2015 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #5-1

Welcome back to my second annual top 30 Habs prospects. This profiles prospects ranked #5 to #1. The top five features this year’s most improved prospect, an NHL forward, an AHL rookie sensation, and two Everett Silvertips.

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

 

5) Michael McCarron
Last Year: #8
Draft: 2013, 25th overall (1st round)
C/RW | 6’6” 225 | London Knights/Oshawa Generals (OHL)
LDN: 25GP 22G 19A 41P | OSH: 31GP 6G 21A 27P | Post: 21GP 9G 9A 18P

McCarron's 2014 Memorial Cup will be remember for the wrong reasons, his 2015 will be remembered for his play that him a spot on the All-Star Team.  | Photo: Steve Poirier, HHOF Images

McCarron’s 2014 Memorial Cup will be remember for the wrong reasons, his 2015 will be remembered for his play that him a spot on the All-Star Team. | Photo: Steve Poirier, HHOF Images

A midseason trade saw McCarron’s near-GPG scoring rate all but dry up, but his overall play continued to improve. McCarron experienced an insane upwards development curve, enabling him to emerge as one of the OHL’s top forwards. Every aspect of McCarron’s game improved, and now he will finish his junior career as one of the league’s best two-way centremen and a Memorial Cup Champion.

McCarron owns plenty of skill, including quite possibly the hardest shot among forwards on this list. Although his shot is erratic, his release continues to quicken. Furthermore, he loves to shoot the puck. Around the net, he has a soft touch and can elevate the puck in a hurry. While not a true dangler, he’s a quality stickhandler in tight, which when coupled with his strength and body positioning, make him insanely hard to strip of the puck along the boards and around the net (although he has a tendency to “over cycle” the puck). As a playmaker, McCarron can impress from time to time. He’s a quality passer off the rush, with an above-average saucer and vision. However, he has a tendency to overlook teammates to shoot the puck.

Skating is usually a concern for Brobdingnagian forwards, but not for McCarron. In fact, his top-end speed is excellent, and he’s quite deceptive. His deceptive top-end speed and agility allow him to cut wide and drive the net so effectively. Acceleration continues to be a problem for McCarron, which will be even more noticeable at the pro level considering how much of his game is based off speed.

Despite owning a unique offensive toolkit, it’s his defensive game that really shines. He’s an absolute force in the faceoff dot. Furthermore, he has the rare ability to consistently regain possession with a combination of anticipation and reach. He plays physical and can punish opponents with their heads down every now and then, but his strength is best demonstrated while in possession.

While McCarron is a force at the junior level, he still has plenty of work to do. His decision-making can be quite slow, which could result in a fairly lengthy adjustment period. His development curve is incredibly encouraging, especially because of his combination of scoring ability off the rush and cycle with an elite defensive game.

Ranking Explanation: Based on the nature of McCarron’s season he will continue to be divisive. It should be universally agreeable that McCarron has a cannon for a shot, excellent skating ability, and fantastic defensive acumen. Basically it comes down to which half you think was the outlier: McCarron’s goalscoring surge with London or sudden drought with Oshawa. I think the latter (to an extent–I have my doubts he would’ve maintained it). But there’s so much upside here. With Oshawa, especially in the playoffs, he was usually the play driver on his line. He appears to be a fairly safe prospect, regardless of his offensive upside. I see a good amount of offensive upside and safeness, which places him above Martin Reway, Artturi Lehkonen, and Sven Andrighetto.

 

4) Jacob de la Rose
Last Year: #4
Draft: 2012, 34th overall (2nd round)
C/LW | 6’3” 198 | Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)/Montréal Canadiens (NHL)
AHL: 37GP 6G 5A 11P | NHL: 33GP 4G 2A 6P | Post: 12GP 0G 0A 0P

While de la Rose posted meagre totals in the NHL, he made it clear that he's ready to step into a shutdown role in the league. | Photo: Jean-Yves Ahern, USA Today

While de la Rose posted meagre totals in the NHL, he made it clear that he’s ready to step into a shutdown role in the league. | Photo: Jean-Yves Ahern, USA Today

De la Rose returned from the WJC a new player—He struggled in the AHL before, but afterwards found himself playing with better players and contributing in all facets. That second half turnaround set de la Rose up for a successful 45-game stint in the NHL.

In the past two seasons, de la Rose has dramatically improved his puck skills. While he possesses excellent hockey sense, allowing him to find open ice and get open, he doesn’t show much confidence in his shot. His wrist shot has an average release, but it’s quite powerful. Perhaps his best shot is his under-utilized slapshot. Stickhandling has seen marked improved, especially at top speed. He is the owner of quick hands, which gives him the ability to beat defenders. However, he does have a tendency to over-stickhandle (which was more of a problem in the SHL, where he had more confidence lugging the puck). With that said, he’s more of a net driver/hashmarks and in type player.

On top of having above-average offensive acumen, de la Rose shows glimpses of great vision. Although they were few and far between this season, he can make some fabulous passes.

