Large improvement shown in Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool

By David Thicke

Alex Galchenyuk - Montreal Canadiens

Poto: Center Alex Galchenyuk has been impressive in his brief time in the NHL. Galchenyuk is one of two rookies to make the Canadiens roster out of training camp. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens' prospects as a group have shown solid improvement to their overall games this season. Some players have struggled with injuries and finding their games again but most of the group are exceeding their play of last year. The organization's depth and skill in their talent pool is probably the best it's been in quite some time.

Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have surprised Canadiens fans with their stellar play at the NHL level and have been a big part of the team's early success this season. Gabriel Dumont and Magnus Nygren are new to the list, having made big jumps in their development so far this year while Louis Leblanc has struggled through an injury and is having a bit of a setback in his growth towards being an NHL player. His fall on the Top 20 list is due to his lack of production and the success of the other prospects above him in the rankings.

1. (1) Alex Galchenyuk, C, 8.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 3rd overall in 2012

Galchenyuk is an elite offensive talent for the Canadiens' prospect pool and is playing in the NHL as teenager this season. Since the sixth game of the year, he dominated the OHL and scored at nearly an average of three points per game. The talented centerman will gain far more valuable experience at the NHL level as long as he sees over 10 minutes a night.

Galchenyuk's outstanding skill set is undeniable and has not been seen by Canadiens fans in a very long time. His maturity for such a young player along with his excellent work ethic and desire to become a better NHL player are incredible. Galchenyuk has elite vision and playmaking skills which allows him to make quick sharp passes as well as soft touch plays that look effortless. He continues to make things happen offensively every game and has impressed his teammates with his great attitude. He should be a future franchise player for the Montreal Canadiens in the very near future.

2. (2) Nathan Beaulieu, D, 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall in 2011

Beaulieu struggled with his confidence level and his defensive positioning to start his rookie pro season at the AHL level with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but has more recently improved his overall game. He is starting to see more ice time as the season progresses and has become the team's powerplay leader. It is his offensive potential however that puts him above the other defense prospects in the Canadiens organization.

The smooth skater has really shown his offensive skills at the AHL level but is maybe another year or two away from playing in the NHL. He needs to improve his overall defensive play along with an urgency and physicality down low around his net. At this time, Beaulieu is just lacking the maturity, experience, and strength to play at the next level.

3. (4) Jarred Tinordi, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 22nd overall in 2010

Tinordi has such a simple, solid defensive game and has been the Bulldogs' best shutdown defenseman. He has not been a liability offensively, has shown good puck-moving skills, and skates very well for a 6'6 blueliner. The tough defender has the physicality and grit to play at the NHL level soon than expected. He has become the team's best penalty killer and is learning when to drop the gloves for his teammates.

Tinordi does not have Beaulieu's offensive upside but he is likely to play top-four minutes when he gets to the NHL. The big blueliner might see time at the NHL level this year if there are a lot of injuries to the Canadien's defense corps. His upside potential might be bigger than people believe if he keeps improving his overall game at its present pace.

4. (6) Brendan Gallagher, RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 147th overall in 2010

Gallagher was the best forward at the AHL level and was the Bulldogs' leading scorer before being invited to the Canadiens training camp where he stuck with the NHL team. Bringing tons of energy to the ice, Gallagher loves to drive the net and get under the opposition's skin, but also has a knack for getting the puck off his stick quickly towards the net. He seems to play the game without fear of anyone.

The 20-year-old is having success at the NHL level and his tenacity around the puck is infectious with his veteran teammates on the Canadiens. The NHL rookie winger brings a more consistent effort and has good offensive skills to match, compared to the other forward prospects in the Canadiens' organization at this time.

5. (6) Danny Kristo, RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall in 2008

Kristo has been North Dakota's best offensive weapon and is having his best season at the NCAA level despite some off-ice issues. The talented forward still has a tendency to disappear in the big games this season against the better teams and then light it up against the weaker ones. He has improved his two-way game over the last two seasons and has learned to control his temper.

It's his consistency, work ethic, and desire that just are not up there with those above him on this list, though maybe when he turns pro in the spring it will change. Kristo needs to mature and be shown what it takes to get to the NHL level because the skill and talent are already there. Time will tell if he is ready to make the jump or not.

6. (5) Sebastian Collberg, RW, 8.0D
Acquired: 2nd round, 33rd overall in 2012

At the start of the year, Collberg struggled offensively against the men in the Swedish Elite League and has not seen as much ice time as last season. The 19-year-old needs to mature into his body but has to see more minutes on his team's top-two lines in order to exploit his offensive talent. Unfortunately, his coach prefers not to have the younger players playing top minutes unless there are no other options.

