2013-2014 Prospect Season Preview

With NHL pre-season underway and Major Junior hockey starting up, it’s time to take a look at the Canadiens’ prospects. The organization currently has 37 prospects (not including Galchenyuk and Gallagher) spread over nine different leagues. The league with the most prospects is the AHL/ECHL, with 20 prospects currently with professional contracts in the Canadiens organization. The second most popular league–the NCAA–has five prospects, followed closely by the QMJHL with four, and the OHL with three. Fifth place is a two-way tie between the WHL and the Swedish Hockey League (formerly, Elitserien or SEL). Finally, the SM-Liiga rounds out the list with a single prospect.

 

AHL/ECHL

Mike Condon following the play Photo: Shelley Szwast, goprincetigers.com

Mike Condon
Photo: Shelley Szwast, goprincetigers.com

The Canadiens have a gluttony of prospects at the professional level as more than half of the organization’s prospects are playing in the AHL or ECHL. Four out of the five Canadiens’ goaltending prospects currently play at the pro level, making it a very crowded crease. Recently re-signed, Dustin Tokarski, is the most prominent of the four tenders. Acquired in a mid-season trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cedrick Desjardins, Tokarski went on to post a .927 SV% and a 2.22 GAA in 15 games with Bulldogs. Tokarski has the starting job in Hamilton all but locked up, leaving Mike CondonPeter Delmas, and Robert Mayer to battle it out for the backup position. Mayer, after signing a contract with Biel of the NLA, decided against heading across the pond once the Canadiens offered him a contract extension, so he will most likely be handed the second position. Princeton University graduate, Mike Condon, and Peter Delmas will probably see lots of action with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.

Similar to the crease, the blueline also is going to be quite crowded with potentially six prospects on the backend, not counting Joël Chouinard, Matt Grassi, and Drew Schiestel who all have signed AHL contracts with the Bulldogs. Headlining the Bulldogs’ blueline are a pair of first round draft picks–Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. The offensive defenceman, Nathan Beaulieu tied for the Bulldogs’ scoring lead with 31 points as a rookie. Beaulieu appeared in six games with the Canadiens, picking up a pair of assists. The 6’6″ Jarred Tinordi earned two call ups with the Canadiens and played in eight season games as well as five playoff games. In his first season of professional hockey, Tinordi donned an ‘A’ on his jersey and emerged as arguably the Bulldogs most consistent defender. With the recent addition of Douglas Murray, the Canadiens have eight NHL calibre defenceman locked up, which will make it difficult for both Beaulieu and Tinordi to crack the lineup. The third and final prospect who saw NHL time from the Dogs’ blueline last year was Greg Pateryn. The steady, defensive defenceman had a very good year in Hamilton despite battling injuries as he scored seven goals and added five assists in 39 games. Morgan Ellis, a two-way defenceman, struggled at most points of the season. The former QMJHL Kevin Lowe Trophy winner only picked up 8 points in 71 games and was generally disappointing with his play. Ellis will have to become quicker and more confident if he is to have a more successful campaign. A pair of newcomers, Darren Dietz and Magnus Nygren, will be looking to earn a roster spot on the crowded blueline. Darren Dietz, led all CHL defenders in goal scoring, with 24. A physical, hard-nosed, two-way defender, Dietz should have success at the professional level with his skill set. Nygren lead all defenders, in the SHL, in goal scoring with 13. Nygren took home the Borje Salming Trophy for the SHL’s best Swedish defenceman. When you take into account his powerplay wizardry, the lack of offensive talent on the Bulldogs blueline, and his four years of professional hockey experience, Nygren’s spot on the blueline is his to lose.

