Canadiens Top 20 prospects

By Jason Menard

The Montreal Canadiens made quite a splash at this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Armed with a higher-than-anticipated pick due to their good fortune at the draft lottery, team president Bob Gainey and General Manager shook up the draft boards and defied the prognosticators with the selection of netminder Carey Price.

In the second round, the Canadiens jumped at the chance to move up on the board and select local product Guillaume Latendresse, one of the most polarizing players in the Entry Draft, with some viewing him as a top-15 pick and others rating him far lower. Those draft day repercussions have been felt in the Canadiens’ top 20 prospects lists, with the top two recent draftees finding their way into the team’s top six prospects.

With the NHL’s newfound commitment to speeding up the game and allowing offensive players more freedom, the Canadiens are hoping their organizational depth in skilled forwards and quality goaltending will hold them in good stead for the long haul. And, with the existence of a salary cap, the concept of developing depth and talent through the farm system will take on an even greater importance in the coming seasons.

Montreal Canadiens Top 20 at a Glance

1. (1) Alex Perezhogin, RW
2. (2) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW
3. (NR) Carey Price, G
4. (3) Chris Higgins, LW
5. (4) Yann Danis, G
6. (NR) Guillaume Latendresse, LW
7. (5) Kyle Chipchura, C
8. (6) Tomas Plekanec, C
9. (7) Marcel Hossa, LW
10. (10) Corey Locke, C
11. (9) Ryan O’Byrne, D
12. (NR) Juraj Mikus, C
13. (11) Oskari Korpikari, D
14. (13) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW
15. (14) Jaroslav Halak, G
16. (12) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G
17. (15) Maxim Lapierre, C
18. (16) Duncan Milroy, RW
19. (17) Konstantin Korneev, D
20. (18) Michael Lambert, LW

Key: Current rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age, team, (league)
Draft position, grade.

1. (1) Alex Perezhogin, RW – 21
Draft: 1st round, 25th overall 2001, Grade 8.5 B

All eyes will be on Perezhogin’s legal status early this year as no official word has come forth as to whether he’ll be allowed to lace up the blades on North American soil. His much-publicized stick swinging incident landed him a one-year sojourn in the Russian Super league, but as his suspension was for one year, he should be back on the ice to build upon his successful 2003-04 rookie season with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.

Perezhogin, who enjoyed a stellar season playing for Avangard Omsk last year, has an outside shot at cracking the Habs roster. If he can continue to refine his scoring prowess, which found him in the top 20 of a Russian Super league last year that found itself far more competitive with the presence of a number of locked-out NHLers, he could be one of the beneficiaries of the league’s commitment to offense. He had 33 points in 43 games with Avangard Omsk and, if he finds himself back in Hamilton, he will look to build on a rookie campaign that saw him net 50 points, with 23 goals. A plus player, he needs to keep his emotions in check to help get to the next level.

2. (2) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW – 20
Draft: 1st round, 10th overall 2003, Grade: 8.5 B

A solid performance at the WJC for Belarus raised his stock, in light of a less-than-impressive rookie campaign in the AHL. However, with another year under his belt, look for the high-flying Kostitsyn to make a significant jump in his progress from the 12 goals and 11 assists he produced in his first year in North America.

On a positive note, Kostitsyn has managed to put his medical concerns behind him, so the only consideration left now is his game. With the potential for some of the Bulldog’s team leaders to move up, the opportunity is there for Kostitsyn to grab the offensive reigns of this team and display the offensive gifts that initially had him so highly rated.

3. (NR) Carey Price, G – 18
Draft: 1st round, 5th overall 2005, Grade 8C

In his first-year as a starter for the Tri-City Americans, Price wowed the scouts so much that he was a consensus top pick in the draft. However, that did not do anything to alleviate the shock that was felt when the Canadiens, already armed with prospects Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak – not to mention former Vezina Trophy winner José Theodore, stepped up to the podium to claim the netminder.

However, after posting a solid 2.34 GAA and a stellar .920 save percentage for the Americans and manning the pipes for Team Canada in the Under-18 World Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic, the team had seen enough to know that Price was right for the team.

Having turned 18 just last week, Price will have the luxury of being brought along slowly and should find himself between the pipes at the Bell Centre in a few years.

4. (3) Chris Higgins, LW – 22
Draft: 1st round, 14th overall 2002, Grade: 8.0 B

Higgins capped off a successful 2004-05 season with the Bulldogs by being named the recipient of the Hamilton Spectator Most Valuable Player Award, an honor bestowed upon him by his teammates. He finished the season with career-highs in goals (28), points (51), game-winning goals (6), short-handed goals (4), power-play goals (8), and shots (248).

His all-around play has scouts drooling about his long-term potential in the league. While not as flashy as Perezhogin or Kostitsyn, his dedication to two-way play, grit, and leadership skills all lead to a projection as a solid two-way forward with some offensive pop. Having enjoyed a brief, two-game cup of coffee with the parent club, Higgins is looking to make a run a roster spot this year. Although, instead of languishing as a third or fourth-liner in the NHL, another year refining his game and developing as a top line forward in the AHL will probably be best for his long-term prospects.