Collberg performed very well at the WJC against his own age group. His release and shot are already at a pro level and his offensive potential are high-end, but he needs to show better offensive numbers in order to move up in the rankings. His offensive talent might be higher than Gallagher and Kristo but the rest of his game still needs more growth before he has a chance to play at the NHL level.

7. (3) Louis Leblanc, C, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall in 2009

To start his season, Leblanc suffered a high ankle sprain and has not played up to last season capabilities so far. It has been a struggle offensively and he seems to be having a minor setback in his overall development. He could however be having the same issues that Max Pacioretty had in the AHL before having success in the NHL. His offensive game is starting to pick up and his skating speed is returning so he might turn this year around soon.

Leblanc has a tendency to elevate his compete level when playing against a higher level of competition. Last year, he performed better at the NHL level than when he was down in the AHL with Hamilton. The versatile forward has a better two-way game than the offensive prospects ahead of him but is not nearly as skilled as Gallagher, Kristo, or Collberg.

8. (9) Morgan Ellis, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall in 2010

Since the rough start to his season, Ellis has been improving his overall game as the rookie pro adjusts to the speed at the AHL level. He struggled out of the gate with a groin injury that affected his skate strength and speed. The two-way defender has picked up his physicality down low and recently has been used more on the penalty killing unit.

Ellis could be putting up better offensive numbers if the coaches used him more on the power play because his big shot seems to score when it hits the net. He has not shot the puck nearly enough which could be due to the team struggling during the first half the season. Ellis is maturing into a pro level defenseman but it is likely going to take him a couple of years to grow into an NHL player.

9. (10) Michael Bournival, C, 7.0C
Acquired: Trade with the Colorado Avalanche, November 2010

Bournival has struggled to score but not from a lack of trying and he brings energy on every shift. His motor never stops running and his defensive game has been very good on a weak Hamilton team. His penalty killing ability and overall versatility has kept him on the ice quite a bit. He needs to play with more physicality and mature into his young body.

Bournival should improve his overall two-way game as his rookie season progresses and his offensive potential will reappear along with his confidence at the AHL level. His work ethic, character, and skating speed could get him to the NHL but he needs to provide more offense to be a checking centerman for the Canadiens in the near future.

10. (11) Patrick Holland, RW, 7.0C
Acquired: Trade with the Calgary Flames, January 2012

Holland possesses a very quick set of hands along with excellent vision and hockey smarts. He has the offensive tools to potentially be a very good playmaker that can score goals. This season, he has been used at all three forward positions and has controlled the power play from the circle as well as the point.

If Holland can gain weight and strength over the next couple of years then he has the offensive potential to be right there with prospects like Collberg, Kristo, and Gallagher. He will need more time learning how to be a pro player at the AHL level but could get the opportunity in the NHL if his development continues at this pace.

11. (12) Darren Dietz, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 138th overall in 2011

Dietz has the right work ethic and attitude to get to the NHL level and has improved his overall game this season. His high hockey IQ along with his puck-moving skills can get the physical defender out of most tight spots in his end of the rink. He is a fluid skater in all four directions and has good offensive vision from playing forward at times last season. He has been on fire of late as the Saskatoon Blades have been steadily improving in the WHL standings.

Dietz could surpass Ellis amongst the Canadiens' defense prospects as he plays the same complete game, but has a harder point shot and is a tough customer when dropping the gloves. His nastiness is a missing ingredient on Montreal's back-end. Dietz has definitely caught the attention of the Canadiens' management team and should be offered an NHL entry level contract very soon.

12. (13) Dalton Thrower, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 51st overall in 2012

Thrower started this season on the wrong foot with a couple of suspensions and missing time with injuries. He has the physicality, toughness, and offensive skills to get to the NHL level. His potential could be right up there with Beaulieu but his work ethic and attitude will need to get better in order to reach it.

Thrower still needs to work on some of his defensive issues like positioning, boxing out in front of the net, gap control, and his pivoting footwork before he can move onto the pro level. At this time, his overall game has not progressed enough to surpass those defensemen above him in the Canadiens prospect pool. The young defenseman still has plenty of time to correct his issues and move up the team's depth chart.

13. (15) Charles Hudon, LW 7.5D
Acquired: 5th round, 122nd overall in 2012

Hudon has the hockey smarts, vision, and offensive skills to be a potential top-six player but he needs to increase his acceleration and bulk up to play at the NHL level. He has been a very complete player this year while being Chicoutimi's offensive engine. The team's captain has killed penalties, leads the rush, as well as mans the point on the powerplay.

