Canadiens top 20 prospects

By Jason Menard

Top 20 at a glance

1. (7) Guillaume Latendresse, RW
2. (2) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW
3. (3) Carey Price, G
4. (5) Kyle Chipchura, C
5. (6) Yann Danis, G
6. (11) Mikhail Grabovsky, LW
7. (NR) David Fischer, D
8. (12) Sergei Kostitsyn, LW
9. (9) Alexei Emelin, D
10. (13) Jaroslav Halak, G
11. (14) Juraj Mikus, C
12. (10) Ryan O’Byrne, D
13. (15) Mathieu Aubin, C
14. (17) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G
15. (NR) Mathieu Carle, D
16. (NR) Ben Maxwell, C
17. (16) Maxim Lapierre, C
18. (18) Matt D’Agostini, C
19. (20) Oskari Korpikari, D
20. (NR) Francis Lemieux, C

Any chef knows that the key to creating a successful meal requires the right ingredients. After years of owning a half-stocked pantry filled with a collection of odds and ends that didn’t quite add up, the Montreal Canadiens now have the luxury of looking at a cupboard filled with Cordon Bleu potential.

Of course, the best ingredients can taste tough or bitter if not allowed to ripen, and the overall depth of the Canadiens’ franchise allows the team the luxury to let the natural aging process work its magic. In the end, the Habs are hoping that their commitment to careful shopping will create a recipe that tastes like one thing – success.

Key: Rank, (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Age, How Acquired

1. (7) Guillaume Latendresse, RW, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall (2005)

In a development that’s sure to please fans looking for the next French-Canadian superstar to suit up for Les Glorieux, Latendresse has rocketed to the ranks of Canadiens’ prospects, wowing scouts, management, and fans alike with his combination of skill, power, and scoring progress. The Habs have long been searching for a power forward and, at long last, they appear to have developed one from within.

Latendresse took a solid run at cracking the roster last season, only to be a late cut. After getting over the initial disappointment of returning to the Junior ranks, Latendresse eventually tore up the QMJHL, finishing the season with 43 goals and 40 assists in 51 contests for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. At the recent development camp, Latendresse showed he was at the top of the class and may be ready for an early graduation. The opportunity is there for Latendresse to crack the Habs’ roster, but it’s not one that will be handed to him. He will have to beat out a veteran for a roster spot, but new head coach Guy Carbonneau has indicated that he’s amenable to the possibility. However, the smart money is that unless Latendresse can crack the top six forwards, he’ll be sent back to Drummondville and will be looked upon to play a key role at the World Junior Championships.

The beefy forward has the hands and the body to make an impact – the only thing that may be cause for concern is his head. Latendresse was recently forced to drop out of the Canadian National Junior Team development camp due to a concussion.

2. (2) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW, 21
Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall (2003)

The dynamic Belarussian enjoyed an up-and-down season with the Hamilton Bulldogs last year, but showed enough promise to earn a handful of call-ups to the NHL parent club. Late in the year, there were signs that Kostitsyn was finally starting to get it.

Blessed with enormous talent and a booming shot, Kostitsyn was often guilty of waiting for the game to come to him. Late last year, he showed a growing propensity to create his own opportunities and displayed a greater accountability on the defensive end of the rink. Kostitsyn may be one of those players that will be a far greater NHLer than he ever will be an AHLer because his elite offensive skill set will be better complemented by the premium-quality talent at the big-league level.

Kostitsyn was expected to shoulder a greater scoring load in Hamilton and he saw a slight improvement in his statistics, netting 18 goals and 47 total points. He also scored a pair of goals in a dozen NHL appearances. Key for Kostitsyn is picking up the English language and his continued acclimatizing to the North American game.

3. (3) Carey Price, G, 19
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall (2005)

Long a goaltending standout on a poor team, Price recently opened some eyes at the recent Canadian National Junior Team development camp. The young netminder has proven that he has the tools and skills to be an elite goaltender at the NHL level.

Price, at 6’2, is a commanding presence in the net. A butterfly goaltender with an above-average glove hand, Price projects as a franchise goaltender and leads an impressive crop of goaltending talent in the Habs’ system. With a logjam of netminders in the system, expect Price to hone his skills under fire again in the junior ranks.

4. (5) Kyle Chipchura, C, 20
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall (2004)

Even in the junior ranks, Chipchura carried himself like a man amongst boys, which is why it’s no surprise that he fit in so well in an AHL locker room after his call-up following the Prince Albert Raiders’ elimination from playoff contention.

Leadership is Chipchura’s calling card and it was on display again last season when he was named Team Canada’s captain for its World Junior Championship entry. Known for his defensive prowess and dedicated work ethic, Chipchura displayed some offensive flair at the WJC’s leading the team with four goals. Playing at almost a point-per-game clip in junior, Chipchura added a goal and two assists in his eight-game cameo in Hamilton.

