Canadiens Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Ian Bross

P.K. Subban is the new No. 1 prospect in the Montreal prospect pool; Danny Kristo is the biggest riser; and trade acquisition Aaron Palushaj debuts in the top five.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (3) P.K. Subban, D, 7.5B
2. (10) Danny Kristo, LW, 7.5C
3. (5) Louis Leblanc, C, 7.5C
4. (4) Yannick Weber, D, 7.0B
5. (NR) Aaron Palushaj, RW, 7.0C
6. (2) Ben Maxwell, C, 6.5B
7. (11) Joonas Nattinen, C, 7.0C
8. (16) Ryan White, C, 6.0B
9. (7) Mathieu Carle, D, 7.0C
10. (8) David Fischer, D, 7.0C
11. (NR) Andreas Engqvist, C, 7.0C
12. (NR) Cedrick Desjardins, G, 6.5C
13. (14) Mac Bennett, D, 6.5C
14. (13) Steve Quailer, RW, 7.0D
15. (NR) Tom Pyatt, C, 6.5C
16. (NR) Gabriel Dumont, C, 7.0D
17. (15) Alexander Avtsin, RW, 7.0D
18. (NR) David Desharnais, C, 7.0D
19. (19) Maxim Trunev, RW, 7.0D
20. (12) Alexei Yemelin, D, 6.0B

1. (3) P.K. Subban, D, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2007

Subban has made the jump smoothly from the junior ranks to the pros. True to form, Subban has put his offensive gifts on display with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Subban has continued to make marked progress defensively this season as well.

Subban’s stats have been impressive on both sides of the puck. He has scored 16 goals and 34 assists to lead all first-year defenders in points. In addition, Subban’s +39 rating is good enough for second in the AHL. Subban will finish out at least the bulk of the year with the Bulldogs.

2. (10) Danny Kristo, LW, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2008

In 2009-10, Kristo has enjoyed no shortage of success. As a 19-year-old freshman, Kristo has been an impact player with the University of North Dakota. And on the international stage, the Edina, Minnesota native represented his country in noteworthy fashion, one of only a handful of returning members of the United States’ WJC squad. He scored five goals and three assists en route to a gold medal.

With the Fighting Sioux, Kristo has scored 14 goals and 20 assists in 38 games. Kristo looks comfortable, excelling at each level he plays. He has excellent speed, shoots and passes equally well, and works hard on every shift. He was named the WCHA rookie of the year.

3. (5) Louis Leblanc, C, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall, 2009

Leblanc stood out in his first and only go-around in the USHL last season. This season he moved from his Omaha club to Harvard University. Leblanc has put together another strong first year in a new league, selected to the ECAC All-rookie team, and named Ivy League rookie of the year.

Leblanc is tops on the Crimson team in goals and total points. He has tallied 11 and assisted on 12 others in 31 games this year. Though there is no set plan as of yet, it is within the realm of possibility that Leblanc follows a development route a la Max Pacioretty.

4. (4) Yannick Weber, D, 21

Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall

The 21-year-old Weber went pro one year ago, and was able to put together a fine statistical output from the blueline position. Though his numbers in 2009-10 have not quite matched those from last season, Weber has nevertheless become the Canadiens’ top call-up option on defense.

This year, he has four goals and 23 assists in 54 games with the Bulldogs. He has dressed in five contests for Montreal and has not registered any points. Weber has adjusted well to the professional game. He will continue in the AHL with Hamilton for now.

5. (NR) Aaron Palushaj, RW, 20

Acquired: via trade (March 2010)

Palushaj was acquired by the Canadiens in a trade deadline swap for Matt D’Agostini. The 20-year-old is in his first full year as a pro having moved on from the NCAA after two seasons. Prior to being dealt by the St. Louis Blues, Palushaj had 22 points in 44 games for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. Now, as a newcomer to the Hamilton Bulldogs, he has managed a goal and four assists in seven games.

Palushaj is not particularly big, but is a well-rounded forward. He is not afraid to engage in battles for the puck, has a quick and accurate shot, and is an adept stickhandler and passer as well. He likely has at least one more full year in the minors ahead of him before he challenges for an NHL spot.

6. (2) Ben Maxwell, C, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2006

The soon-to-be 22-year-old Maxwell is in his sophomore season on the professional circuit. He made an offensive impact as a rookie, but hasn’t been quite as consistent a point producer in 2009-10, and is scoring at about the same rate. For the second year in a row, however, he is gradually being broken into the NHL, receiving peppered playing opportunities with the big club. 

