Welcome back to my ranking of the Montreal Canadiens top 30 prospects. This is part two of seven, which will cover prospects ranked 30-26. It’s important to keep in mind that this is entirely my opinion and I am not a scout. In many cases, the difference between two prospects is minimal. The season breakdown and talent analysis for each prospect is meant to be as concise as possible, while still maintaining a high level of detail and information. Each profile will also be accompanied by a explanation ranking, in efforts to provide a fair and objective rationale behind my ranking.
30) Josiah Didier
Drafted: 97th, 4th, 2011
D | 6’03” 218 | University of Denver (NCAA)
Stats: 36GP 1G 7A 8P
In Didier’s junior year of university, he continued to be among the conference’s top defensive defencemen. Didier finally scored his first ever NCAA goal and set a new career high in points with eight. It wasn’t a year of tremendous progression for the physical specimen, but he showed flashes of something more at times.
As mentioned, Didier is a shutdown defender. He plays a “take no prisoners” style of game and always looks for the most effective play defensively. He’s a hulking player, who understands how to use his frame to his advantage. He hits like a truck and unloads on players along the boards. He’s aggressive in front of the net and backs down from nobody. At the same time, he’s not a dirty player and doesn’t take himself out of position to punish a player. He blends defensive smarts and a physical game exceptionally well.
For such a hulking player, Didier’s skating ability is quite impressive. He’s not a fantastic lateral skater, but his top-end speed and acceleration are quite good. He wins a large portion of his foot faces and unlike many big defenders, doesn’t struggle when facing faster players.
Most of Didier’s concerns stem from his puck skills, or lack of. He doesn’t have a particularly impressive shot. He typically shooting low for rebounds and doesn’t always get his shot through. His outlet pass is really hit or miss–sometimes he will wow you with a quick pass up the ice and then others he will throw away what should be a routine play. He’s not nearly aggressive enough in pinching or carrying the puck. In his own zone, he can commit costly turnovers with the puck as he often looks like a deer in headlights. Additionally, the progression in Didier’s puck skills have been minimal at best.
Didier’s defensive game and hulking frame make him an intriguing prospect, but his puck skills need serious refinement. A year of considerable progression will be needed next year in order for him to earn an NHL contract.
Ranking Explanation: Didier’s frame, defensive ability, and skating stride push him into the 30th spot over Stefan Fournier and Jack Nevins. At this point, those two have the upside of a fourth line player, whereas Didier’s is probably a bottom pairing defender. Didier brings a high-end shutdown game, with good skating, making him a rarer breed of player. Unfortunately, his stagnated offensive game and severe lack of puck skills really cost him. He gets pushed behind prospects with more upside, like Jake Evans and Mark MacMillan.
29) Jake Evans
Drafted: 207th, 7th, 2014
C/RW | 6’00 180 | St. Michael’s Buzzers (OJHL)
Regular Season: 49GP 16G 47A 63P | Playoffs: 5GP 0G 5A 5P
Evans enjoyed a tremendous year with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the OJHL. Evans had a fantastic rookie year in the OJHL two seasons ago and managed to improve upon this past year. Evans finished second in team scoring was named the OJHL First Team All-Prospects.
Evans is certainly a skilled player. He’s a tremendous skater, especially technique-wise. He owns a powerful stride and fantastic top-end speed. He moves well laterally and owns solid balance despite his average frame. He loves to lug the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone.
More of a passer than a shooter. He has the ability to complete difficult passes with ease and makes great passes under pressure. He’s a strong passer off the cycle, too. Don’t be mislead by his lack of goals; he’s a quality finisher. He possesses an accurate shot and owns great hands around the goal. Despite owning a quality shot, he doesn’t use it often enough. He protects the puck quite well and certainly is a puck possession player.
Evans owns a fairly solid defensive game. He’s smart and backchecks quite well; however, he’s prone to leaving the zone early and can get lazy. His compete level comes and goes. Sometimes he will show you a power-type of game and then the next he will look like a perimeter player. He’s prone to taking soft shifts and doesn’t seem consistently engaged.
Evans is a home run swing. He’s got lots of upside, but he lacks the consistency to be considered anything more than a long-term project. He’s committed to the University of Notre Dame for next season.
Ranking Explanation: Evans is clearly a skilled player, but his track record simply isn’t lengthy enough to be placed higher. Additionally, his lack of consistency is a huge problem that could not just affect his professional career, but his NCAA one, too. Personally, I think that Evans has more upside than Josiah Didier, which is probably the biggest deciding factor. Compared to Stefan Fournier and Jack Nevins, he has more upside (two players with likely fourth line upside versus a player with potential to be a decent third line player).
28) Mark MacMillan
Drafted: 113th, 4th, 2010
C/LW | 6’00” 183 | University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Stats: 38GP 10G 16A 26P
After being stuck behind the likes of Brock Nelson, Danny Kristo, and Corban Knight, it appeared MacMillan would finally become one of the go-to guys this past season. Unfortunately, that simply didn’t happen, at least not to begin the season. MacMillan suffered a lower-body injury and struggled until the New Year, where he racked up 21 of his 26 points in his final 24 games. He rotated quite a bit between left wing and centre, typically finding himself on the second line.
First and foremost, MacMillan is a speedster. He owns excellent top speed and a first few steps that most players dream about. He’s not the shiftiest player, but he can blow by defenders and loves to cut wide and drive the net.