Christian Thomas

Christian Thomas

Upfront, the Bulldogs start to get thin. Last season, the Bulldogs scored a league worst 159 goals. To increase the productivity upfront, the Canadiens signed a pair of veterans in Martin St. Pierre and Nick Tarnasky as well as re-upped Mike Blunden and Stefan Chaput and signed young players Justin Courtnall, Ben Duffy, and Stephen MacAulay to AHL contracts. The leading scorer (tied with Beaulieu) of the Bulldogs, Gabriel Dumont, will be eligible for waivers this upcoming season, so there’s a chance he won’t see any time with the Bulldogs at all. After spending half a season in the NHL in 2011-2012, Louis Leblanc, struggled to produce last season as he scored a measly 18 points in 62 games. Leblanc will be looking to bounce back and make an impact in his final year of his entry level contract. Michaël Bournival and Patrick Holland, who sat third and fourth in Bulldogs scoring respectively, will be looking to build upon strong second half to last years’ season. Both players should see ample time in the top six and be given every chance to produce. Acquired for Danny Kristo shortly after the draft, sniper Christian Thomas, will also look to carry his momentum from his strong second half play into the upcoming season. Thomas will be one of the go-to guys on offence as he scored 35 points last year with Connecticut (more than any Bulldog). Rounding out the seven potential returning prospects upfront for Bulldogs are Joonas Nättinen and Steve Quailer. Both had disappointing years last year. Nättinen struggled with injuries after a solid rookie season back in 2011-2012 and Quailer was relegated to the fourth line for the great portion of the season where he struggled mightily. Two new full time players to the team are 2013 NHL Entry Draft 3rd round pick, Sven Andrighetto, and free agent signing from the Memorial Cup winning, Halifax Mooseheads, Stefan Fournier. Andrighetto is a diminutive, but incredibly skilled winger who put up 98 points in 53 regular season games as well as 30 points in 14 playoff games. Fournier is a big, lumbering forward who’s at best down low crashing the net. A unique situation, Erik Nyström, a sixth round draft pick in 2012, signed a 25 game professional try-out contract with the Bulldogs. He’s a very good skater with slick hands that had modest production in the Allsvenskan this past season. If all goes well for him, he could earn a stay longer than 25 games.

 

OHL

The Canadiens only have three prospects in the OHL, all of whom are cut from the same cloth. 6’5″ Mike McCarron headlines the group. The big power winger inked an entry-level contract with the Canadiens and will head to the London Knights to play for Dale and Mark Hunter. The Knights are the hosts of the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup and as such will be guaranteed a berth. McCarron is all but guaranteed a spot in the Knights’ top six as they will lose leading scorer Seth Griffith and third leading scorer, Alex Broadhurst. 2013 third round pick, Connor Crisp will also be a top six winger for his team, the Sudbury Wolves. The Wolves are a young team that will be competitors this season. Crisp is a heart and soul player who pays the price to score a goal and is at his best in front of the net. Rounding out the trio is centreman Brady Vail who will be looking to have a significantly better season. Vail finished second in Windsor Spitfires scoring, but only added three more points to his 62 total in his draft year. However, Vail was forced to play defence and the Spitfires struggled immensely for most of the year. With Alexander Khokhlachev graduating, Vail will be given another opportunity to centre the first line of Spitfires, where he hopefully has success.

 

 

QMJHL

Unlike the OHL, the QMJHL contains a variety of Canadiens prospects. The QMJHL has the organizations’ top goaltending prospect in Halifax Moosehead Zach Fucale. Fucale, a 2013 draft pick, was picked up in the second round, but was thought to be a first round pick. He has the ability to become a starting goaltender in the NHL with his composure and technical ability. Since the age of 16, Fucale has been the starting netminder for the Halifax Mooseheads. This season he will have to continue to work on his focus as he tends to let in softies and he must continue to perfect his technique.

Jeremy Gregoire Photo: Maxime Picard, Archives La Tribune

Jeremy Gregoire
Photo: Maxime Picard, Archives La Tribune

In addition to possessing the organization’s best goaltender prospect, the QMJHL also has three forward prospects. The biggest name of these is Chicoutimi Saguenéens captain, Charles Hudon. Hudon, a fifth round pick 2012, had an incredible post draft season that saw him put 71 points in 56 games and as well as 10 points in six playoff games. Team Canada also chose him to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship, but he was not able to participate due to injury. After his junior season ended, Hudon headed to Hamilton where he, by all accounts, played very well despite being the youngest player in the AHL. Hudon will head back to Chicoutimi to finish his junior career where he will more than likely be one the league’s top offensive threats. A pair of 2013 draft picks, Martin Reway and Jérémy Grégoire, will both be playing for two of the QMJHL’s top teams–The Gatineau Olymiques and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar respectively. Reway, in his first season in North America, posted 50 points in 47 games. Despite being undersized, Reway plays with grit and has boatloads of natural skill. However, Reway must learn to use his teammates better and show more commitment to playing a complete game if he wants to be a more successful player. A sixth overall selection in the QMJHL draft, Grégoire struggled in his second QMJHL season until his trade to Baie-Comeau, where he posted 17 points in 27 games before breaking out for 16 points in 18 playoff games. The gritty forward must improve his skating and puck skills in order to produce more offence.