Through 57 games in Hamilton, Maxwell has scored 16 goals and assisted on 28. He has made a dozen appearances with the Canadiens so far this year, with whom he currently remains for the time being. He has not yet had any points in NHL competition.

7. (11) Joonas Nattinen, C, 19

Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall, 2009

The 19-year-old Finn was selected by the Canadiens last June. Nattinen was a participant in the 2010 WJC for Finland, registering five assists in six games. His statistics playing with the SM-Liiga’s Espoo Blues in his home country do not do his talent justice. He has three assists in 22 games.

Nattinen has a large frame, standing 6’2, and is a powerful skater. He is also skilled and has above average hockey sense. Nattinen is a capable two-way forward, holding his own at both ends of the ice, and strong on faceoffs. He could be brought over to North America by Montreal as early as perhaps next season.

8. (16) Ryan White, C, 22
Acquired: 3rd round, 66th overall, 2006

Yet another second-year pro, White has progressed nicely this season with Hamilton. He has surpassed his rookie goal total, and is on the cusp of setting a new career high in points as well. Presently, White has scored 16 goals and 11 assists in 52 games. He has also gotten noticeably more involved in the rough stuff, with nearly twice as many penalty minutes as in 2008-09 (127).

White, sturdily built at 6’0, 200 pounds, has been able to fill the role of agitator as a member of the Bulldogs. And at the same time, has a good all-around game. The recently-turned 22-year-old could realistically challenge for a spot with Montreal next year. He has played 16 games with the team this year, registering two points. Even so, there is little reason to rush him along presently.

9. (7) Mathieu Carle, D, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2006

This is the 22-year-old Carle’s third season with the Bulldogs. The 2006 draft choice’s play has shown improvement thus far. Carle has been better defensively, despite having a reputation as a puck mover. He has been solid in his own end, making smart decisions.

A wrist injury has put Carle on hiatus. He has not played since January 13. Prior to being taken out of action, Carle had managed five goals and 10 assists in 31 games. When healthy, Carle is a viable call-up option. If he continues to progress as he has, and can avoid injury, Carle could contend for a more increased role soon.

10. (8) David Fischer, D, 22
Acquired: 1st round, 20th overall, 2006

Fischer is in his fourth and final collegiate campaign with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. As a senior, Fischer has not been the impact player he would be expected to be. Statistically, the Minnesota native has had his least productive year since he was a freshman, with two goals and four assists in 39 games.

His last NCAA season nearing completion, Fischer must be signed to a professional contract soon if he is to have any immediate future with the Canadiens. The team has enacted a laissez-faire approach, monitoring Fischer’s development. Where the former first rounder fits onto the organizational depth chart considering the development of his defensive counterparts seems less certain than in the past.

11. (NR) Andreas Engqvist, C, 22
Acquired: Free Agent (2009)

After going undrafted, Engqvist was signed by the Canadiens to a professional contract last July. The 22-year-old is a big, talented, and versatile center playing for Djurgardens IF in the SEL. Engqvist started off the year hot on a line with fellow youngsters Jacob Josefsson (NJ) and Marcus Kruger (CHI), before cooling off the remainder of the year.

The Swedish pivot has good offensive instincts and is not a liability defensively. Engqvist scored 14 goals and 12 assists during the regular season, and registered a +10 rating. Engqvist makes use of his size and hands to score goals from in around the net. He has also been used on the wing at times this season. Engqvist’s contract with Montreal lasts through the 2012 season.

12. (NR) Cedrick Desjardins, G, 24
Acquired: Free Agent (2006)

The 2009-10 season has been a breakout season for the 24-year-old Desjardins. In his third full season with Hamilton, Desjardins has risen to the level of a No. 1 goaltender in the AHL. His success began in the month of December, when he went unbeaten and posted three shutouts in eight games. Desjardins has split the starting job with veteran Curtis Sanford, who has been equally impressive.

Desjardins is credited with a 2.00 goals-against average, currently tops in all of the league, and a .922 save percentage. In total he has posted a 24-8-2 record with six shutouts. This season has been a major step forward for Desjardins, who will become a restricted free agent at its conclusion.

13. (14) Mac Bennett, D, 18

Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2009

Out of prep school, Bennett has been solid all around in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. The soon-to-be 19-year-old from Warwick, Rhode Island can play in any situation. He logs ice time killing penalties and on the power play. He has eight goals and 12 assists in 46 games this year.

