Montreal Canadiens own promising group of prospects in Europe and NCAA

By David Thicke

Mac Bennett - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Defenseman Mac Bennett has had a strong junior year with the Michigan Wolverines, posting six goals and 12 assists in 30 games. (courtesy of Tim Vizer/Icon SMI)

The Montreal Canadiens have a good mix of talent among their prospects playing in Europe and the NCAA. The organization has eight forwards and four defensemen in this group that possesses varying degrees of speed, skill, physicality, size, and grit. These young prospects have shown improvement in their development this year and could add good overall depth to the Canadiens' lineup in the near future.

Prospects Danny Kristo, Magnus Nygren, Daniel Pribyl, and Dustin Walsh could be signed to NHL entry-level contracts with the Canadiens before the summer deadline. Mac Bennett has the option to follow the same CBA loop-hole of free-agency that Justin Schultz (EDM) chose to use last summer with Anaheim. There will be some tough decisions for General Manager, Marc Bergevin to make by the summer deadline.

Europe

Sebastian Collberg, RW, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 33rd overall in 2012

Collberg struggled out of the gate at the start of the 2012-13 season in the SEL with Frolunda but it was more from a lack of ice time and playing on the team's fourth line. He did not really have the confidence of his coach or in his own game to take full advantage of his opportunities when playing on the better lines or the power play. The 18-year-old was loaned to Örebro of the Allsvenskan for 15 games where he scored six goals along with two assists and a solid plus-four rating before being returned to Frolunda.

Collberg was selected for the second year to represent Team Sweden at the 2013 WJC tournament in Ufa, Russia. He was one of the team's better forwards, scoring four goals along with two assist and a minus-two rating in six games. His shoot-out heroics against Russia in the semi-final game allowed Team Sweden to advance to the gold medal match where they lost 3-1 to Team USA.

Since returning from the WJC tournament, Collberg has played with more confidence and drive to his game. He finished the regular season on the team's second line, having scored six goals and three assists in 35 games in the SEL. His team is in the SEL playoffs and the talented forward could provide timely offense for Frolunda if he is given the opportunity to play his proper role. Collberg will stay in Europe to develop his overall game for at least another year after signing an extension on February 6th, 2013.

Magnus Nygren, D, 22
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall in 2011

Nygren has been one of the better offensive defenseman in the SEL this season. The mobile puck-mover has put up excellent numbers, scoring 13 goals along with 19 assists and a much improved plus-11 rating in 51 games. Known for his hard shot and ability to man the powerplay, Nygren improved his defensive considerably game this season. He still needs to work on things, such as not over pursuing the puck and better clearing the front of his own net.

At the end of the regular season, Nygren was given the Borje Salming Award for the best Swedish defenseman in the Elitserien. He will be expected to play top minutes on his team's shutdown pairing and the power play for the SEL Playoffs. The 21-year-old was signed to a one-year extension by Farjestad February 21st, unless there is an out-clause in the contract then he will be playing the 2013-14 season in Europe. The Canadiens will probably be signing him to an NHL entry-level contract before the summer deadline and loaning him to Farjestad for another season of development.

Erik Nystrom, LW, 19
Acquired: 6th round, 154th overall in 2012

Nystrom started the year off well in the SuperElit with MODO J20 and was playing on his team's top offensive line. The hardworking forward put up good offensive numbers, scoring eight goals along with 16 assists and a solid plus-six rating in 22 games. On November 22nd, he was loaned to Karlskrona in the Allsvenskan to play against men for the rest of this year.

At first, Nystrom struggled to adjust to the speed and strength of the pro players but he learned to play his style at the new level. The 19-year-old used his good vision and ability to make things happen with the puck, scoring five goals along with six assists and a minus-three rating in 23 games. He is likely to play at a higher level next season against the men which will only help his overall development. Nystrom is not yet under contract for the coming year and should not be coming to North America any time soon.

Daniel Pribyl, C, 20
Acquired: 6th round, 168th overall in 2011

Despite early injuries and more NHL players due to the NHL lockout, Pribyl had a solid, first full season with HC Sparta Praha in the Czech league. The young centerman saw less playing time during the NHL lockout and did not put up very good numbers for the first half of the year. He struggled to find the back of the net offensively but was playing a solid two-way game and the penalty kill for his team.

Pribyl played more minutes over the rest of the season, finishing with 12 goals along with 10 assists and a good plus 14 rating in 42 games. His overall game has improved over this season but he still needs to work on his four step acceleration and gain strength to play against men at the pro level. The 20-year-old will be hoping to receive an NHL entry-level contract from the Canadiens this summer and could be coming to the AHL as early as the 2013-14 season.

Maxim Trunev, RW, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall in 2008

Trunev played his fourth season in the KHL but first year with the rebuilt Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. The NHL lockout pushed the offensive winger to the fourth line and low minutes per game for the first half of the season. He still needs to learn the defensive game and use his linemates more to open space for him at the pro level.

In his first year of a three contract, Trunev did not light the lamp very often, scoring six goals along with just two assists and an even rating in 41 KHL games. The 22-year-old was pushed out of the team's lineup late in the season after some better offensive players were acquired by Lokomotiv for their playoff run. He will need to really step up his offensive output and overall game over the next couple of years to stay in the KHL.