Chipchura is reminiscent of Chris Higgins in his style of play and leave it all on the ice attitude. Not the flashiest of players or the most gifted, Chipchura wills himself to win and will make a welcome addition to the Bulldogs’ roster. It’s not out of the question that Chipchura could don the “C” with the Habs one day and play a game similar to the team’s general manager and its head coach. Being likened to Bob Gainey or Carbonneau is never a bad thing for a player.

5. (6) Yann Danis, G (25)
Acquired: Free agency

Danis jumped from Brown University right to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs and laid claim to the team’s crease in 2004-05. This past season was no different as Danis took advantage of injuries and served notice that he’s a solid candidate for long-term occupancy of the Habs’ goal.

The St. Jerome native announced his arrival to the NHL with a shutout and showed that he wasn’t out of place in his first stint with the Canadiens. Unfortunately, Danis suffered from repeated trips back and forth between Hamilton and Montreal, and languished a bit due to a convoluted netminding scenario created by the trade of Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet’s injury, and an AHL roster-sharing arrangement with the Edmonton Oilers.

Despite it all, Danis was named to the AHL All-Star game and earned the game’s MVP honor. He finished the season with an even record and a 2.97 GAA buoyed by a .902 save percentage. This season, with a more stable minor-league affiliation and established starters in the NHL level, Danis should have a comfortable year sharing netminding duties with Jaroslav Halak in Hamilton to continue his development.

6. Mikhail Grabovsky, LW (22)
Acquired: 5th round, 150th overall (2004)

Grabovsky, with an impressive performance this past year with Moscow Dynamo where he scored 28 points in 48 games, has shown that he’s ready to make the jump overseas and the Habs couldn’t be happier that he’ll be joining their Hamilton franchise.

The new NHL is all about speed and Grabovsky has that in spades. He’s also got above-average scoring prowess, which he displayed to the world during the World Championships as he paced his Belarus squad with five goals and nine assists, good for fifth overall and tied with Russian sensation Alexander Ovechkin.

In Hamilton, Grabovsky will benefit from playing alongside fellow countryman Andrei Kostitsyn and will begin the process of learning the English language and the North American game – both key desires for the Habs’ brass.

7. (NR) David Fischer, D, 18
Acquired: 1st round, 20th overall (2006)

Needing to shore up their organizational blue line depth, the Habs were delighted when they were able to trade down in the entry draft and this tall drink of water from Apple Valley HS in Minnesota still fell into their laps. At 6’3, Fischer still has plenty of room to fill out his frame, but the Habs have liked what they’ve seen so far from him.

Able to hold his own at the team’s recent development camp, Fischer is most noted for his leadership abilities.

Fischer, who earned the title of Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey this past year, will have an opportunity to continue the development of his skills at the University of Minnesota this year where he will play alongside the first overall draft pick from this season’s draft, Erik Johnson.

8. (12) Sergei Kostitsyn, LW, 19
Acquired: 7th round, 200th overall (2005)

Habs’ brass has admitted that they weren’t entirely sure what they were getting when they picked Andrei’s little brother. In fact, Sergei’s OHL squad, the London Knights, was also in the dark about what type of player they would see. Needless to say, everyone’s been delighted with what stepped off the plane from Belarus, and now the sky’s the limit for his development.

Learning from missteps made during his older brother’s transition to North America, the Habs wanted Sergei on North American soil as quickly as possible to kick-start the acclimatization process. Obviously life in the Forest City agreed with him. Sergei scored 26 goals en route to 78 points for the high-powered Knights. He upped his level of play in the playoffs, netting 37 points in just 19 games.

The team wants Kostitsyn to stay in London and take on a leadership role with the Knights. But it’s not too much of a stretch to think that the Kostitsyns could soon be the biggest brother act in la belle province since the Stastnys.

9. (9) Alexei Emelin, D, 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall (2004)

Emelin certainly made a name for himself this year in the Russian Super League – but not always for the right reasons. The tough-minded defenseman earned a suspension for an on-ice incident earlier in the year, but that’s what you’re going to get with this Russian rearguard – a player who plays close to the edge and may sometimes step over it.

The 6’ blueliner displayed some offensive flair this season with Lada Togliatti potting six goals and six assists in 43 games. Those offensive totals are all the more impressive when matched with his 129 penalty minutes.

Emelin performed admirably in the 2006 WJC and hopes to overcome his less-than-memorable ending to his season. The Habs would still like to see Emelin on North American shores to continue his development, but it may take at least another year for that to come to fruition.

