Canadiens Top 20 prospects

By Dan Linn

With the 2004-05 season reaching the halfway point, it is a good time to review how the Montreal Canadiens prospects have fared this season in their progression and development. While many eyes were focused on 2003 first round pick Andrei Kostitsyn making his debut in North America, the biggest news of the early part of the season was the season-ending injury to 2004 first round pick Kyle Chipchura, injured when a teammate’s skate caught the back of his leg. Six defensemen, 11 forwards and three goaltenders comprise the Top 20.

Mid-Term Top 20 at a Glance

1. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – 19 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
2. Alex Perezhogin, RW – 21 – Avangard Omsk (RSL)
3. Chris Higgins, LW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
4. Kyle Chipchura, C – 18 – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
5. Tomas Plekanec, C – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
6. Yann Danis, G – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
7. Marcel Hossa, LW – 23 – Mora IK (SEL)
8. Corey Locke, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
9. Ron Hainsey, D – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
10. Oskari Korpikari, D – 20 – Karpat (FNL)
11. Maxime Lapierre, C – 19 – PEI (QMJHL)
12. Ryan O’Byrne, D – 20 – Cornell (ECAC)
13. Duncan Milroy, RW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
14. Christopher Heino-Lindberg, G – 19 – Hammarby IK (tier-2)
15. Konstantin Korneev, D – 20 – AK Bars (RSL)
16. Cory Urquhart, C – 20 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
17. Michael Lambert, LW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
18. Alexi Yemelin, D – 18 – Lada Tolyatti (RSL)
19. Jaroslav Halak, G – 19 – Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL)
20. Mark Flood, D – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Key: Current rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age, team, (league)
Draft position, Grade, and Projection.

1. (1) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – 19- Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 10th overall 2003 Grade: 9C Projection: Elite forward

Kostitsyn has shown good progression in the defensive side of the game while playing under coach Jarvis in Hamilton. When Kostitsyn was first drafted, the biggest concern was his complete lack of defensive awareness and his health problems. While the offensive production hasn’t gone as expected, this highly skilled forward is slowly adapting to the new language and style of hockey, a positive sign for one of the youngest players in the American Hockey league this year. Kostitsyn is also coming off an impressive performance at the World Junior U-20 tournament, where he helped his country win an upset against Team USA, and saw him display his impressive offensive skills as well as his improved defensive play.

2. (2) Alex Perezhogin, RW – 21 – Avangard Omsk (RSL)
Draft: 1st round, 25th overall 2001 Grade: 8.5C Projection: First line forward

Questions were raised this year as to how Perezhogin would play after being suspended by the AHL for the entire 2004-05 season after a swing at Garrett Stafford with his stick in would could have been a fatal incident. So far this season, Perezhogin seems to have put the matter behind him. He is back in Russia where he has seen time with the Senior National team, and has enjoyed a successful season in the Russian Super league, playing mostly on the third line for last year’s RSL champions.

3. (3) Chris Higgins, LW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 14th overall 2002 Grade: 8B Projection: First line forward

Playing in his second season in the AHL, Higgins has found this year’s AHL to be more difficult to produce in. His offensive production is not on the same pace of last year’s impressive rookie season, but his overall play has shown improvement. He has seen a large amount of ice time, playing in all situations for coach Jarvis.

4. (7) Kyle Chipchura, C – 18 – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Draft: 1st round, 18th overall 2004 Grade: 7A Projection: Second line center

After a disappointing injury to the Achilles tendon, Chipchura was enjoying a very successful season in the WHL where he was one of the top scorers in the league and was fighting for a chance to play for Canada’s world junior team. This injury comes after he suffered a major groin injury last year, which sorely hampered his play and may have caused him to drop to the Canadiens in the second half of the first round. What he did show was an underrated offensive game, Chipchura led his team in scoring for most of the season, even though the Raiders struggled to score most nights. There’s still hope that Chipchura can return to the lineup at some point this season.

5. (4) Tomas Plekanec, C – 22 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 3rd round, 71st overall 2001 Grade: 7.5 B Projection: Second line center

Plekanec will always have questions surrounding him concerning his size, but since he has arrived in North America over two years ago, he’s done nothing to show that his size will hinder him in any way. After leading Hamilton in scoring last year, Plekanec also leads them in scoring this year, even though offense has been very hard to come by for the Bulldogs, coach Jarvis can rely on him to bring his offensive game.

6. (FA) Yann Danis, G – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: Free Agent 2004 Grade: 8C Projection: No. 1 goaltender

Named one of the top three players in the NCAA last year, Yann Danis signed with the Canadiens after finishing his four years at Brown University, where he now holds just about every record for goalies, as well as a few ECAC records to boot. While Danis made a good first impression, winning his first ever AHL game with a shutout and coming back to gain another shutout win two games later, the last few weeks have been tough on him as his team has trouble putting pucks in the net. This places more pressure on Danis to be on his game at all times. The rookie has been one of the lone bright spots in Hamilton this year, as he has continually kept his team in the game when he’s in net.

7. (8) Marcel Hossa, LW – 23 – Mora IK (SEL)
Draft: 1st round, 16th overall 2000 Grade: 7C Projection: Second line forward

After a disappointing season with the Bulldogs last year, Hossa needed to come up with a big season this year to help find some confidence in his scoring abilities. He went overseas to get a change of scene and so far it appears playing in the SEL fits him, as he has found much success scoring in the top league in Sweden. Several weeks into the season, he got good news that his brother Miriam would be joining him in Sweden, which had to be a big boost for him.

8. (14) Corey Locke, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 4th round, 113th overall 2003 Grade: 7C Projection: Second line forward

Locke is a big mover up the charts as he is showing that his lack of size isn’t holding him back at the AHL level. Locke has found much success this year as a rookie, despite being only 5’9 and not a very fast skater. There is no doubting his skill level, as he has an uncanny ability to hit the open man with a pass or to be in position offensively down low.