At times, the talented winger has been guilty of trying to do too much by himself for his struggling team. Over the last two years, injuries issues have also been a problem for the talent forward but he has time to mature and grow into his body. He will have another year at the junior level and will be expected to play for Team Canada at the 2014 WJC. Hudon could be a real gem for the Montreal Canadiens if he can stay healthy enough to get there.

14. (14) Tim Bozon, LW, 7.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall in 2012

Bozon is a natural goal scorer but has at times tried to be a playmaker and consequently disappear for small stretches this season. He needs to work on his physicality and defensive game but you cannot teach the scoring talent that he possesses. He will have another year at the junior level to mature and learn to dominate in the offensive zone.

Bozon does not have the overall game that Hudon has, but is the better pure scorer. If he loses confidence in his scoring abilities then not having a more complete game might be the only thing that stops him from getting to the NHL. He has the potential to grow into a top-line player.

15. (NR) Gabriel Dumont, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 139th overall in 2009

Dumont has been Hamilton's top offensive player since Gallagher moved up to the NHL. The tough centerman brings it every game and stepped up his offensive game since Geoffrion, Leblanc, and Aaron Palushaj (COL) went down with injuries early in the year. His two-way game has really flourished this season and he has set an excellent example of how to be a pro player for the rookies on the young Bulldogs' team.

Dumont has moved up the organization's depth chart with the growth and maturity of his game. He could play on the third or fourth line for the Canadiens in the future if given the opportunity as an injury replacement. The hard working forward might be living his dream to play full-time for Montreal at the NHL level in the very near future.

16. (16) Blake Geoffrion, LW, 6.0B
Acquired: Trade with the Nashville Predators, February 2012

Geoffrion was one of the better players for the Hamilton Bulldogs at the AHL level before his unlucky skull injury. He is tough enough mentally to try and return to hockey if the doctors clear him medically at some point. However, it is not supposed to be any time this season.

Geoffrion still has the game to be a bottom-six forward at the NHL level and has more potential than the prospects below him on the rankings. His chances for a full recovery are excellent but his hockey career might still be in jeopardy. Until he announces his actual retirement from playing, do not count out his return to the NHL career with the Canadiens.

17. (19) Greg Pateryn, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, July 2008

After only seven games at the start of the AHL season, Pateryn was forced to have elbow surgery and missed most of the first half of the year. He has played up to his potential since returning to the Bulldogs' lineup. The physical defender is playing big minutes on Hamilton's top pairing with Nathan Beaulieu and has helped settle down his partner's game. Hamilton has been on a good run since his return to their lineup.

Pateryn has the overall game, a hard point shot, and the physicality that the Canadiens are missing on their defense corps. He might have been invited to the NHL training camp if his development was not derailed by the injury. After Tinordi, the mature defenseman is probably the most likely of the defense prospects to make the jump to the NHL if the Canadiens require an injury replacement this year.

18. (17) Steve Quailer, RW, 7.0D
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall in 2008

Quailer has shown flashes of his soft hands in tight but will need more development time at the AHL level. He needs to play with more confidence and bring a consistent effort every game. The big forward has the versatility to play all the forward positions and skates well for a player of his size.

He has the potential to be a bottom-six forward at the NHL level but needs to bring more physicality along the boards and around the opposition's net. After several seasons with knee problems, he needs to stay healthy for the entire year in order to advance his overall game. Quailer could still be a possible power forward if he can put it all together.

19. (18) Mac Bennett, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall in 2009

This year, Bennett's Michigan team has suffered injuries to their defense corps and is not as strong of a team as the last couple of seasons. It has forced him to play a more offensive game and he is still making high risk mistakes on both sides of the puck which have led to goals against his team. The mobile defender is clearly missing his partner, Pateryn in the defensive end of the ice. He needs to improve his play and physicality down low around his net.

Bennett suffered a knee injury which kept him out of action for about four weeks and his overall game has not returned yet. He might have another year of development at the NCAA level or he could take the next step and turn pro this coming spring.

20. (NR) Magnus Nygren, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall in 2011

Nygren is having a breakout year offensively and has greatly improved his overall defensive game this season. His puck-moving style fits very well to the big European ice surface but only time will tell if his game can translate to the North America style. The Canadiens have to sign him to a NHL entry level contract and could bring him to Hamilton later this season or early next year.

Nygren is a right-handed shooter on the powerplay and possesses an excellent shot that gets through traffic and hits the net a large percentage of the time. He has good mobility and offensive skills, but it is his improved defensive positioning and the reduction of high risk plays in his end that has vaulted him onto the Top 20 list.