2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #20-16

Welcome back to my second annual top 30 Habs prospects. This profiles prospects ranked #20 to #16. There was a sudden increase in terms of NHL upside at the prospect ranked #21 in Daniel Audette, which continues throughout this list. This installment examines former 50 goalscorer in the OHL, two solid defenders, a four-time 30 goalscorer in the WHL, and one of the organization’s most divisive prospects.

Series Navigation:
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: Ranking Methodology and Honourable Mentions
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #30-26
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #25-21
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #20-16
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #15-11
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #10-6
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #5-1
2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: Prospect Awards & Final Thoughts

 

20) Christian Thomas
Last Year: #20
Draft: 2010, 40th overall (2nd round) (NYR) | Acquired via trade (July 2nd, 2013)
RW | 5’9” 170 | Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)/Montréal Canadiens (NHL)
AHL: 52GP 11G 11A 22P | NHL: 18G 1G 0A 1P

During an 18 game stint with the Canadiens, Thomas scored his first NHL goal with a laser beam from the top of the circle. | Photo: Ryan Remiorz, PC

During an 18 game stint with the Canadiens, Thomas scored his first NHL goal with a laser beam from the top of the circle. | Photo: Ryan Remiorz, PC

Thomas followed up one disappointing season with another one, at least on paper. Although his production stagnated, he continued to improve his two-way to the point where it can be considered above-average. Furthermore, Thomas had a solid 18 game stint with the Canadiens in a fourth line role.

The former 50 goalscorer in the OHL certainly has the ability to pot goals, even if he hasn’t demonstrated it much. He has perhaps the best shot among all forwards in the prospect pool, as both his wristshot and slapshot are extremely hard with a quick release (although his accuracy is erratic). He’s fairly effective around the net, but he simply doesn’t venture there enough. With a shot that would already put him in the upper echelon in the NHL, more shot production in necessary.

Just as frustrating is Thomas’s lack of confidence with his feet and hands. Although his acceleration isn’t particularly impressive, his top-end speed is among the best in the organization. Additionally, Thomas has a quick set of hands, but he simply doesn’t use either of them enough. Instead he plays a stop-and-go game with minimal puckhandling.

As mentioned, Thomas has improved his defensive game considerably. He shows more dedication and tactical awareness. While he continues to struggle with consistency, he’s made small steps forward. Next year will be his 24-year-old season, it’s time for him to finally take the next step.

Ranking Explanation: Christian Thomas versus Daniel Audette was one of the toughest decisions, just like last year. Thomas made notable strides in his two-way game and earned an 18 game NHL stint, where he played fairly well all things considered, but failed to improve offensively. Audette regressed in all areas exception even-strength goalscoring. The other factor considered was that Thomas’s junior career was better than Audette’s. However, this ranking could change dramatically if Thomas has another season like this past one offensively.

 

19) Brett Lernout
Last Year: #23
Draft: 2014, 73rd overall (3rd round)
RD | 6’4” 205 | Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Regular: 72GP 14G 28A 42P | Post: 4GP 1G 0A 1P

Lernout took a major step forward this past season, especially offensively.  | Photo: Vincent Ethier, RDS

Lernout took a major step forward this past season, especially offensively. | Photo: Vincent Ethier, RDS

Not enough good can be said about Lernout’s 2014-2015 campaign. The third-year defender made notable improvements across the board. With #1 defender Dillon Heatherington battling injury and the trade of Brycen Martin, Lernout emerged as the team’s #1 defender in all situations.

Last season, there were flashes of a powerplay threat in Lernout. This year, his point totals jumped by 20 points, largely attributed to his increase powerplay production. The hulking defender owns a cannon of a shot (including a wicked snapshot) with excellent accuracy. He loves to utilize his shot and seemingly always gets his shots on net. Although he still lacks vision, he should more poise with the puck in his own zone.

