Montreal Canadiens possess good depth and skill at all positions

By David Thicke

Charles Hudon - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Photo: Charles Hudon is one of several offensively gifted forwards in the Montreal Canadiens system. Hudon was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

The Montreal Canadiens spent the 2013 off-season addressing various holes in their organizational depth chart and now have good balance throughout their system. Montreal's management philosophy is to give their prospects every opportunity to seize a spot on the NHL roster. The organization is not afraid to put rookies into regular season NHL games for evaluation purposes and the approach has worked very well so far.

The Canadiens are seeing concrete results at the NHL level with sophomores, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher playing important roles in the top-nine group, and Michael Bournival seizing his opportunity to stay in the line-up due to injuries.

At the start of the NHL season, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu saw platooning duty with injuries to Alexei Emelin, Davis Drewiske, and Douglas Murray. The two rookie defenders showed flashes of what they could become with more development and experience.  

Left Wing

The left wing group has improved its skill level with the addition of newly drafted Artturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway. The 2013 third round selection of Connor Crisp brought size and toughness to the weak side of the Canadiens' forward prospect group.

There are only two prospects, Erik Nystrom, and Steve Quailer that could be playing at the AHL level this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Quailer is a left-handed shooting forward that can play the right wing as well but is likely to see most of his time playing left wing due to the large number of right-handed shots in Hamilton. The big winger was in the stands to start the AHL season with a training camp injury.

Nystrom is playing his rookie AHL season on a 25 day PTO contract and will be hoping to perform well enough to get an NHL entry level contract. He might have to settle for an AHL contract as the Canadiens are at the 50 contract limit at the present time. He seems to make things happen on each shift and his style of play has made the adjustment to the North American game appear seamless.

The Canadiens have three offensively talented left wingers playing at the junior level in the CHL; Tim Bozon, Charles Hudon, and Reway. The fourth one, Crisp has offensive potential but is more of a physical presence.

Bozon has struggled out of the block to start the 2013-14 WHL season after a successful offensive year last season. He lost his linemates of last year to the pro level and seems to have difficulty adjusting to be the playmaker on his line. On October 22nd, the sniper was traded to the Kootenay Ice where he will get the opportunity to likely play alongside this year's potential number one draft prospect, Sam Reinhart.

Crisp was traded before the start of the 2013-14 season to the Sudbury Wolves. The big overager is playing at about a point-per-game average and showing good offensive skills this year. He still plays a tough physical style but fills more than just an enforcer role. His skating and offensive skills are quite good for a big man, He is showing excellent hands around the net, versatility to play all the forward positions, and is not defensive liability to his team.

Hudon started possibly his final season at the junior level with Chicoutimi, hampered by the lingering effects of last season's back injury. He was slow out of the gate and is playing at just over a point-per-game average so far this year. There is still plenty of time, but Hudon will need to pick up his game if he wishes to play for Team Canada at the 2014 WJC. He is still one of the best left wing prospect for the Canadiens if he can stay healthy.

Reway is a small forward that skates like a water bug and possess quick hands, but his biggest strength is his excellent vision. His creativity and slick moves allow him to make plays for his linemates as well as himself. He had a good showing at the NHL training camp. The young forward is in good hands for the next couple of years if he stays with the Olympiques and learns to be disciplined both on and off the ice.

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. MacMillan has started his junior year with North Dakota. He will receive more playing time on the top two forward lines and both specialty team units. In order to play his physical style of game at the professional level, he will have to add more strength and weight to his lanky frame.

The left wing prospect for the Canadiens who is playing in Europe is Lehkonen. The 18-year-old might be one of the most talented forwards of Montreal's prospect pool. His competitive nature, excellent skating skills and the ability to shoot the puck at full speed, make him a dangerous sniper. He can however be injury prone and needs to add more weight in order to play his game in the high traffic areas at the NHL level. This 2013 second round pick should have a few more years in Finland with Kalpa (SM-liiga) before coming to play in North America.

Center

At the NHL level, second-year pro, Galchenyuk is playing full time in the NHL and projects as the Canadiens number one center of the future. Bournival is playing wing in Montreal but has also seen time as a fourth-line centerman.

