tough year for him mentally, but a good playoff showoff will probably raise his value and potential again. While not a great skater, he still has all the attributes needed to become an intense power forward.

Just like last year, he could prove his doubters wrong at next year’s training camp.

9. (9) Corey Locke, C Age: 21
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall (2003) Grade: 7.5D

Many are likely eating crow regarding Locke’s pro performance. While he was the best CHLer for two years in a row, many believed his diminutive size at 5’9 would prevent him for adjusting to the pros. In his rookie season with the Bulldogs in 2004-05, Locke ranked fourth in points with 43, behind three forwards currently playing in the NHL. This time around, he his fighting with Edmonton’s 2003 first rounder Marc-Antoine Pouliot for the scoring lead. He will soon surpass last year, with 15 goals and 39 points in 58 games. Locke has always been a team player and it showed this year when the Bulldogs were having trouble winning games.

Game in and game out, he has been the catalyst of his team and has always been able to bring his best in difficult times. He might have to move to wing, but his work ethic and dedication are excellent and getting called up to the NHL will never be out of the question.

10. (NR) Alexei Emelin, D Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall (2004) Grade: 7.5C

Before the 2006 WJC, people remembered Emelin as the defenseman scoring a goal for Team Russia against Canada in the gold medal game in 2005. This year, the Canadiens prospect was a leader on and off the ice and definitely proved to be a player with a lot of potential. Even if Cam Barker (CHI) won the title for Best Defenseman in the tournament, it could be argued that Emelin was the superior one in that tournament. He went on to win the scoring race with seven points in six games.

The Lada-Togliatti product has been compared to Darius Kasparitis many times. His bonecrushing hits, aggressiveness and involvement in the game make him very tough to beat. His offensive potential, while developing, is still unknown. At 19, he leads his RSL team with 11 points in 38 games as a defenseman. Only three forwards have more points. Unsurprisingly, he also has 119 PIM. The Canadiens management would like to see him as soon as possible in Hamilton, but he might play another season or two in Russia’s elite league.

11. (10) Ryan O’Byrne, D Age: 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall (2003) Grade: 7.0B

Ryan O’Byrne enjoyed another impressive season with the Big Red in 2005-06. While he only passed his best mark from 2004-05 by a point, the junior still led in that category alongside Sasha Pokulok (WAS) with 11. He was a major aspect of Cornell’s power play as he scored five of his six goals on special teams. A solid competitor, he got more disciplined as the seasons went by, reducing his 77 total of his first year to 44 this time around. He saw a lot of ice time and was a key element in the Big Red success over the last two years.

The Canadiens may not have a deep crop of defensemen in their system, but what they lack in quantity, they have in quality. Just like Emelin, the Victoria native will be a solid addition to the Habs farm team in the near future. O’Byrne will either report to Hamilton or play his senior season with Cornell next year.

12. (13) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW Age: 22
Acquired: 5th round, 150th overall (2004) Grade: 7.5C

The Canadiens took a flyer on Grabovsky a year after selecting Team Belarus teammate Andrei Kostitsyn. Grabovsky has enjoyed a magnificent career in the RSL, exploiting his offensive abilities at crucial times. In 2004-05, he played for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik and led his team in every category with 16 goals, 20 assists for 36 points in 60 games. He joined the legendary Moscow Dynamo for this season and is currently third in scoring with 17 points in 45 games, behind Olympians Maxim Sushinsky and Alex Kharitonov. He will surpass his best total if he stays consistent for the remainder of the season.

The Postdam native also played in the European Champions Cup and probably had the best thrill of his career. He ended as the leading scorer with eight points in three tournament games. While he was not selected as the MVP, the directorate designed Grabovsky as the Best Forward. He was also one of the five players on the All-Star team chosen by the media. The Canadiens have high hopes that he will come over and have a professional career in North America.

13. (NR) Sergei Kostitsyn, LW Age: 18
Acquired: 7th round, 200th overall (2005) Grade: 7.5C

The younger Kostitsyn brother came to Canada this year from the Belarussian League. He was selected by the Memorial Cup winner London Knights in the CHL Import Draft and took a different path than his brother in accepting to play in the Ontario Hockey League. It was a wise decision as Sergei made the most of his new environment, scoring 25 goals and 45 assists in 70 points in 54 games. However, he has made the most of his points on the power play, which is one of the best in the CHL. He is currently fighting with 15-year-old John Tavares for the rookie scoring title. Kostitsyn is up by a mere three points.

The right winger also helped Team Belarus get back into the WJC pool as he led the B1 tournament in scoring with nine points. He scored two important goals in the finale game. He did get a game misconduct against Kazakhstan at the end of it and was the most penalized player with 43 PIM. The Knights could once again be Memorial Cup bound and they certainly will need Kostitsyn’s secondary scoring to maximize their chances.

