After a successful return to the playoffs in 2013, the Montreal Canadiens are attempting to continue their youth movement at the NHL level by adding two rookies to their 2013-14 NHL roster.
Following excellent training camp performances, Jarred Tinordi and Michael Bournival will start the 2013-14 season at the NHL level. They will be joining sophomores Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, who could be considered NHL regulars after their successful 2013 rookie campaigns.
At the AHL level, the Hamilton Bulldogs will again be a young group of prospects hoping to grow their games and develop into NHL players. Though expectations are high for the Canadiens' many talented prospects, it will be a few years before most of them can be regular NHL contributors.
Below are some of the Canadiens' prospects to watch more closely headed into the 2013-14 season.
Top Pro Prospect
Jarred Tinordi, D, Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
Since Galchenyuk and Gallagher played the whole shortened NHL season last year with the Canadiens, they could be considered established NHL players. Nathan Beaulieu is not quite NHL-ready at this time but still has excellent offensive potential. After being called up for the NHL playoffs last year, Jarred Tinordi came to Montreal's training camp on a mission to stick with the big club and elevate his game to the next level. The big defenseman plays a smart, simple style and is starting to find his timing and rhythm when applying a solid body check to the opposition. His physicality is something very much needed on the Canadiens' defense corps with the injury to Alexei Emelin and their lack of overall size. If his growth continues on this upward trend then it's very likely that Tinordi could find himself playing next to P.K. Subban on the team's top pairing a lot sooner than expected.
Louis Leblanc, RW/C Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
After suffering a high ankle sprain early last season, Louis Leblanc struggled for the rest of the year to find his game. He came into Montreal's 2013-14 NHL training ready to fight for an open roster spot and showed some good things at camp. He added more weight, strength, and skating speed. There just was not enough offensive from him to impress the Canadiens' management so he was assigned to the AHL level with the Hamilton Bulldogs. It will be telling how Leblanc responds to this adversity and not being considered the top player on his team for the first time in his hockey career. His work ethic and character are being tested but he has the smarts, grit, and good offensive skills to overcome this setback. This season, he will play with a chip on his shoulder and give it everything he has in order to prove that management made the wrong decision.
Breakout for 2013-14
Patrick Holland, C/W Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
There will be more offensive skill on the Hamilton Bulldogs for 2013-14. Patrick Holland could be ready to break out and put up excellent offensive numbers. The smart, versatile forward has adjusted to the speed and size of the pro game. He gained more size and strength over the off-season and improved his overall game by the end of last year. His excellent vision and playmaking skills should help him setup many of his talented teammates. When he has more offensive weapons at his disposal, he uses them to look off the defenders allowing him to shoot or hit the open man with a pass. It should be a much better offensive year for Holland and the Bulldogs.
Despite Tim Bozon and Charles Hudon being their teams' top offensive stars, Mike McCarron is the top junior prospect for the Montreal Canadiens this year. The 2013 first round selection impressed management and coaching staff with his skating, puck protection skills, and physicality. The big forward stuck around longer than most people expected and acquitted himself very well at the NHL training camp but was returned to the OHL for his first season with the London Knights. He is expected to dominate down low and around the opposition's net with his massive frame. His hands are very good for a big man and his offensive potential should improve as he works on his overall game. If his skills continue on the same upward trends as his draft year, then McCarron could be NHL ready much earlier than expected. The hulking forward's type of game would really help the Canadiens' lineup but not at the expense of rushing his overall development.
Since being drafted in the sixth round by the Canadiens, Jeremy Gregoire seems to have really gained plenty of confidence in his offensive skills. He works hard every shift and is creating opportunities for his linemates with the Drakkar. The versatile forward worked hard over the summer and took the lessons learned at Montreal's development and rookie camps to heart. He has exploded out of the gate to start the QJMHL season, scoring eight goals and with three assists in seven games. The youngest of the 2013 Canadiens' draftees, having just turned 18-years-old in September, Gregoire's offensive potential might be just starting to bloom.
After a difficult season last year with the Saskatoon Blades, Dalton Thrower was traded to the Vancouver Giants over the summer. The physical defender possesses the offensive skills and toughness but needs to work on making better decisions with the puck in his end of the rink.