At the AHL level, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Leblanc, Joonas Nattinen are all healthy and playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Dumont is a versatile forward that can play all forward positions. He can be used anywhere in the line-up and is a good depth player. The gritty centerman did not have a good NHL training camp this year and failed to stick in Montreal. He appeared to use the demotion as motivation however, and has since been recalled to the NHL. Whether or not he remains on the NHL roster this season, he projects as a solid depth player, capable of providing energy.

Leblanc is a centerman but the Canadiens are in the second year of converting him to the right wing position. He struggled to find his game last season and was an early cut at this year's NHL training camp. GM Marc Bergevin was clearly not happy with Leblanc's play and felt the need to send him a message. The management team wanted Leblanc to elevate his game and bring more consistency and competitiveness on a nightly basis in Hamilton. The 22-year-old still has things to learn and needs more development in order to play full time at the NHL level.

Nattinen is a good sized centerman that can play all the forward positions. He has good speed, vision, and a quick release, but has not been able to consistently put those skills to use. The last two seasons at the AHL level have been interrupted by injuries and his development has been stunted as a result. He is in the final year of his entry-level contract.

Montreal has Brady Vail and Jeremy Gregoire at the center position in the CHL. Both are physical two-way players that play all the forward positions and thrive in key situations.

Vail is playing in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires and is likely playing his last year at the junior level. The big centerman is playing an expanded offensive role and is seeing action on his team's top forward line this season. He is also expected to shut down the opposition's best forwards and be responsible defensively in his end of the rink. It should be a big year in his development towards becoming a pro player with Canadiens organization.

Gregoire was one of the youngest players in the 2013 NHL Draft and has looked great to start the 2013-14 season. Although a centerman by nature, he has played right wing this year and thrived offensively. He still takes important face-offs and maintains a better than 60 percent average this season. It is still too early to tell, but Gregoire could turn out to be an outstanding draft selection by the organization.

Michael Cichy is currently the only centerman playing at the NCAA level. The senior is a playmaker with some scoring capabilities but his one year off due to transferring schools really hurt his overall development. He will need to have his best NCAA season and it must be outstanding in order for him to receive a contract offer from the Canadiens.

Jacob de la Rose is the only Canadiens' center prospect playing in Europe. He is another centerman that is solid defensively, physical, and can play all the forward positions. The big Swede is playing the wing position to start this season with Leksand (SHL) and has seen some time on the team's top six, but has not put up a lot of offense. He is not a natural scorer, but likes the physical play and his style is more suited for the North American game. It is possible that de la Rose could come to play on this side of the pond sooner than expected.

Right Wing

Even with Gallagher being a full-time NHL player in Montreal and Danny Kristo being traded to the New York Rangers, the right wing position still has the most offensive potential in the Canadiens talent pool.

At the AHL level, the Canadiens have returning second-year player, Patrick Holland along with first-year pros Sven Andrighetto, Stefan Fournier, and recently acquired Christian Thomas.

Holland is a smart playmaker who possesses good speed, excellent vision, and a solid two-way game. His high hockey IQ allows him to play all the positions and think the game at a high level. This year, the forward is thriving at killing penalties and was given a chance to prove it at the NHL level when called up to replace the injured Brandon Prust. The sophomore pro acquitted himself very well in his brief stint and could see another opportunity if he keeps progressing at this pace.

Andrighetto was the Canadiens' third round pick at the 2013 NHL Draft after being passed over twice. He was immediately signed to an entry-level contract and is playing his first pro season in Hamilton. The stocky winger is a high end talent that has excellent vision, creativity, and extremely quick hands. The Swiss-born player has explosive skating speed and is reliable defensively, but can still be easily knocked off the puck at the pro level. Andrighetto will provide more offense to the Bulldogs' lineup and should improve as he adjusts to the speed and size of the AHL.

Fournier was a free agent signing after an excellent try-out with the Canadiens this past summer. The big physical winger has good hands around the net, plays in the high traffic areas, and possesses some offensive potential. He brings size and toughness to the prospect group along with a good work ethic and a willingness to defend his teammates. The first-year pro will have to work hard and play his game in order to see more ice time in the Bulldog's line-up.