Lernout continues to be a solid defensive player. He cut his PIM by 33%, while becoming a more assertive player. Although he’s not a big time open-ice hitter, he’s extremely punishing (and disciplined) along the boards and around the net. However, Lernout continues to be prone to slow decision-making and defensive zone lapses. Despite owning excellent reach, he’s a fairly average poke checker. For a player who is touted as a defensive defender, he’s simply not at the level you’d expect.

With that said, due to Lernout’s ’95 birthdate, he will most likely turn pro despite just having three seasons of WHL hockey under his best. He’s a fabulous skater for a big man, especially laterally and backwards, which will surely ease the transition to professional hockey.

Ranking Explanation: Here’s the first player on the list that I really wanted to have higher, but simply couldn’t justify it. After the excellent season Lernout had, he looks set have the best professional rookie season from a defender in the organization since Nathan Beaulieu. He fits a clearer role than Mac Bennett, while being younger. I see Lernout’s potential around a #5 defender, while Christian Thomas and Daniel Audette’s around decent third-line depth scorers, with Lernout being more likely to achieve and sustain his role.

 

18) Darren Dietz
Last Year: #17
Draft: 2011, 138th overall (5th round)
RD | 6’1” 207 | Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Regular: 71GP 4G 13A 17P

Despite struggling to grab points since turning pro, Dietz remains one of the organization's top defensive prospects. | Photo: 900 CHML

Despite struggling to grab points since turning pro, Dietz remains one of the organization’s top defensive prospects. | Photo: 900 CHML

It was a fascinating year for Dietz. The sophomore defender had a great month of December followed up with an eight points in 10 games stretch in the middle of the season. However, after that, Dietz’s play fell off a cliff and he continued to be less than impressive.

In 2012-2013, Dietz led all CHL defenders in goals with 24 thanks to his fabulous shot. He possesses the rare combination of high-end power and accuracy, along with the ability to find open shooting lanes. However, he does not utilize his shot enough. He’s a smart passer across the ice, but his vision on the powerplay is what stands out. Although his hands are average, his body positioning is above-average, allowing to make clean zone exits and entries.

Dietz’s hockey sense is above-average, but his sluggish feet can’t keep up with his brain. Dietz makes smarts decisions on both sides of the puck, which is coupled with a natural aggressiveness. He’s at his best combining a punishing brand of hockey with a desire to push the play offensively. Thanks to an active stick, Dietz is a fairly effective defender off the rush; however, he has a tendency to puck chase in sustained pressure scenarios.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Dietz’s struggles at the professional level is his skating. His first few steps are horrible, limiting his ability across the ice. Although his top-end speed and backwards skating are above-average, his heavy feet hinder his agility and pivots. If he can improve his skating, Dietz will surely have a notable campaign in the AHL next season.

Ranking Explanation: Admittedly, Dietz has always been a favourite of mine. His upside is the fourth highest among defenders in the organization, as his hockey sense, two-way play, and aggressiveness make him a potential decent lower-end second pairing defender. Although his first two years of pro have been frustrating, Dietz is just 105 games removed from being one of the best defenders in the WHL. His offensive upside is greater than Brett Lernout’s, and Lernout’s defensive game is only minimally better.

 

17) Tim Bozon
Last Year: #14
Draft: 2012, 64th overall (3rd round)
LW | 6’1” 207 | Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Regular: 57GP 35G 28A 63P | Post: 7GP 3G 6A 9P

Tim Bozon finished his four-year WHL career with a staggering 140 goals, 154 assists, and 294 points in 260 games | Photo: Kootenay Ice

Tim Bozon finished his four-year WHL career with a staggering 140 goals, 154 assists, and 294 points in 260 games | Photo: Kootenay Ice

We all know Bozon’s story by now. Although Bozon’s statistics failed to improve, his two-way play notably jumped forward. He’s completed his junior career with one of the rarest feats a junior hockey player can accomplish—four consecutive 30 goal seasons.