5. (4) Yann Danis, G – 24
Draft: 2004 Free Agent, Grade: 7.5 B

Danis, a free-agent signee from Brown University, enters this season as the No. 1 goalie in Hamilton. And, with the injury to projected Montreal Canadiens’ backup Cristobal Huet, Danis may get an opportunity to strut his stuff at the big-league level. Last year looked upon as the Habs’ goaltender of the future, Danis now should be looking over his shoulder following the 2005 drafting of Carey Price.

However, Danis won’t give up the mantle without a fight, especially not if he builds upon his outstanding rookie season. In 2004-05, Danis, as primary netminder, backstopped the Bulldogs in 53 games, posting five shutouts en route to 28 wins – both team records, a 2.38 GAA, and a .920 save percentage.

6. (NR) Guillaume Latendresse, LW – 18
Draft : 2nd round, 45th 2005, Grade 7.5D

Latendresse was the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft. He is the definition of high-risk/high-reward, and when he was still around at 45, the Habs chose to package their second and third round picks to obtain the rights to the big winger.

Strong, tough to move, and a big hitter, Latendresse could be the power forward for which the Canadiens have been looking for years. Or the skating issues that dropped him so far down the draft board may be magnified and exposed in the NHL.

Latendresse led the Drummondville Voltigeurs in scoring last year, with 78 points in 65 games. He followed his solid regular season with a strong post-season, averaging a goal a game and 10 points overall in six playoff games. With another year of junior ahead of him, Latendresse can focus on improving the speed and skating skills he’ll need to get him to the next level.

7. (5) Kyle Chipchura, C – 19
Draft: 1st round, 18th overall 2004, Grade 6.5 B

Chipchura was well on his way to blowing away his previous career highs in goals, assists, and points when a severed Achilles tendon put him on the injured list for four months of the season. However, he showed good resiliency, coming back for the playoffs and racking up 11 points in 14 games.

Projected as a checking-line center, Chipchura will spend another year in Prince Albert working at refining his overall game, and putting his injury behind him. The Raiders will look to him to contribute more to their offensive attack and show the solid commitment to two-way play that made him a first-round selection.

8. (6) Tomas Plekanec, C – 22
Draft: 3rd round, 71st overall 2001, Grade 7.5 C

Despite leading the Bulldogs in scoring last year, Plekanec’s window of opportunity is coming to an end. This may be the make or break year as he needs to show that he can take that next step to being a consistent performer in the NHL.

Buoyed by last year’s 64-point performance, Plekanec was named to the AHL All-Star game and was named the game’s MVP. He also showed his fleetness of foot, winning the honor of fastest skater at the event.

He has overcome his relative lack of size through dogged determination, skill, and special teams prowess, but flashier and brighter lights like Perezhogin and Kostsitsyn may serve to outshine him in the future. This could be his last and best chance to make the big club.

9. (7) Marcel Hossa, LW – 23
Draft: 1st round, 16th overall 2000, Grade: 7.0 C

Hossa is another player who is running out of time to be considered a prospect. Playing for Mora in Swedish Elite league during the NHL lockout, Hossa managed 24 points in 48 games, including 18 goals. In 2003-04, he finished fifth in scoring for the Hamilton Bulldogs, despite spending 15 games with the Montreal Canadiens.

Hossa will be given every chance to make the big club this year, but his potential and skill have been weighed down by inconsistency. The hope is that the success he enjoyed in Sweden will translate into improved confidence and performance on this side of the Atlantic.

10. (10) Corey Locke, C – 20
Draft: 4th round, 113 overall 2003, Grade: 7.0 D

Locke looks to build upon the foundation that he laid during his freshman sojourn in the AHL. Registering 43 points in 78 games, he was able to show the talent and scoring prowess that drove him to winning the OHL player of the year award twice and CHL player of the year honors once.

Not drafted until the fourth round of the NHL entry draft, largely due to his size, Locke needs to show that he can withstand the rigors of the professional ranks to be considered for the next level. As well, now in his sophomore season, he needs to show on a consistent basis the offensive gifts that gave him so much success in the junior ranks.

11. (9) Ryan O’Byrne, D – 21
Draft: 3rd round, 79th overall 2003, Grade: 6.5 B

O’Byrne enters his junior season at Cornell and will be looked upon to take a greater role with the team, as it loses two of its top defensemen to graduation. A 6’5, 210-pound behemoth on the blue line, O’Byrne will look to improve on his positioning and will benefit from the additional time on special teams.

12. (NR) Juraj Mikus, C – 18
Draft: 4th round, 121st overall 2005, Grade 6.5C

With their fourth pick in the 2005 entry draft, the Canadiens hope they have found a diamond in the rough with Slovakian center Juraj Mikus. Ranked 32nd overall by International Scouting Services, Mikus represented himself well in the Slovak Extraleague and picked up eight points in seven games in the World Under-18 Championships.