NCAA

Mac Bennett, D, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall in 2009

Bennett has played well offensively in his junior year but the defensive side has been an adventure for the Michigan Wolverines this season. They had two freshman goalies and then lost Jon Merrill (NJD) with a fractured vertebrae for the first half of the season. The puck-moving defenseman missed about four weeks with a knee injury and he has not really returned yet to full speed. For 27 regular season games, Bennett increase his career goal total by scoring six goals (two on the power play and one game winner) along with 11 assists and a minus one rating.

Again this year, the quick skating blueliner played on the team's top pairing and on both specialty teams units. Before the June deadline, Bennett must decide whether he is returning to Michigan for another year, exploit an old CBA loophole that would allow him to be a free agent, or sign an NHL entry-level contract with the Canadiens. His old defense partner, Greg Pateryn might have some influence on the talented defenseman's decision.

Michael Cichy, C, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 199th overall in 2009

Cichy finally returned to NCAA hockey after sitting out the entire year last season and as expected he needed to bang the rust off his overall game. He has not played very much over his three years in the NCAA but this season was the exception, with 37 games for the Western Michigan University Broncos. The red-shirted junior posted okay offensive numbers, scoring four goals along with 14 assists this season.

Cichy's offensive number may not look impressive but he scored three of those goals on the power play, one a game winner and another the game tying marker. He was more of the playmaker for his linemates and setup man for some important clutch goals to help the Broncos win some key games. Cichy should return to WMU for another season at the NCAA level.

Josiah Didier, D, 19
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall in 2011

Didier's sophomore season was marked by a high ankle sprain injury that took him out of the Denver Pioneers lineup for six games and about a month. During his absence, the team was winless. Didier is not known for being much of a goal-scorer, his offensive comes from moving the puck up and out of his end. His shot is the one area of his game that will need to improve over the next few years.

This season, the physical defender has played his usually game of tight, tough, defensive first hockey, blocking a lot of shots and killing off penalties. He has growing into a solid, shutdown defenseman that hits like a linebacker and consistently clears the crease for his goaltender. If Didier continues his development at this pace, he will be very difficult defenseman to play against on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Danny Kristo, RW, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall in 2008

In his last year at the NCAA level, Kristo has been a man on a mission for UND. He has put up career high offensive numbers, scoring 24 goals (six on the power play, two shorthanded and five game winners) along with 26 assists in 37 games. His overall game has improved over the last few years and his team will need him at his best for their playoff run and hopes for a National Championship.

The knock against Kristo has been his commitment and consistency at the NCAA level but it is more from not been able to replicate his outstanding offensive skill every game. This year, the senior has proven that he can be a leader and carry a team on his back when needed. He was named to the first team of the All-WCHA team for this season.

Kristo is highly likely to sign an NHL entry-level contract at the end of this NCAA season and could get the opportunity to join the Canadiens lineup right out of college. If not, he could help the Bulldogs offensive game at the AHL level.

Mark MacMillan, LW, 21
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall in 2010

In his sophomore season, MacMillan has played a much better two-way game and has improved his overall offensive skills. He collected career high numbers, scoring 13 goals (three on the power play, two shorthanded and one game-winner) along with 12 assists in 39 games. The versatile player has played all three forward positions and is used on both of the North Dakota's specialty team units.

MacMillan will need to step up his game over the UND's playoff run and help push the team to a National Championship. He will probably have two more years of development at the NCAA level to increase his size in order to play his physical game and hone his playmaking skills. He does have the choice to use the free-agent option similar to Bennett after his junior season if he wishes to not play for the Canadiens' organization.

Colin Sullivan, D, 19
Acquired: 7th round, 198th overall in 2011

Sullivan finally arrived in the NCAA this year with the Boston College Eagles and the freshman defender managed to appear in 31 games due to numerous injuries to the team's defense corps. The young defender missed time for a concussion but has since returned to action. He has played a steady, stay-at-home game and is a good shot blocker. His puck-moving game improved as he became more accustomed to the NCAA level of play and he started getting more shots through from the point.

Sullivan has only contributed one assists offensively but has been a physical force down low in his end of the rink and has played on the edge without going over, having just six penalty minutes for the regular season. Late in the year when some of the older defensemen returned from their injuries, the quick skating blueliner saw time up front on the team's dormant fourth line. This year's baptism by fire can only help his overall development during the next three years at the NCAA level.

Dustin Walsh, C, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 169th overall in 2009

Walsh returned to Dartmouth for his senior year after having hip surgery the previous season. He has not played as much hockey over his NCAA career due to numerous injuries but has worked extremely hard to get back to playing hockey for the Big Green. The soft spoken center was named as an alternate captain for the young Dartmouth team and has tried to lead by example with a positive attitude. He had one of his better years, scoring 11 goals (one on the power play and one game winner) along with 11 assists in 29 games.

Walsh has followed the Canadiens' skating coach's instructions for the last three years to increase his speed and acceleration. As the season progressed and his repaired hip has felt better, the big forward's offensive game and confidence has returned to pre-injury levels. Walsh will be one of those tough decisions for Bergevin to make over the summer as to whether he should be offer an NHL or AHL contract.

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