MacMillan uses his skating ability to become a strong two-way player. He takes unique, but effective routes on the backcheck, allowing to him to consistently break up plays. He’s a top penalty killer in his conference, and has been since his freshman year, largely thanks to his speed. He makes consistently good reads. He additionally plays a hard-nosed game. He’s not the biggest player on the ice, but he often plays like it, hitting everything that moves and winning puck battles.
Beyond his speed, MacMillan has a solid arsenal of offensive tools. MacMillan’s primarily a playmaker off the rush, as he’s able to connect passes of high difficultly. He also owns a plus set of hands, but he’s not overly fancy and prefers to use them to protect the puck, rather than dangle. Around the net is where he scores most of his goals. Redirections, garbage goals, and quick snapshots are the main weapons in his goal-scoring arsenal. His wrist shot has a deceptive release, but both the power and accuracy need work.
MacMillan desperately needs to fill out. At the collegiate level he often gets outmuscled. Considering his intense, gritty style of game, he must continue to add strength and mass to his frame. Offensively, he doesn’t consistently show high-end awareness and typically falls back into the role of being a complementary player.
Ranking Explanation: MacMillan has yet to be the focal point on his NCAA team, but he’s had fairly solid production. The offensive consistency just hasn’t been there to rank him above players like Daniel Audette and Patrick Holland (who both have equal, if not better offensive tool kits). MacMillan’s a superior skater and two-way player than Evans. When factoring in MacMillan’s better track record and more consistent, gritty game, he appears to have every bit as much upside as Evans and seems more likely to play in the NHL.
27) Hayden Hawkey
Drafted: 177th, 6th, 2014
G | 6’02″ 174 | Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Regular Season: 33GP 22-6-3, .926 SV%, 1.99 GAA
The 2013-2014 USHL Goaltender of the Year was selected as a second-time eligible. Hawkey sports a fantastic name and is clearly a fantastic goaltender. After spending last season with the Colorado Thunderbirds U18 of the MWEHL, Hawkey burst on to the USHL scene.
First and foremost, Hawkey is a tremendous athlete. He’s extremely athletic and owns fantastic lateral movement. He pushes off the posts quickly. He’s calm and poised in the net. Omaha was a solid defensive team, but Hawkey certainly had to stand on his head from time to time. He had USHL’s best GAA, SV% and was on the First All-Star Team.
Hawkey owns a quick glove hand, but needs to improve his blocker side. However, Hawkey’s best ability is his play down low. He’s lightning quick, shuts the five hole in a hurry, and owns top-notch reactions. Additionally, Hawkey has fairly good rebound control, but could stand to improve it.
Hawkey is committed to Providence University for the 2015-2016 season. He might not get much action though, as Jon Gillies has to yet to sign a contract with the Calgary Flames. Gillies is one of the NCAA’s top goaltenders and would essentially be a lock to start for Providence if he return for his senior year. Next season, Hawkey appears as though he will return to Omaha and remain the team’s starting goaltender.
Ranking Explanation: Hawkey was one of the most difficult prospects to rank on this list. Not only is there a crazy inconsistency among projecting goaltenders, but Hawkey was drafted a second-year eligible. Hawkey’s year was absolutely fantastic–no doubt about it. He posted one of the best seasons out of all the prospects in the organization. His good size and fantastic athletic ability get him a spot on this list. However, he’s not as proven as other goaltenders, like Zach Fucale and Dustin Tokarski. Another year like the one he just posted and he could sky-rocket up the list.
26) Morgan Ellis
Drafted: 117th, 4th, 2010
D | 6’01” 204 | Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Regular Season: 59GP 3G 7A 10P
After a highly disappointing rookie year in the AHL, Ellis slowly began to find his way this season. Ellis still has yet to show the ability that he did in his final year of junior, both offensively and defensively. Over the course of the year, Ellis went from a healthy scratch to a staple defencemen. Despite some slip ups, Ellis played fairly good hockey.
Ellis is a stay-at-home defender. He makes good reads in his own zone, especially in sustained pressure scenarios. He clears the puck effectively and can connect with a solid outlet pass. He’s fairly aggressive along the boards and around the goal. He possesses an active stick, which he uses to break up plays quickly turn the play around.
It hasn’t translated to the AHL yet, but Ellis owns a rocket of a slapshot. It’s hard and accurate. He generates most of his offence with blasts from the point and has shown noticeable improvement in his ability to get pucks on net. He makes safe plays in regards to pinching, and in some circumstances, actually plays it too safe.
Simply put, Ellis looks too slow in the AHL. He owns clumsy feet and struggles mightily against speedy forwards. Additionally, his decision-making clearly isn’t up to par. He makes poor decisions under pressure and struggles to defend off the rush. He also has to be a tougher player to play against, as he often leaves players unharmed despite occupying scoring areas. It’s clear there are abilities there, but as of now, Ellis has shown very little at the professional level.
Ranking Explanation: It hasn’t been a pretty transition to professional hockey for Ellis. However, it’s clear there’s still lots to work with. Ellis possesses a good skill set that could make him a decent bottom-pairing option. Ellis has quite a bit of untapped offensive potential, considerably more than Josiah Didier. That offensive potential, along with his smarts and size also give him the edge over those below him.
Check back soon for prospects #25-21!