10. (13) Jaroslav Halak, G, 21
Acquired: 9th round, 271st overall (2003)

With Price and Danis commanding the most ink, this Slovakian netminder made sure that he inserted his name into the goaltending debate. After overcoming an early injury and relegation to Long Beach of the ECHL, Halak made the most of his opportunity when he arrived in Hamilton pitching three shutouts in six games.

Over the remainder of the season, Halak posted a 7-6 record behind a stellar 2.29 GAA and .927 save percentage. At 5’11, Halak still has some room to fill out his frame. In addition, he stands to start the season at no worse than at the AHL level and could push for the starting role there.

11. (13) Juraj Mikus, C, 19
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall (2005)

After a few years of experience in the Slovakian Extraliga, the Habs are delighted that their 6’1 center prospect is making the jump across the Atlantic to – in a familiar refrain with Habs’ prospects – pick up the language and acclimatize to the North American game. Mikus will leave the comfortable surroundings of HK Skalica for the more frigid climes of Chicoutimi in the QMJHL.

The Slovakian center has appeared in the last two World Junior Championships, showing well two years ago, but hardly getting the opportunity to show anything last year. Habs’ management is hoping that he can build upon his Slovakian success in a more competitive league.

12. (10) Ryan O’Byrne, D, 22
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall (2003)

On Aug. 9, O’Byrne said goodbye to the comfortable halls of Cornell University, signing a contract with the Habs and forgoing his senior season with the Big Red in favor of the professional ranks.

The hulking blueliner, who eats up a lot of space in front of the net at 6’5, 225 pounds, will most likely patrol the point for the Bulldogs as he makes his first venture into the professional ranks. O’Byrne has shown steady improvement over his three years at Cornell, culminating with his being named an assistant captain for the past season.

A physical defenseman, O’Byrne has shown an increasing ability to play the offensive game, with seven goals and six assists in 28 games this past season. As defense is the Habs’ thinnest position, O’Byrne’s jump to the pro ranks may be one that combines development and opportunism.

13. (15) Matthieu Aubin, C, 19
Acquired: 5th round, 130th overall (2005)

The Habs are undoubtedly pleased with this diamond in the rough. Taken late in the 2005 draft, Aubin responded with a phenomenal offensive explosion this year for the QMJHL’s Lewiston MAINEiacs.

Aubin doubled his offensive production from the previous two years combined. He ended the season with 103 points, paced by 47 goals in 70 games, good for 11th overall in the league. Of course, it may just be in the blood. His father, Normand, racked up 258 goals during his junior tenure.

Now the pressure is on Aubin to show that this season wasn’t a fluke. He made the most of his opportunity for an increased offensive role and he’s continued his impressive play in the team’s development camp. Aubin would like to continue his development in the AHL, but will most likely return to Lewiston as an overager in order to get more ice time.

14. (17) Chris Heino-Lindberg, G, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 177th overall (2003)

Heino-Lindberg finally cracked the Swedish Elite League by suiting up for the Farjestads franchise. As a backup, he posted a 2.66 GAA in seven games, but needs to work on his save percentage, which was just .898.

This season, Heino-Lindberg will most likely earn a starting role in the Elite League, which is key to his development. The Habs don’t see the point in bringing him over to play in the ECHL. In fact, management has gone on record stating that a year as a starter in the SEL is the preferred next step in his development.

With a substantial logjam of netminders in the NHL ranks and the minor-league system, it only makes sense for Heino-Lindberg to make the most of his opportunity and bide his time.

15. (NR) Matthieu Carle, D, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall (2006)

Recognizing the need to shore up their defensive prospects and with an eye towards the way the NHL game is being played, the Habs’ were absolutely thrilled to pick up this offensive-minded blueliner, whom they foresee as a potential quarterback on the power play in the future.

Carle has good size at 6’, 206 pounds, but what have the Habs salivating are his skating abilities, nose for the net, and – most notably – his penchant for the pass. With the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last season, Carle performed at a better than point-per-game pace, racking up 69 points in 67 games. With 18 goals, Carle has shown that he’s got punch from the point. Spending 122 minutes in the penalty box, the product of Gatineau has also shown he’s not adverse to the rough stuff.

16. (NR) Ben Maxwell, C, 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall (2006)

The Canadiens were determined to pick up extra selections in the second round of the 2006 Entry Draft because of the bounty of talent they foresaw being available. The aforementioned Carle was a big part of that, but so too was the opportunity to select this playmaking center out of Kootenay.

Maxwell plays a solid two-way game and has earned the distinction of being a smart player who knows how to work the ice. Maxwell exploded this season in the WHL, firing at almost a point-per-game pace. The product of North Vancouver, BC netted 28 goals en route to 60 points in 69 games. He ramped up his production in the playoffs, adding eight points in six games.