In the defensive zone de la Rose really shines. The 20-year-old plays a technically advanced two-way game far beyond his years. He utilizes tremendous skating ability—excellent top-end speed, explosive acceleration, and flawless stride—to become an excellent forechecker and backchecker. In the defensive zone, he continually makes excellent decisions. While he has the ability to lay the body, he doesn’t do it with much consistency.

While de la Rose owns tremendous skating, hockey sense, and defensive acumen, he lacks high-end offensive upside. His puck skills remain highly inconsistent, which can be quite frustrating and ultimately hinders his offensive upside.

Ranking Explanation: Admittedly, this was a difficult decision. De la Rose’s NHL-readiness obviously placed him above more skilled prospects like Martin Reway, Artturi Lehkonen, Sven Andrighetto, and even Michael McCarron. While McCarron has better puck skills, de la Rose is NHL-ready, which gives him the edge. However, it’s the lack of top-six upside that prevents him from cracking the top three.

 

3) Charles Hudon
Last Year: #12
Draft: 2012, 122nd overall (5th round)
C/LW | 5’10” 174 | Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Regular: 75GP 19G 38A 57P

For much of the season, Hudon led the AHL rookie in scoring. Although he cooled off, he continued to excel. | Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs

For much of the season, Hudon led the AHL rookie in scoring. Although he cooled off, he continued to excel. | Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs

After the year Hudon had, it’s easy to get over his rather stagnant final two QMJHL seasons. For a large portion of the season, Hudon was continually the ‘Dogs best player. Although he remains a player with plenty of flaws, his upside is quite impressive. He finished second in AHL rookie scoring and ‘Dogs scoring. Although he cooled off in the second half, his play remained quite good.

Hudon’s hockey sense continues to be his standout trait. Across the ice, he consistently makes good decisions, especially in the offensive zone. Although he didn’t produce shots at the same rate he did in junior, he continues to fire the puck a ton (However, he has to improve at finding open shooting lanes). The power behind his shot won’t blow you away, but his accuracy is pinpoint and release deft.

The fancy, yet controlled stickhandler will occasionally put the fans on their feet but rarely turn the puck over. On top of that, he has an absolutely ridiculous saucer pass (emphasize: ridiculous) accentuated with great vision. Although he sometimes can be selfish with the puck, overall he’s a great distributor who combines simple and difficult passes with ease.

Hudon continues to be a dedicated three-zone player. Previously, Hudon wasn’t nearly aggressive enough attacking the points and closing down shooting lanes, but now he plays a pro-style defensive game while maintaining his unique ability to methodically pick off passes. He’s a hardworker who continually pushes the play up the ice and shows no fear engaging physically.

Although foot speed has always been a concern for Hudon, it didn’t appear to be much of an issue this past season. While he has awkward technique that hinders his agility, his strength is above average.

Ranking Explanation: Skating is the biggest concern, but I don’t think it will be much of a hindrance at the NHL level. Although he won’t blow you away (as often) like Sven Andrighetto or Martin Reway will, he’s more intelligent and complete than those two. He’s significantly more skilled than Jacob de la Rose. I believe Hudon’s upside is probably an average complimentary top-six winger/above-average third-liner. His high-end hockey sense along with near NHL-readiness gives propels him to #3 on the list.

 

2) Noah Juulsen
Last Year: N/A
Draft: 2015, 26th overall (1st round)
RD | 6’1” 176 | Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Regular: 68GP 9G 43A 52P | Post: 6GP 0G 1A 1P

Juulsen is a rare breed of defender: Not only did he total 52 points this season, but he did it while playing against the opposition's best. | Photo: Christopher Mast, Everett Silvertips

Juulsen is a rare breed of defender: Not only did he total 52 points this season, but he did it while playing against the opposition’s best. | Photo: Christopher Mast, Everett Silvertips

With the 26th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens selected defender Noah Juulsen, the teammate of Nikita Scherbak. The Abbotsford, BC native emerged as the ‘Tips top offensive defender, spending the majority of his season with overager, Ben Betker. Juulsen finished fifth in team scoring (first among defenders), 10th in scoring among defenders in the league, and first in primary assists (21) among first-year draft eligible defenders.

Juulsen is a tremendous package of two-way skill and smarts. Juulsen brings an endless compete level and high level of intelligence to every shift. Although quite lanky at 6’2″ 174 lbs he’s a physical force. He has a punishing right shoulder, which cleanly drives into forwards barrelling down his side frequently. Furthermore, he times these hits extremely well, rarely taking himself out of position.

In his own zone, Juulsen is a solid defender. Betker definitely carried the much of the load for Juulsen, but it’s clear he’s a capable defender. For the most part, Juulsen is a calm and composed blue liner. Although he’s a punishing open ice hitter, he tends to be more passive around the corners and in front of the net. At times, he can get caught running around, but the biggest concern is that he doesn’t utilize his long reach (he plays with a larger stick than you’d expect) well enough.