Bennett is a smooth skater who is cool and confident with the puck and makes a good first pass. Though he lacks size, he plays strong on the body. Next year he will play with the University of Michigan.

14. (13) Steve Quailer, RW, 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall, 2008

Quailer seemed poised to take on a major role for Northeastern University this year as a sophomore after a solid freshman year in which he posted 10 goals and 15 assists in 41 games. The 20-year-old’s season was ended before it even officially began, however, when Quailer suffered an ACL injury in an exhibition game. Quailer is listed at 6’4 and 185 pounds, the potential power forward will need to pick up where he left off and return to competition in the fall as a junior.

15. (NR) Tom Pyatt, C, 23

Acquired: via trade (June 2009)

Pyatt was included in the deal that sent Scott Gomez to the Canadiens this summer. He has exceeded expectations since his arrival in the Montreal system. The younger brother of Phoenix’s Taylor Pyatt, Tom was a noticeable contributor while a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs. The 23-year-old, in his third full AHL season, has notched 13 goals and 22 assists in 41 games. His play has earned him a look in the NHL, where he has spent about half of the year so far, and remains. Pyatt has suited up in bleu, blanc, et rouge in 31 contests. He has recorded a goal and three assists. Though his upside is limited, Pyatt may be a factor with the Canadiens going forward.

16. (NR) Gabriel Dumont, C, 19

Acquired: 5th round, 139th overall, 2009

Dumont is looking as though he may be something of a steal, taken in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. Offensively, Dumont has enjoyed a great deal of success in 2009-10 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. His production has exploded, resulting in new career highs in goals, assists, and points. In 61 games, he scored 51 goals and 42 assists for a total of 93 points, up from 49 points in 2008-09.

The Voltigeurs have been dominant this year, ranked second in goals for, and second overall in the QMJHL standings. Dumont has benefited from playing with 2011 top prospect Sean Couturier, but cannot be fully discredited either. Though a smaller player at 5’10 180 pounds, Dumont battles hard and has undeniably strong hockey sense.

17. (15) Alexander Avtsin, RW, 19

Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2009

Avtsin is playing out his rookie year in the KHL as a member of Moscow Dynamo. As a 19-year-old, he has fared well, coming off of a dominant year in the Russian minor hockey league, the MHL. Indeed, he has spent some time in the MHL this year – 12 games total – but more importantly he has skated in 30 games in with Dynamo and held his own. Avtsin scored three goals and six assists. His playing time was limited somewhat due to injury. Avtsin has the talent and upside of a top-six forward. He is not undersized, at 6’2 198 pounds, and has terrific hands and skating ability.

18. (NR) David Desharnais, C, 23

Acquired: Free Agent (2008)

It is hard to ignore Desharnais’ diminutive stature when considering his NHL prospects, but it is even more difficult to ignore his performance. At the minor professional level, the 23-year-old has not been hindered by his lack of size, standing 5’7 and weighing 177 pounds. A foot injury forced Desharnais to sit and watch for the Bulldogs first 13 games, but he has been a consistent offensive threat the entire time he has been in the lineup.

Overall, his scoring pace is comfortably over a point per game, with 22 goals and 41 assists. Desharnais is making a strong case for earning an NHL job somewhere down the line.

19. (19) Maxim Trunev, RW, 19

Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall, 2008

Trunev’s 2009-10 has been similar in several ways to Avtsin’s. Like Avtsin, the 19-year-old is in the process of becoming a full-time player in the KHL. Trunev’s rookie year has been spent in part in the MHL, playing 14 games with the junior league, recording 14 points. The majority of Trunev’s season has been played out with Severstal Cherepovets. Through 30 games, Trunev has managed three goals and two assists.

Trunev plays with a high degree of finesse and skill. He is extremely agile and quick, and has a good set of hands. Trunev is not a lazy player, but is slowed down by physical play. How he’ll translate into an NHL prospect is something of a mystery. For the foreseeable future, Trunev will stay in Russia.

20. (12) Alexei Yemelin, D, 23
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2004

The 23-year-old Yemelin is still a legitimate prospect, at least in the sense that he possesses the capability to one day play in the NHL. Yemelin he re-signed with the KHL’s Kazan AK Bars this offseason, however, in lieu of venturing to North America and so can be expected to stay in Russia through the 2011 season. Yemelin is not a flashy offensive talent, with a goal and six assists on the year in 46 games. Rather, he is a reliable, gritty, stingy defender who willingly engages the opposition with tough physical play. Yemelin has expressed on record that he intends to one day play in the NHL, and he would fit in well.