Bozon is a goalscorer, although he still doesn’t fit the definition of a “true sniper.” His ability to score from long-range has improved—a much needed improvement of his previous “back door finisher” style. Despite having taken a much-needed step, he still struggles with consistently firing pucks on net powerfully. While he owns great stickhandling ability, he’s not a true dangler, instead relying on quick stops and starts copupled with east-west mobility to beat defenders.

As mentioned, Bozon has taken a massive step forward in the defence department. He has become much more diligent in picking up assignments and is far more willing to compete for loose pucks. Although he plays timid at times, he’s more consistent along the boards. Despite losing and then regaining his strength, he still remains a sneakily strong player with possession.

Bozon isn’t a high-end playmaker, but his ability to connect with short, quick passes under pressure makes him a good distributor. Top-end speed is still lacking, but overall he’s a plus skater with agility being his best asset.

Although there have been improvements, Bozon still doesn’t fit a true role. He doesn’t own high-end shooting or skating ability, but he does have the goalscorer’s touch.

Ranking Explanation: Bozon continues to be a player that I think will struggle to find a niche in the NHL, which prevents him from climbing higher. He’s not an exceptional two-way player, long-range shooter, or playmaker; however, he finds ways to score. He’s a decent all-around scorer with possible middle-six upside, which more than what Daniel Audette or Christian Thomas can attest to. I see his upside as being slightly better than Darren Dietz’s giving him the edge.

 

16) Zach Fucale
Last Year: #7
Draft: 2013, 26th overall (2nd round)
G | 6’2” 181 | Halifax Mooseheads/Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Halifax: 24GP, 3.20 GAA, .890 SV% | Quebec: 17GP, 3.22 GAA, .877 SV%

Despite having a horrid regular season, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Fucale posted a .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in the postseason.  | Photo: Ghyslain Bergeron, The Canadian Press

Despite having a horrid regular season, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Fucale posted a .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in the postseason. | Photo: Ghyslain Bergeron, The Canadian Press

This was the year that Fucale was supposed to prove that he wasn’t a product of great teams. Although he was fantastic at the WJC, he struggled in the QMJHL, even after his trade to the Memorial Cup host. He even lost his starting job to Callum Booth, but bounced back with a rather impressive playoff performance.

Fucale continues to demonstrate a high level of technical ability. He utilizes his angles well and combines his smarts with athleticism to fix mistakes in positioning. Although his glove hand often gets called into question, it’s well above-average. Blocker side is a similar story, as he’s inconsistent in that regard, but at his best he’s fabulous up high.

Furthermore, Fucale has a great demeanor in goal. His poise is exceptional; he never seems phased, which makes him excellent on breakaways and shootouts. While he has a nasty tendency to allow weak goals, he bounces back from them quite well. He struggled with puck tracking this year, particularly in traffic, but it hasn’t been an issue in the past.

In order for Fucale to be an NHLer, he has to limit the weak goals. He also has to improve his puck handling, decision-making, and consistency. It’s not all that uncommon for young goaltenders to struggle with consistency, but Fucale brings it to another level. Next season, Fucale will turn pro where he could back up Mike Condon in St. John’s.

Ranking Explanation: It’s worth mentioning that Fucale’s drop isn’t exclusively about his poor season, but also about a change in my ranking philosophy. Fucale plays an incredibly valuable, yet volatile position. There’s a crazy amount of variance with projecting goaltenders, and plenty of variances in Fucale’s game, which causes him drop. I still maintain that his upside is NHL starter, which is great potential than those ranked behind him, and even many of those ahead of him, but he’s simply way too far away from reaching it.

Check back soon for prospects ranked #15 to #11! 

Share Button

Leave a Reply

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

2 + five =

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

Oh Baby: Thank You Bob Cole

Ask anyone across Canada over the last half a century to describe hockey, Canada and childhood.  Many answers might come back but only one would be correct to encapsulate a response that everyone could agree with: Saturday night, The Toronto Maple Leafs versus The Montreal Canadiens with Bob Cole in the broadcast booth to sing […]

Share Button

JOIN THE CONVERSATION