 

WHL

The WHL is the home of two Canadiens prospects at this moment: Tim Bozon and Dalton Thrower. Tim Bozon, an offensively gifted Swiss forward, had a tremendous season and the scoresheet agrees as he scored 36 goals and added 55 assists in 69 games. Bozon struggled at times throughout the season, but always managed to get back on track. Towards the end of the season Bozon’s playmaking ability noticeably improved and he also became a regular on the penalty kill. However, both his puck distribution and defence need a lot of work in this upcoming season. Bozon spent the entire summer training at Brossard, so hopefully all his off hard works off the ice pays off on it. If previous totals are anything to go by, expect Bozon to have a great season as he will be the go-to player on the Kamloops Blazers. While Bozon was enjoying lots of success, fellow 2012 draft pick Dalton Thrower wasn’t as lucky as he had a very tough season. He never got a chance to get going as he battled suspensions and injuries at the beginning.  Thrower is currently not signed to a contract, so there’s a high chance he will be back in the WHL for his overage year, but donning an unfamiliar jersey, one of the Vancouver Giants.

 

NCAA

Photo: denverpioneers.com, Rich Clarkson and Associate

Photo: denverpioneers.com, Rich Clarkson and Associate

 

With five prospects in the league, the NCAA has the second most Canadiens prospects playing in it. Arguably the biggest name of the five is Michigan Wolverines defenceman, Mac Bennett. The incredibly smooth skating Bennett appeared 32 games for Wolverines, picking up 18 points. The Wolverines had a tough season and will be looking to rebound. Bennett will don the ‘C’ for Wolverines in his senior year and will be expected to take a big step forward in his offensive contributions as Michigan is losing three of their top four defenceman. Hulking defender, Josiah Didier, will be playing his third season for the University of Denver Pioneers this year. Didier has yet to score a goal, but the defensive defenceman has been making his contributions felt with his strong physical game. There’s a good chance that Didier will get to see top four minutes. The final of the defenceman trio from the NCAA is Colin Sullivan. Sullivan possesses good physical tools, such as a good frame and great skating ability, however, he has not shown the hockey sense or confidence to be a defenceman at the NCAA level. He was highly sheltered and played very limited minutes in his freshman year with Boston College. With no major graduates and a pair of top recruits in defenceman Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini, Sullivan is only going to get buried deeper on the depth chart.

After transferring from the University of North Dakota, Mike Cichy, had a fairly good season at Western Michigan as he picked up 18 points in 37 games, good for fourth in team scoring. Cichy, while a skilled player, lacks a standout skill and on ice work ethic. He will have to become a more dedicated player in his senior year if he wants to be a member of the Canadiens organization by this time next season. Not lacking any sort of work ethic, toolsy forward Mark MacMillan, will be looking to expand upon a very solid sophomore year. MacMillan bounced around between top six winger and third line centre and managed to put up 25 points in 42 games all while playing his intense style of hockey. With the graduation of Corban Knight and Danny Kristo, MacMillan will surely be a top six forward for the University of North Dakota.

 

EUROPE

Three Canadiens prospects spread across two different leagues in two different countries play in Europe. Two of the biggest names are a pair of second round picks–Sebastian Collberg and Jacob de la Rose. Collberg is 5’11” sniper with good wheels and an absolute howitzer of a shot. He bounced between five different leagues over the course of the season and represented Sweden at the World Junior Championship. Finally seeing top six minutes in the SHL, Collberg put up six goals and three assists 35 games, however he only was a top six forward in about a third of those. Collberg has already signed an ELC with the Canadiens, but with a new coach and more minutes, Collberg must produce at the SHL level. Jacob de la Rose and his team, Leksands IF, earned a promotion from the Allsvenskan to the SHL. De la Rose is a powerforward with a very advanced two-way game for his age. Despite de la Rose only being on a third or fourth liner on Leksands, the team refused to release him from his contract to play for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. However, de la Rose’s contract is up at the end of this season and Spitfires’ GM Warren Rychel is convinced that de la Rose will be headed there for the 2014-2015 season.

Over in Finland, the Canadiens have a single prospect. Unlike Collberg and de la Rose, Artturi Lehkonen had no trouble breaking into his team’s top six as he not only secured a spot, but produced so well that the sniper won rookie of the year in the SM-Liiga and finished second in scoring on KalPa. While undersized, Lehkonen has no fear of going into tough areas of the ice and actually thrives in them. With KalPa’s top scorer, Sakari Salminen moving on to the KHL, Lehkonen will be relied upon to produce.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 − 6 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

In Defence of Jonathan Drouin

                                                                                    (Jonathan Drouin: Photo by TVA Sports) The Montreal Canadiens have slipped out the […]

Share Button

JOIN THE CONVERSATION