Canadiens NCAA prospects update

By Jason Menard

The Montreal Canadiens have a trio of prospects playing in the NCAA. And while none are really setting the world on fire, all three have big potential – the key word being ‘big’ as all three measure in at over 6’2.

The three prospects find themselves at dynamically different points in their career: the highly-touted first-rounder is undergoing a slow and steady transition with a league powerhouse; the feisty sophomore is at the point of either making the leap to respectability or falling into the pit of mediocrity; and the grizzled junior appears to be struggling with inflated expectations and the lingering after-effects of a season-ending injury.

Working in all three of these players’ favor, however, is that the one thing the Canadiens’ organization is blessed with is depth at the minor league level. These players can benefit from developing at their own speed without the need of the club to push them to a level before they’re ready. And, in light of this trio of performances to date, the players better hope that time really is on their side.

David Fischer, D, (1st round, 2006)

Fischer has made the jump from Apple Valley High School to the high-profile, high-pressure environment of the defending champion University of Minnesota. And the reigning Minnesota Mr. Hockey has made a smooth transition to the collegiate ranks, and made the most of his opportunities to impress the Montreal brass.

Fischer has played a significant role in the Golden Gophers’ continued dominance of the WCHA, propelling the squad to a 20-2-3 record overall (12-1-3 in the WCHA). Fischer’s Gophers are riding the crest of a 21-game home unbeaten streak and the club has spent a solid 10 weeks at the top of the NCAA rankings.

He’s made a smooth transition to the league, from high school standout to NCAA freshman, with his presence, positioning, and measured play. As a rookie entering the league on a powerful squad, Fischer hasn’t been looked upon to provide an offensive spark (and has three points – all assists – in 24 games), nor has he been required to be The Man on the blueline (another player by the name of Erik Johnson has that honor).

In the end, he’s been allowed to develop at his own rate, showing adequate defensive awareness (+3 plus/minus rating), and working on filling out that lanky frame of his. Despite being the Habs’ first-round selection, he’s actually the least-heralded of the Gophers’ three freshmen additions, behind Johnson (STL) and Kyle Okposo (NYI). It’s a situation that probably works out best for him as he’s allowed to develop in relative anonymity.

Not yet 19 – Fischer celebrates his birthday on Feb. 19th – and only 187 pounds, the lean blueliner has plenty of room to pack on the muscle mass, measuring in at 6’4. However, one of the things that attracted the Habs to him was his leadership ability – something that he’s continued to show on the ice even as a freshman.

And while Fischer’s collegiate career has been notable for its lack of dynamism, his performance at summer camps amongst prospects had scouts literally beaming with joy. He was able to keep up with the play and showed the requisite adjustments leading the club to believe that he could be a top-flight blueliner with a few more years’ seasoning.

The Habs have the luxury of time with their young prospect and he was selected with the knowledge that he is a long-term project with tremendous upside. With the fact that Fischer is filling a depth defenseman role on a stacked Minnesota squad that’s dominating the WCHA, this season marks a transitional period in the blueliner’s career. One would expect better things as he enters his sophomore and junior seasons.

J.T. (James) Wyman, F, (4th round, 2004)

Wyman is in his junior season with the Dartmouth Big Green. When he was selected by the Habs in 2004, the Edina, Minn. native was touted as having tremendous offensive upside, but he’s been unable to translate that potential into performance. After a pair of solid seasons that saw him total 11 and 20 points, he was expected to take on a more dynamic offensive role with the club. To date, however, he’s struggled offensively accounting for just three goals in 19 games en route to eight points.

Wyman, who turns 20 on Feb. 27th, has worked on developing his all-around game, seeing time on both the power play and the penalty kill. In addition, he’s spent some time in the weight room packing on some pounds to fill out that 6’2 frame. Right now he’s sitting at just over 210 pounds, which has enabled him to add a little more physicality to his game.

Of note, Wyman has played solidly after breaking his ankle last season. As he approaches the anniversary of that injury (Feb. 25) he appears to be rounding back into form and looks to end the season on a higher note. In light of a less-than-stellar season so far, expect Wyman to take full advantage of having another year at the collegiate ranks to further his development, as anything more than a depth spot on an ECHL squad looks to be out of reach right now.

With the Big Green in a dogfight for positioning with Cornell and Yale in the Ivy League, Wyman’s going to need to step up his offensive game, take more of a leadership role, and play like he was expected to coming into this season.

Philippe Paquet, D, (7th round, 2005)

The 19-year-old Quebec City native’s coach at Clarkson indicated that he wanted Paquet to come into his sophomore campaign looking to do two main things: become a more steady contributor on the blueline and stay out of the penalty box.

It’s not a stretch to say that the former would be greatly aided by the latter, but Paquet’s promising freshman campaign was marred by the fact that he took a number of unnecessary penalties. In fact, in just 37 collegiate games last season, the 6’3 blueliner racked up 91 minutes in penalties.

Well, the best-laid plans often go awry. In just 21 games to date, Paquet’s already exceeded his penalty totals from last season, having hit the century mark. Offensively, his game has remained the same. Paquet’s never going to be the offensive quarterback on the blueline – last year he finished with two goals and seven points, this season he’s on a similar pace with one goal and three assists to his name. The key to Paquet’s game is defensive responsibility, physical play, and using his strength and size to establish solid positioning.

When he’s on the ice, Paquet has performed adequately and has been a solid contributor to his squad’s current third-place standing in the ECAC. Never flashy, but frequently solid, the blueliner needs to learn to take better penalties and avoid putting his club in jeopardy with reactionary calls. Continued work on better positioning would also help him avoid having to resort to more drastic defensive measures.

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