Thomas was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers for Kristo. The speedy wing brings high-end potential along with a NHL caliber shot. The small forward possesses a quick set of hands and is not afraid to play in the high traffic areas, but still needs more bulk to play at the NHL level. He has been sidelined since the Canadiens training camp and pre-seasons games with an abdominal strain. Thomas is skating at this time and should be back to action with the Bulldogs very soon if all goes well. He can help increase Hamilton's offensive production when he returns to their lineup.

Mike McCarron was the Canadien's first round selection at this year's NHL entry draft and clearly filled a big need in the organization. The 6'5 237 pound winger brings excellent puck protection skills down low and good hands around the opposition's net. This year, he is playing for the London Knights and will likely play two seasons in the OHL while adjusting to the grind of junior hockey.

Rounding out the right wing position are Europeans Sebastian Collberg and Maxim Trunev.

Collberg is a high-end talent that has played against men since the age of 16-years-old and possesses an NHL caliber shot. He has excellent skating skills and speed along with good vision and creativity with the puck. The young winger needs time to mature and more development time before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. He has struggled with an injury to start his season and has not seen top minutes consistently with Frolunda in the SHL. The former second round pick is expected to play a big role for Team Sweden at the 2014 WJC and will continue to gain valuable experience playing in Europe. The Canadiens' organization will have plenty of patience with Collberg as his NHL entry-level contract is not yet activated.

Trunev meanwhile was sent to Admiral Vladivostok (KHL) but returned to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and he was then assigned to their farm team Dizel Penza in the VHL. It is not likely that he will ever play in North America or for the Canadiens but they do still hold his rights.

Defensemen

The defense position has been the strength of the organization's prospect group for the last several years. Despite selecting only one defenseman, Dalton Thrower in the last two NHL Drafts, the Canadiens still has both quantity and quality prospects playing defense at many different levels. Montreal has three players and a possible fourth that are pressing for NHL time.

At the AHL level, the Canadiens have only four returning prospects from the Bulldogs' team of last year; Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis, Greg Pateryn, and Tinordi. They will be joined this year by newcomers Darren Dietz and Magnus Nygren.

With multiple call-ups due to injury on the Canadiens blue line, Beaulieu received playing time at the NHL level to start the season. He still needs work on his defensive game and play more physically in his own end, but he was nonetheless solid in his call-up. The smooth skating puck-mover can transition the puck up the ice quickly, make goods tape to tape pass, and knows how to operate the power play. It is just a matter of more maturity and playing big minutes in Hamilton before Beaulieu is a permanent fixture on the Canadiens' defense.

Ellis was a shutdown defenseman with good offensive upside when he left the junior level. He was nagged by a groin injury last year, and struggled to adjust to the size and speed of the pro game. He started the 2013-14 season as a healthy scratch for the Bulldogs but has made his way into the lineup. It will be important for him to keep his game simple and show his coaches that he is reliable, consistent, and ready to compete each night. Ellis will likely need more development time in order to gain the experience necessary to play at the NHL level.

Pateryn is one of the older defense prospects of the Canadiens' group, having played four years in the NCAA at Michigan. He is a physical defender that can punish opponents in his end of the rink. The big blueliner can play on both specialty teams and possesses a hard accurate point shot. His skating speed improved over the off-season, but he still needs move the puck better under pressure and make fewer high risk passes in the defensive zone. Pateryn thinks the game at a high level and improves from his mistakes. It is a matter of time and experience before he is a full-time NHL player.

Tinordi is a big, physical defender that plays a simple game and excels at killing penalties. He is not going to wow people with his offensive skills, but the 21-year-old can make a good first pass out of his end and will carry the puck up ice if there is an opening. His skating is excellent for his size and it allows him to time his hits well. In only his second pro season, he started at the NHL level as an injury replacement. The rookie was not seeing enough ice time and made some positional mistakes that led to him being sent down to Hamilton. He is getting closer to being NHL ready.

Dietz is playing his first pro season and will start at the AHL level after a good NHL training camp. His offensive skills can get him to the NHL, but his defensive play is what will keep him there. He possesses the work ethic, compete level, and nastiness to be a defenseman that is difficult to play against on a nightly basis. The 20-year-old will need more development time at the AHL level, but has the complete game to make the Canadiens roster in the very near future.

