When trying to determine whether a player will develop NHL calibre skills, we tend to look at how that player is improving year to year. Only by improving year to year will any player develop the skills necessary to produce at the NHL level. Skating, speed and strength are important attributes, but difficult to measure on a year to year basis and far less tangible. The easiest way to measure a player’s improvement is by breaking down their production into a point per game basis, then comparing that number to the previous year’s total. Below is a look at the Montreal Canadiens prospects in points per game from 2002-03 to 2003-04.
Michael Lambert shows the greatest improvement. The 19-year-old winger rebounded from a disappointing 2002-2003 season as far as his development was concerned. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward averaged 0.85 points per game (PPG) last season. Twenty-nine games into this season he’s averaging an impressive 1.59 PPG; an improvement of 0.74. Lambert has developed into the PEI Rocket’s top offensive threat, and plays alongside fellow Hab prospect Cory Urquhart. Lambert was chosen in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. His current offensive output places him in third place among QMJHL point producers, while his plus/minus is also the league’s third-best total.
An impressive second to Lambert is the Rimouski Oceanic’s Danny Stewart. The Habs chose Stewart in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. He has already registered nearly as many points this year (35) as he did through the entire 2002-2003 season (40). The 6’0″, 175-pound forward averaged only 0.62 PPG last year. Through 27 games this season he’s averaging 1.30 PPG; a solid improvement of 0.68 PPG. Stewart plays on the same team as the QMJHL’s latest phenom Sidney Crosby. Although the two players rarely play on the same line, they do see some powerplay time together. Stewart’s 35 points place him in eleventh place among the QMJHL’s top scorers, while his 22 assists are the league’s 13th best total.
The PEI Rocket’s Cory Urquhart has shown the third-best improvement. The 6’3″, 196-pound forward has good vision, and impressive puck-handling skills. Chosen in second round of the 2003 draft, Urquhart has scored 45 points (20 goals and 25 assists) this season and is currently the fourth-highest point producer in the QMJHL. The young Nova Scotian has already enjoyed point-scoring streaks of thirteen and twelve games this year, and has been held off the scoresheet in only three of the Rocket’s 23 games. During 71 games Urquhart averaged 1.10 PPG; outscoring fellow Hab prospect Michael Lambert. That said, through 29 games this season, the 19-year-old is averaging 1.50 PPG; an improvement of 0.45 PPG.
Josef Balej , a speedy right winger with the Hamilton Bulldogs has shown the fourth-best improvement. The 6’0″, 191-pound Slovakian has improved his overall game by leaps and bounds this season. Much of this improvement is due to health, as Balej suffered through another injury prone season in 2002-03; his first as a professional. Last year he averaged 0.40 PPG. Though 24 games this season he’s averaging 0.75 PPG; an improvement of 0.35 PPG. The 21-year-old has put himself back on the big team’s radar screen through hard work and determination. Balej’s performance this season is a testament to both his talent and his character. His career will only go as far as his offensive skills take him.
Fifth on the list, and likely the biggest surprise is the Owen Sound Attack’s André Deveaux. The Habs chose Deveaux in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. He’s playing for an NHL contract this season, and is just coming off a
career-high five-game point-scoring streak. The 6’2′, 216-lbs. center averaged 0.59 PPG last year. Through 25 games this season he’s averaging 0.84 PPG; an improvement of 0.25 PPG. Deveaux has also gone a long way toward improving his defensive game; a minus-19 player last season, the soon-to-be 20-year-old is currently leading his team with a plus-9 rating.
Player differential ranking (PPG this season)- (PPG last season)
A. Kuki +0.02
O. Korpikari 0.00
R. O’Byrne N/A
A. Archer N/A
C. Larrivee N/A
M. Shasby N/A
T. Linhart N/A
J. Ferland N/A
J. Marois N/A
J. Eneqvist N/A
A. Kastsitsyn N/A
C. Higgins N/A
A. Perezhogin N/A