The team projects him to be a top-two line player in the NHL, but for now will be content to watch his development in the junior ranks.

17. (15) Maxim Lapierre, C, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 61st overall (2003)

The hometown boy got to make good – at least for one game as he made his NHL debut. But the St. Leonard native is hoping to parlay his recent success into a long-term gig for the Habs. And if he does it’ll be earned through his hard work and dedication.

In his rookie season with the AHL’s Bulldogs, Lapierre potted 13 goals and 23 assists. More importantly, he displayed a defensive responsibility beyond what’s normal for a rookie, ending the season with an even plus/minus rating on a losing squad.

Lapierre is gifted with remarkable speed and a nose for doing the dirty work needed in front of the net and in the corners. His 214 AHL penalty minutes attest to his willingness to stick his nose into places from which others shy away.

18. (18) Matt D’Agostini, C, 19
Acquired: 6th round, 190th overall (2005)

D’Agostini impressed Habs brass with his continued development with the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Following a solid rookie season in the league, D’Agostini took on a greater role with the club, leading both on and off the ice.

He ended the season tallying 79 points in 66 games, and added another 28 points in 15 playoff games before the Storm was quieted by fellow prospect Sergei Kostitsyn and the London Knights. However, D’Agostini enjoyed a dominant playoff performance and pleased the Habs brass in the process.

D’Agostini earned an invite to the team’s prospect camp and they’ll be looking for him to continue his leadership and his development in the OHL ranks this season.

19. (20) Oskari Korpikari, D, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 217th overall (2003)

A bit of a flyer of a draft pick, Korpikari has panned out fairly well. Now the key is finding a way to bring the 6’1, 200-pound blueliner overseas.

Korpikari is never going to light up the score sheet, and his one goal in four years is testament to that. He’s the traditional stay-at-home defensive defenseman. But stay-at-home doesn’t mean lumbering — he has the speed necessary to keep up with the play. Entering his fifth year with Karpat of the Finnish Elite League, Korpikari did make an appearance in Canada taking part in the team’s annual prospect camp.

Expect the team to make a play for Korpikari over the next couple of years to play for Hamilton. Again, this is a player who would benefit from the language and style of play exposure available in North America.

20. (NR) Francis Lemieux, C, 22
Acquired: Free agent

Never say that Lemieux doesn’t know how to make the most out of the opportunities given to him. Undrafted by the NHL, this free agent enjoyed an impressive rookie campaign with the AHL’s Bulldogs, ending the season with 18 goals and 22 assists in 68 games.

Displaying a willingness to do the little things needed to help a team succeed, Lemieux posted a team-best +11 rating on a squad that lost more than it won. What he may not have in pure skill, Lemieux has more than compensated for in work ethic, dedication, and desire to succeed.

Missing the Cut

Jonathan Ferland, 23
Acquired: 7th round, 212th overall (2002)

Ferland fought through injuries this past season, yet still was able to enjoy a few cups of coffee with the NHL club, getting into seven games and registering his first NHL goal.

Despite the injury, Ferland continued his steady development, posting AHL career highs in goals and points, despite only playing in 39 games. He has shown glimpses of the offensive prowess that saw him net 45 goals in his final season in the QMJHL.

Corey Locke, C, 22
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall (2003)

Locke has long teased Montreal faithful with his offensive abilities. Unfortunately, he’s never shown that he has the heart to play to his maximum potential. He falls out of the top more because other players have displayed the willingness to work for the success that has, previously, come so easily to Locke.

Locke enjoyed a solid, yet unspectacular, season with the Bulldogs, but is expected to deliver more. He has the offensive talent to make it to the bigs and the game is more amenable to smaller players – he just has to want it enough to leapfrog a deep roster of Habs’ prospects.

Garth Murray, C, 23
Acquired: Trade (2005)

Murray quieted the howls of displeasure that accompanied the preseason trade that brought him to the Habs at the cost of Marcel Hossa through diligent effort and a knack for the timely goal.

Bringing a gritty edge to a team badly in need of it, Murray also rediscovered some of the scoring prowess that he displayed in the junior ranks.

Ryan White, C, 18
Acquired, 3rd round, 66th overall (2006)

Thanks in part to a bad reputation gleaned by showing up to an evaluation camp overweight, White fell to the Habs in the third round. Actually, he fell to the point where the Habs weren’t willing to risk him getting snapped up by another squad and traded to move up.

White has shown the willingness – and the all-out pleasure – of playing with an edge to his game. Last year with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen he potted 20 goals to go along with 121 penalty minutes. While he’s never going to a top-line player, he certainly projects to being the type of player you love to play with, but hate to play against.

Chris Higgins
Alex Perezhogin
Tomas Plekanec

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.