Nygren is playing his first season in North America at the AHL level with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He is a mobile, offensive defenseman that makes a good outlet pass and possess a bomb for a shot. His defensive game is continuing to improve and he is showing physicality in his game. The 23-year-old is off to a good start with the Bulldogs and the transition to the small ice surface appears to be seamless. If Nygren continues to progress at this pace there is a good chance he could see playing time at the NHL level as an injury replacement this season.

Thrower is only defensive prospect in the CHL ranks this year for Montreal. The tough physical defender was returned to the junior level after a difficult season last year in Saskatoon. He was immediately chosen to be the captain of his new team, the Vancouver Giants, and asked to play the shutdown role along with leading the specialty team units. His character, leadership, and work ethic will be challenged this season as the Giants are not considered a strong team. The Canadiens organization is hoping that the 19-year-old received the message when he was not kept at the AHL level.

Josiah Didier and Mac Bennett will be the only Canadiens' prospects playing defense at the NCAA level this season.

Didier is a punishing defender that hits like a linebacker and patrols his own end with authority. He is an excellent shot blocker, excels at the penalty kill, and is positionally sound in the defensive zone. His offensive game is not going to get him to the NHL level, but he can make a good first pass and possess a good shot from the point. The junior is looking to have a strong, healthy season with the Denver Pioneers.

Bennett is a smooth skating defenseman that loves to carry the puck up the ice and can play an offensive game. His defensive game has also improved in his three years with Michigan. He can make a high-risk move look easy but is prone to costly turnovers at the wrong time. The senior's game is maturing and his leadership role as captain this season will only make him a better overall player. Bennett should make the jump to the professional ranks sometime in the spring of 2014 and could be re-united with his partner Pateryn in Hamilton.

Sullivan left the Boston College hockey program when he felt that his playing time would be reduced with the incoming freshman talent. The former seventh round pick decided to jump to the USHL and play for the Green Bay Gamblers and played his first game on November 1st against the Des Moines Buccaneers. The 20-year-old will have to perform very well in the USHL this season or risk being unsigned by the Canadiens.

Goaltenders

The Canadiens have increased their goaltending prospects to five. The goalie prospects at the AHL level, Robert Mayer and Dustin Tokarski, will be playing again behind a young Hamilton team this year. Peter Delmas will start his fourth season in the ECHL and is joined by Mike Condon. The Canadiens will finally have a netminder at the junior level with newly drafted Zachary Fucale playing in the QJMHL.

Tokarski is playing his second year with the Bulldogs and will split duties with Mayer until one of the goalies seizes the starter's job. Despite being smaller than the average NHL goaltender, Tokarski has shown at every level that he can stop the puck and win games. His style is a little unorthodox but very effective. After six seasons in the AHL, he is most likely just an AHL level goaltender or at best, a possible NHL back-up.

Mayer is now in his fifth season in the AHL with the Bulldogs. He will have a two year window to show that he is capable of being a consistent starter and stop giving up weak goals. His overall game has to substantially improve in order to supplant Peter Budaj as Carey Price's back-up in the near future.

Condon was picked up as a free agent this past summer to add more depth to the goaltending position in the farm system for the Canadiens. He was to bring competition to Tokarski and Mayer while pushing them to be better. The Princeton graduate is playing his first pro season and will see time in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers as their starting goalie.

Delmas is playing his fourth season in the ECHL and seems to have settled in with the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Fucale was selected in the 2nd round of the 2013 NHL Draft after a successful playoff run and Memorial Cup victory. He was considered the best goalie in the draft and was signed to an entry-level contract at the Canadiens' NHL training camp. In his third QJMHL season, the talented netminder has struggled out of the gate and is not playing up to his previous standards, but is still producing wins. His biggest asset is between his ears and it is not likely that a minor setback will affect his game. Many believe Fucale is the heir apparent to Price, but it is far too early in his career to tell, and there is no need to hurry his development. The organization has placed their young netminder in the capable hands of goaltending coach, Stephane Waite.

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