The Canadiens have the luxury of leaving Mikus overseas for the next couple of season to round out his game, content in the knowledge that he’ll be a significant part of the Slovakian national team.

13. (11) Oskari Korpikari, D – 21
Draft : 7th round, 217th overall 2003, Grade; 6.5 B

Korpikari suffered through a difficult 2004-05 season, battling through injuries and missing games due to his military obligations. However, when on the ice, he shows why he is one of the more promising defensive defensemen in Europe.

Korpikari was able to play for the junior team for Karpat during the playoffs, where he was at one time leading the league in scoring, an impressive feat for the defensive defensemen. In 21 games with Karpat this year Korpikari was held pointless. In each of the last two seasons he had one point.

14. (13) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW – 21
Draft: 5th round, 150th overall 2004, Grade 7.0 C

By winning a battle in the boardroom, Grabovsky will be able to continue his development on the ice. A PHL arbitration court recently ruled that the contract that Grabovsky signed with Ak Bars (Kazan) was not legal, which prevented Grabovsky from being subject to a two-year suspension for signing two separate contracts.

Grabovsky combines speed, skating skill, good acceleration, and offensive abilities to make up for a relative lack of size. A former linemate of Andrei Kostitsyn, Grabovsky has indicated his preference for staying in Russia for one more year. Last year, with Neftekhimik, Grabovsky rang up totals of 16 goals and 36 points.

15. (14) Jaroslav Halak, G – 20
Draft: 9th round, 271st overall 2003, Grade 6.0 B

Another in the deep rotation of young goalies with NHL-level potential, Jaroslav Halak spent time at both the junior and AHL levels last season. In a league known for high-powered offense, Halak shone for the QMJHL Lewiston Maineiacs, leading the squad into the playoffs where they ran into the high-powered Rimouski Oceanic, who was on its way to a Memorial Cup runner-up position.

Halak ended the season with 24 wins against 17 losses, and posted an impressive 2.78 GAA and .913 save percentage in his first year with the QMJHL squad. When Lewiston was knocked out of the playoffs, Halak was able to join the Bulldogs and work out with the squad.

16. (12) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G – 20
Draft: 6th round, 177th overall 2003, Grade 6.5 B

Heino-Lindberg spent last year in the Swedish Elite League, playing for league powerhouse Hammarby and was able to post some eye-popping numbers: a 1.81 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

The Swedish puckstopper comes with a heady pedigree already, having won the same trophy for the top 15/16-year-old Swedish player that Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, and Markus Naslund earned in their youth. Heino-Lindberg looks to spend another year overseas developing his game and getting plenty of work between the pipes of his Swedish Elite league team.

17. (15) Maxim Lapierre, C – 20
Draft 2nd round, 61st overall 2003, Grade: 6.0 B

Although the potential remains that he may return to the league as an over-ager, Maxim Lapierre will be given every opportunity to stick with the Bulldogs as they start their campaign in Hamilton.

Despite losing fellow Habs prospects and PEI linemates Cory Urquhart and Michael Lambert to graduation, and playing for an offensively challenged PEI squad, the St-Leonard native nevertheless put forth a strong performance during the junior year and potted 25 goals.

18. (16) Duncan Milroy, RW – 22
Draft: 2nd round 27th overall 2001, Grade: 6.0 C

Milroy is another talent that needs to take the next step this year or risk the fate of becoming an afterthought. The winner of the AHL’s Man of the Year award for contributions to community and charitable organizations, Milroy finished seventh on the Bulldogs in scoring and was able to rebound from a rough freshman year in Hamilton.

Finishing last year with 15 goals and 18 assists, Milroy will be looked upon to pick up the offensive slack on this year’s edition of the Bulldogs.

19. (17) Konstantin Korneev, D – 21
Draft: 9th round, 275th overall 2002, Grade: 6.5 C

Korneev was a victim of the numbers game during the recently ended NHL lockout. Losing a roster spot to the influx of NHLers that flooded the Russian Elite League, he is looking to bounce back this year and continue his development.

A smallish defenseman with offensive upside, Korneev’s stock fell drastically in the 2002 draft, largely because of his size. His development has been slow, but steady in Russia.

20. (18) Michael Lambert, LW – 21
Draft: 4th round, 99th overall 2002, Grade 6.5 D

Last year, Lambert bounced between the Bulldogs and the ECHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs, and this year he will be striving to make the jump to the AHL permanently. Although he had difficulty finding the net in the AHL (scoring only three times in 40 games), he was able to be a little more successful in Long Beach, adding five goals in 18 games. A solid winger with great speed, smooth skating, and a good slap shot, Lambert needs to show more of his offensive prowess to stick with the Bulldogs.

Missing the cut

Cory Urquhart, C
Alexi Yemelin, D

Alexandre Beland-Bernard and Eric Forest contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.