9. (6) Ron Hainsey, D – 23 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 13th overall 2000 Grade: 7D Projection: Offensive defenseman

Hainsey has seen his stock drop this year. Not many will question his skill level, as it’s clear he is blessed with an array of natural abilities, but there are questions concerning his decision making at times in his own end as well as questions surrounding his work ethic and maturity. While he has improved his physical game, his offensive game has been inconsistent at best, true for the entire team as well.

10. (15) Oskari Korpikari, D – 20 – Karpat (FNL)
Draft: 7th round, 217th overall 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: Defensive defenseman

Korpikari moves up the ranks as he continues to impress in the sm-liiga, the top men’s league in Finland, where the young defensemen continues to gain valuable experience. After a strong showing at the Canadiens camp this summer, Korpikari plays a strong defensive game, solid in his own end and he protects the puck well.

11. (10) Maxime Lapierre, C – 19 – PEI (QMJHL)
Draft: 2nd round, 61st overall 2003 Grade: 6A Projection: Checking role forward

Lapierre plays the game the way it should be played. He brings his all every shift, consistently works hard, has good leadership abilities and can play in all situations. There’s not much doubt that he will one day play in the NHL, as he brings the kind of game that the Habs sorely lack. His biggest question mark is his offensive game and how it will translate at the next level. So far this year he has been one of the top players for the Rocket. They are limited in offensive players, but Lapierre continues to produce offensively.

12. (11) Ryan O’Byrne, D – 20- Cornell (ECAC)
Draft: 3rd round, 79th overall 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Defensive defenseman

O’Byrne is having another solid season in the NCAA, showing an improvement in his defensive play while not taking himself out of position too often going for the big hit, something he often did last season as a freshman. On top of getting quality experience playing for one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA, he also is getting an excellent education at one of the top schools in the nation.

13. (16) Duncan Milroy, RW – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd round, 37th overall 2001 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Second line forward

After a disappointing rookie season in the AHL last year, Milroy has found considerable success this season playing on a line with Chris Higgins and Corey Locke. A standout player in the WHL, Milroy had no problems putting the puck in the net, but an early season injury last year and a deep roster made ice time hard to come by for the young winger. While he still needs to add some strength and get more involved in the play physical, he does possess a very nice shot and works hard along the boards.

14. (N/A) Christopher Heino-Lindberg, G – 19 – Hammarby (tier-2 Sweden)
Draft: 6th round, 177th overall 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Backup goaltender

Heino-Lindberg makes his debut to the Top 20 rankings, enjoying a successful season in the Swedish tier-2 league, where he had played in every game this season. He is one of the top rated goalies in the league putting up very impressive numbers. Heino-Lindberg recently was named to the Swedish National Junior team, where he had difficulty stopping pucks, and to make matter worse, he also suffered a shoulder injury which could see him sidelined for several weeks.

15. (12) Konstantin Korneev – 20 – AK Bars (RSL)
Draft: 9th round, 275th overall 2002 Grade: 6.5C Projection: Offensive defenseman

While on the small side for a defenseman, Korneev makes up for it with a good deal of natural skill, playing a smart all round game despite his lack of size and strength. It’s hard to overlook the fact that Korneev has been playing in the Russian Super league as a regular at the age of 17 and he was named to the Senior National Team last year, both impressive achievements for the young blueliner.

16. (9) Cory Urquhart – 20 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL)
Draft: 2nd round, 40th overall 2003 Grade: 6.5D Projection: Second line forward

After a solid career in the QMJHL, Urquhart couldn’t crack the Hamilton Bulldogs roster, and ended up being sent to the ECHL for his first professional season where he will be expected to improve his physical game and increase his overall strength. So far this season Urquhart hasn’t been overly impressive in the ECHL. Although it’s clear he has a lot of offensive skills, it remains to be seen how well other parts of his game will translate to the pros.

17. (13) Michael Lambert – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Drafted: 4th round, 99th overall 2002 Grade: 6.5D Projection: Second line forward

Last season while playing for the Rocket of PEI, Lambert enjoyed a career year as he played on one of the top lines in the league, with Cory Urquhart and Maxime Lapierre. Lambert has a great shot, impressive skating, speed, and decent size, but he’s got to learn to improve in other areas of his game and how to get more involved in the play physically. He remains with Hamilton this year.

18. (18) Alexi Yemelin – 18 – Lada Toylatti (RSL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 84th overall Grade: 6C Projection: Bottom pairing defensemen

The young blueliner spent last season playing in the Russian Upper league, where he racked up an impressive amount of penalty minutes, playing an aggressive physical game and often finding himself in the penalty box. Yemelin was named to the 2005 Russian Junior National team, where he has shown a solid physical presence in the tournament, while seeing limited action in the Russian Super league this year.

19. (17) Jaroslav Halak – 19 – Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL)
Drafted: 9th round, 271st overall 2003 Grade: 6C Projection: Backup goaltender

Halak played in the Slovak junior league last season, where he put up outstanding numbers and even saw time in the men’s league as a reward for him solid play. This season he chose to come to North America to play in the QMJHL, so he could start to adapt to the North American style of hockey. Lewiston has had much trouble in winning games this season, although Halak at times has played very well, as he does whatever it takes to stop the puck.

20. (N/A) Mark Flood – 20 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Drafted: 6th round, 188th overall 2003 Grade: 6C Projection: Bottom pairing defensemen

After turning down an offer to sign in Hamilton this season, Flood has gone back to the OHL as an overager, and his season has gone very well for him aside from a broken thumb. He has been able to produce offensively while also improving his defensive play, which should help him next season as he fights for a spot with Hamilton.

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