His work ethic and attitude have to show the maturity of a pro hockey player before he can make the next step. Not having signed his NHL entry level contract yet, it is possible that Thrower's fate was already determined by last season's lukewarm performance and it could benefit his overall development to return to dominate in the WHL under coach, Don Hay this year.
Top Amateur Prospect
Mac Bennett, D, Michigan Wolverines (Big 10)
After deciding to return for his senior year at Michigan to captain the team, Mac Bennett is the top Montreal Canadiens' prospect at the NCAA level. The puck-moving defender will be the top dog on the backend for the Wolverines this season with the loss of Jon Merrill (NJD) and Jacob Trouba (WPG) who turned pro over the summer. He will be expected to carry the load and provide more offense for his team. It is important that he avoids making the high risk plays and costly turnovers of previous seasons without the help of any experienced partners. If Michigan is to have a winning season, the smooth skating blueliner will have to set the standard of play for the younger defensemen. Bennett is also playing for a possible NHL entry-level contract from the Canadiens at the end of his year.
Breakout for 2013-14
Mark MacMillan, LW, North Dakota (NCHC)
With the graduation of the North Dakota's top two scorers, Danny Kristo (NYR) and Corban Knight (CGY); it appears that Mark MacMillan will have a bigger offensive role this coming season. He will likely play on the team's top line and first power play units. The versatile forward has improved his overall game with each season and is expect to continue in his junior year. His work ethic and character will help him push harder to create offensive opportunities for his linemates and the increased ice time should help him produce more offense this season. The tenacious winger could have a breakout year now that he's out from the shadows of Kristo and Knight. This is an important step in MacMillan's development at the NCAA level and the Canadiens' fourth round selection should not disappoint.
Michael Cichy, C, Western Michigan Broncos (NCHC)
After an okay junior year with Western Michigan, Michael Cichy is hoping to improve on his offensive numbers and show the offensive game that helped get him drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. He slipped off the radar by transferring schools following his disappointing sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. The playmaking centerman will have to be outstanding and put up excellent offensive numbers to have a chance at receiving an NHL entry-level contract at the end of his senior season. He is a real longshot and probably is not in the Canadiens' long-term plans but you just never know when a player's game will bloom. It is also extremely possible that Cichy has already hit his peak and will not get any better with time running out on him.
Top European Prospect
Sebastian Collberg, RW, Frölunda (SHL)
Despite a difficult time adapting to the smaller ice surface and recovering from an injury at NHL training camp and pre-season games, Sebastian Collberg is still the Montreal Canadiens' top prospect playing in Europe. The 19-year-old will play his third season against men in the SHL and should see top-six minutes this season with his WJC coach, Roger Rönnberg now the head man behind the bench for Frölunda. He is likely to play more minutes and power play time compared to last year. The talented sniper needs to play more in the dirty areas of the ice and improve on his game along the boards. At this time, he still is not NHL ready. His size and strength have to increase over this year for him to have a better shot at sticking in North America with Canadiens' organization at the AHL or NHL levels. It is far too early to seen the full scope of Collberg's offensive talent and his best has yet to come.
The newly drafted, Artturi Lehkonen jumped out to an excellent start to his season in the SM-liiga with Kalpa. His talent and offensive skills are very close to Collberg's and the young Finn could compete with Collberg for top honors among Montreal's European prospects. Lehkonen is showing that he has bounced back from his concussion issues of last season but must remain healthy to catch Collberg.
Breakout for 2013-14
Jacob de la Rose, C, Leksand (SHL)
Although it might be premature, but Jacob de la Rose is showing signs that his offensive game might be ready to breakout in his third season with Leksand's senior team. He already possesses the speed, size, physicality, and defensive game to play at the NHL level but will need to bring far more offense to the table. The 18-year-old is a very intense competitor and plays every shift of every game. His leadership and work ethic are what make him a valuable teammate. The versatile forward is playing good minutes on the top-six with one of the weaker teams in the SHL. His confidence is growing in his abilities to create offensive chances and his physicality will create more space for his linemates. De la Rose is the type of forward that the current Canadiens' roster is missing, but he might be a few years away from playing at the NHL level and there's no reason to rush him.