14. (14) Jaroslav Halak, G Age: 20
Acquired: 9th round, 271st overall (2003) Grade: 6.0B

After a brilliant junior career with the Lewiston MAINEiacs and his Bratislavan team, Jaroslav Halak has performed like a premiere goaltender in both pro leagues he’s played so far. An injury made him miss a good portion of the season, but that didn’t seem to concern him much when he had his chance to shine. With the ECHL Long Beach Ice Dogs, Halak has posted 11 wins and four losses in 20 games. His 2.05 GAA and .932 save percentage have been remarkable.

Jose Theodore’s injury led to Hamilton’s starter Yann Danis to join the Canadiens. That opened a spot with the Bulldogs and on Feb. 22, they recalled Halak from Long Beach. He already had two stints with the team but didn’t play. That changed three days later when he won a wild game against Binghampton, his first ever AHL win. He shut out the Rampage on Feb. 28. He has shown a lot of maturity and will probably stay with the team for the remainder of the season. He will split duties with Olivier Michaud, but Halak’s stellar play could also land him the starting job.

15. (11) Juraj Mikus, C Age: 19
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall (2005) Grade: 6.5C

At only 19, Mikus already has three Slovakian Extraliga seasons under his belt. He had a monstrous WJC18 last year where he showed a lot of creative abilities. He didn’t score any goals but had seven assists in six games. In December, he played again for Team Slovakia in the WJC but couldn’t elevate his game. He did see his share of ice time ,but ended the tournament with a rating of –6. The coaching staff used primarily snipers Marek Zagrapan (BUF) and Stanislav Lascek (TB) and that didn’t give Mikus a lot of opportunities.

The young center has played 47 games with HK 36 Skalica, registering four goals and seven assists for 11 points. This is one point short from his total of last year. That season, he also played 30 games for the Skalica U20 team and had over a point-per-game. The Canadiens will let him develop in Slovakia for a couple of years before thinking of bringing him over to learn the North American game.

16. (NR) Mathieu Aubin, C Age: 19
Acquired: 5th round, 130th overall (2005) Grade: 7.0B

It has been a phenomenal year for Lewiston’s scoring leader. While the MAINEiacs lost their premiere players in Alexandre Picard (CLB), Alex Bourret (ATL)and Halak, it gave a chance to younger forwards like Aubin and Marc-André Cliché (NYR) to shine on their own. They have done just that. Aubin has already doubled his production from last year and is 15th in the QMJHL in points with 87, scoring 42 goals with 45 helpers. Twenty-three of his goals have come on the power play. He is also a frequent shooter with an average of four shots per game.

The Canadiens took a flyer by selecting him in the fifth round and given where he was taken, has been very productive.

17. (16) Maxim Lapierre, C Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 61st overall (2003) Grade: 6.0B

The St-Leonard native has made good progression this year. Entering his first pro season with Hamilton, he is currently fifth on the team with nine goals, 19 assists for 28 points. The Canadiens management took notice of his great development and called him up on Nov. 14. He played his first and only NHL game a day later against the Florida Panthers.

Drafted as a center, Lapierre could become an effective third line winger and could complement a player like Chipchura for the Canadiens in a near future. He likes to play the puck in the corners and isn’t shy of physical play.

18. (15) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G Age: 21
Acquired: 6th round, 177th overall (2003) Grade: 6.0B

Heino-Lindberg is making his first appearance in the Elitserien league for Farjestads. He played three years with Sweden-1 Hammerby IF before joining his new team. He hasn’t played a lot of games, backing up Daniel Henriksson for the most part of the year. He has started six games and has only gave 11 goals, good for a GAA of 1.88 and a save percentage of .925. He also went to Nybro IF in Tier 2 for five games. The Swedish netminder has a good frame and is able to cover his net very well. He has good concentration and can make huge saves in key moments.

Heino-Lindberg will have little choice but to remain and develop in Sweden with the deep pool of goaltenders the Canadiens have drafted in recent years.

19. (NR) Matt D’Agostini, RW Age: 19
Acquired: 6th round, 190th overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

The Guelph Storm had scoring problems last year with no players putting up a point-per-game. This time around, the players have responded, starting with D’Agostini, who has already doubled his assists total from 22 to 48. He is only a point short of the OHL Top 20 scoring leaders, the 20th place belonging to teammate Ryan Callahan (NYR). D’Agostini is another pleasant surprise for Habs management.

D’Agostini has everything to become an impact player in the OHL and it didn’t take him long to exploit his creative abilities. He is the 2005 draftee that has made the most progress for the Canadiens. This is deserving of his first Top 20 appearance with Hockey’s Future.

20. (12) Oskari Korpikari, D Age: 21
Acquired: 7th round, 217th overall (2003) Grade: 6.5C

Korpikari has been a part of both Karpat championship teams in 2004 and 2005. He has played for his hometown team for the last four years after seasoning in the junior leagues. His best asset has been his strong defensive play and his determination to deliver big hits. He is not overly creative with the puck, scoring his first career goal in 2005-06, but he can keep up the pace and take part in every situation.

He projects as a very good stay-at-home defenseman. The next step is to get him to come to North America.

All statistics as of Mar. 2, 2005.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.