Hard work and character headline the first edition of Montreal Prospect Awards

By David Thicke
Photo: Former first-round pick Louis Leblanc showed flashes of his potential in the 2011-12 season. Leblanc is on a shortlist of players who are expected to have breakout seasons in 2012-13. (Photo courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

The 2012 HF Awards are based on the Canadiens prospects 2011-12 regular seasons performances in all the leagues in which they have played this year. The award winners are selected by the HF writers and decided on after all the opinions of the HF staff have been tabulated.

Most Improved Prospect: Ian Schultz, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

Schultz has worked hard to improve his overall game and to contribute more offensively rather than just using his fists for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season. The physical winger increased his offensive output from last season by 19 points while scoring six goals along with 17 assists and a respectable minus-three rating in 59 AHL games. He will need to work extra hard over the summer and report to the team's NHL training camp in top physical shape in order to continue his upward trend of improvement to have a chance of playing in the NHL.

The others players under consideration were Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, Patrick Holland, and Joonas Nattinen.

Best Defensive Prospect: Morgan Ellis, D, Shawinigan Cataractes, (QJMHL)

Ellis has shown his abilities to play a strong overall game at both ends of the ice as a shutdown defenseman and a leader on the team's power play this season. Since being traded from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on December 31, 2011, the solid defenseman really excelled offensively scoring eight goals (seven on the power play) along with 19 assists and a plus-21 rating in 26 games. Ellis was clearly the most all-rounded defenseman of the players nominated from this award.

The other prospects considered for this award were Nathan Beaulieu, Mac Bennett, Greg Pateryn, and Jarred Tinordi.

Best Offensive Prospect: Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QJMHL)

Beaulieu has been the stick that stirs the drink from the backend of the Saint John Sea Dogs' powerful offensive attack and the leader on their number one, power play unit. Even though the smooth skating defenseman plays on an absolute powerhouse team, it is the offensively talented defenseman who starts it all off by moving the puck up the ice so quickly while creating plays and distributing puck to the right open man. He finished the regular season scoring 11 goals along with 41 assists and a plus-41 rating while taking 100 penalty minutes in 53 games.

The other players considered for Best Offensive prospect were Morgan Ellis, Brendan Gallagher, Patrick Holland and Danny Kristo.

Prospect of the Year: Brendan Gallagher, C/RW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)

Gallagher had an outstanding year starting with the Canadiens' training camp, playing in NHL pre-season games and for Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior championship. The little ball of energy also signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Canadiens and finished the season as the all-time franchise leader with the most goals and points in the Giants history.

Patrick Holland was a very close second, with 25 goals and a WHL leading 84 assists, an improvement of 45 points over last season and a 21 game point streak to end the year. Other players considered for Prospect of the Year were Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis, and Jarred Tinordi.

Fastest Skater: Danny Kristo, RW, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)

Kristo has quick acceleration, a powerful stride and uses his explosive speed to help make space for himself offensively. The offensively talented winger is equally fast with or without the puck and has developed the ability to shoot the puck while in full stride toward the net which can fool the goaltenders into thinking that he might pass the puck.

Nathan Beaulieu is a fast skater but hides his overall speed with his smooth strides so he was a very close second. The other players under consideration for the fastest skater award were Patrick Holland, Aaron Palushaj and Colin Sullivan.

Hardest Shot: Magnus Nygren, D, Farjestads BK Karlstad (SEL)

Nygren is fast becoming known in the SEL for his blast from the blue line and overall offensive game. The puck moving defenseman has also improved his defensive game while becoming his team's leader on their power play unit this season.

The other players under consideration for the hardest shot were, Nathan Beaulieu, Mac Bennett, Darren Dietz, and Morgan Ellis.

Overachiever: Mark MacMillan, LW, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)

MacMillan played his freshman season for the Fighting Sioux on the team's top-two forward lines and finished with a seven game point streak at the most important time of the year. The small physical winger continued to provide a spark for his team in the NCAA tournament.

Josiah Didier was a close second, the freshman defenseman came to the University of Denver a whole year earlier than expected and played in all of their games this season. The big physical defenseman lead his team with 68 blocked shots, had 118 hits and playing big shutdown minutes against the oppositions' best forwards all year. Patrick Holland, Louis Leblanc and Daniel Pribyl were also considered for this award

Underachiever: Alexander Avtsin, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

Avtsin has so much offensive talent but has wasted his opportunities this season to show the Canadiens' organization what his offensive capabilities can be. The inconsistent Russian has been a healthy scratch at times and has also found himself playing on the Bulldogs' fourth line. His young age and flashes of brilliance are the only things that keep him in the Top 20 Canadiens prospects.

The Hamilton Bulldogs have been as bad as the Canadiens so there have been a lot of underachievers but the others considered for underachiever were Alain Berger, Robert Mayer, Mark Mitera, and Joe Stejskal.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Colin Sullivan, D, Avon Old Farms Prep School (US Prep)

Sullivan played his senior year of hockey at the US Prep School level instead of USHL or CHL after being drafted in the seventh round by the Canadiens in 2011. He has revoked his committment to play at Yale University for the 2012-23 season and there are many rumors of Boston College, Notre Dame, or QJMHL but nothing has been confirmed as of yet. The big defenseman can really skate while playing a physical defensive zone game with quick puck moving skills and flashes of an offensive upside.

The other players considered were Patrick Holland, Oliver Archambault, Magnus Nygren, and Daniel Pribyl.

Hardest Worker: Michael Bournival, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QJMHL)

It was a close race but Bournival brings energy and physical grit on each of his shifts while working hard in both ends of the rink for the Cataractes every game. The captain is known to be first on and last off for his team at all practices while his coaches have considered the two-way centerman, the heart and soul of the team for the last two years.

The other prospects who were considered for the Hardest Worker award are Gabriel Dumont, Darren Dietz, Brendan Gallagher, and John Weston.

Breakout Player for 2012-13: Louis Leblanc, C/RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

Leblanc has proven this season that he can play at the NHL level after a difficult pre-season of recovering from shoulder surgery and a short stint in the AHL. The smart and versatile two-way forward had several extended call-ups as an injury replacement for the Canadiens this season. The young forward will have a full summer of training this off-season where he can add more size to his frame while improving his skating speed and balance. Leblanc has the grit, hockey IQ, and solid positional awareness to possibly compete for a top-six forward spot with Montreal over the next few years.

The other prospects considered for possible Breakout Player for 2012-13 season were Josiah Didier, Darren Dietz, Mark MacMillan, and Joonas Nattinen.

Most Perseverance: Scott Kishel, D, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (WCHA)


Kishel played in only 47 games over his first three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth but he didn't complain, just showed up for every practice and game, worked hard, and finally this year, his senior season, the defenseman played 35 NCAA games while running the team's power play unit.

Others were John Westin who played on his team's fourth line all season after returning from injuries. Dustin Walsh played only eight games this year because an injury to his leg that would keep him out of the lineup. He tried to return but only last two game before the forward was sidelined again. The rest of the season, the offensively talented centerman tried to comeback on multiple occasions only to be shut down late in the year by the doctors.

The Unsung Hero (Jacques Beauchamps Award for the Canadiens): Greg Pateryn, D, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)

Pateryn was the anchor of the Wolverines defense corps but never received the same recognition as the more talented members of the his team. The senior played his way into an NHL entry-level contract with his steady, consistent, and physical play while mentoring the young talent of Mac Bennett. Pateryn also decided to stay at university to finish his degree instead of joining the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs late in their season.

The others considered for the award were Darren Dietz and Josh Didier, both of whom played big minutes in less than ideal situations.