Furthermore, Juulsen is also quite talented with the puck. Combining great vision and technique, Juulsen makes a tremendous breakout pass. He’s also comfortable ringing the puck off the glass, but it’s a fairly rare occurrence as he’s never seems rushed with the puck. From the point Juulsen owns an absolute cannon of a shot (not just limited to a slapshot either, excellent snapshot), which he keeps low and on target. Due to his shooting ability, he projects as the powerplay triggerman in pro, but with Everett he’s a solid puck distributor as well. He can take too long making decisions with the puck, particularly while exiting the zone by himself, but that should work its way out with more experience.

By no means is Juulsen a dynamic skater, but he’s silky smooth and extremely well-balanced. His lateral movement is among the very best in the WHL, as he rapidly cuts across the ice to limit the gap and/or lower the boom. His pivots are smooth and powerful, complimenting his backwards skating.

All-in-all, Juulsen is a competitive, intelligent two-way defender. Although he’s still developing consistency both offensively and defensively, you can always depend on Juulsen to bring a relentless work ethic to the ice. His cannon for a shot, intelligence on both sides of the puck, silky smooth skating, and physicality make him a potential top-four defender.

Ranking Explanation: Juulsen is well-rounded, possesses excellent upside, and seems to be a fairly safe prospect. Why he was available at #26 I don’t know. It’s reasonable to think that one day Juulsen could become a tremendous second pairing defender, something that only Jarred Tinordi nears. But Juulsen has significantly more offensive upside than Tinordi. I believe that his upside coupled with apparent safeness makes him the clear choice for #2 in the prospect pool.

 

1) Nikita Scherbak
Last Year: #1
Draft: 2014, 26th overall (1st round)
RW | 6’2” 204 | Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Regular: 65GP 27G 55A 82P | Post: 11GP 3G 5A 8P

Although Scherbak's point totals didn't notably improve--his play did, and that's what makes him the clear #1 Canadiens prospect. | Photo: Christopher Mast, Everett Silvertips

Although Scherbak’s point totals didn’t notably improve–his play did, and that’s what makes him the clear #1 Canadiens prospect. | Photo: Christopher Mast, Everett Silvertips

For the second straight year Nikita Scherbak claims top spot. To say that Scherbak didn’t impress this year is simply incorrect. The high-flying offensive winger became more consistent, engaged, and physical, which reflected in his efforts night in and night out. His first-half shooting and subsequent goalscoring surge fizzled out in the second half, but he continued to consistently create chances. The 6’2” winger also became notably faster on his feet. For more on Scherbak’s season, check on my article: Another Spectacular Season for Nikita Scherbak.

Dynamic. That’s the first word that comes to mind when talking about Scherbak. He utilizes excellent top-end speed, above-average acceleration, and a deceptive stride (with a slightly hunched over skating technique) to exploit open ice. With the puck in deep, Scherbak continually moves his feet, circling between the net, halfway, and circle. Although owning an explosive skill set, he tends to be controlled and methodical in his approach. Off the rush, Scherbak is very much an east-west player, who waltzes his way through traffic. But there are times where Scherbak drops the shoulder and drives the net with purpose and speed. Those moments of north-south ability showcase unpredictability, but he has yet to properly balanced north-south and east-west.

It’s playmaking where Scherbak really excels. Anywhere on the ice Scherbak demonstrates elite-level vision with excellent technique. His excellent puck protection skills along with his fabulous hands allow him to draw multiple defenders and then find an open man. He possesses an excellent saucer pass and the rare ability to find open teammates without even looking at them. At times, Scherbak overpasses, often resulting in turnovers.

For the first couple of months of the season, Scherbak had a spot on the ice—high circle. From there, he was wiring in pucks with his tremendous release, powerful shot, and pinpoint accuracy. While he’s a decent finisher in traffic, his long-range shooting ability is what scores him goals. He also can score in tight, particularly on breakaways, where he can embarrass goaltenders.

As mentioned, Scherbak has made notable improvements defensively. He’s become more engaged; however, he still owns some nasty habits. If he can learn to win battles in his own zone like he does in the offensive zone, he will take another important step. Occasionally, Scherbak will show the ability to lower the boom, but he doesn’t do it consistently. However, he has shown more dedication to playing physical, but more strength is required.

Scherbak is clearly a complete package. He has smarts, skill, speed, and size—an NHL combination. He has flaws in his game, but there’s clearly high-end skill.

Ranking Explanation: Scherbak is the most dynamic prospect available. He’s also the one with the most upside. I don’t believe that any prospect has true first line or top pairing upside, except for Scherbak. But I believe that for him to get there, he has to become more consistent and must properly combine east-west and north-south styles. Doing that will make him a complete threat in the NHL. Even if he doesn’t strike balance, I still see a scorer at the NHL level. Not at the first line rate, but perhaps a quality second liner. Scherbak’s skill level is absolutely fantastic and that’s what turns a prospect into an NHL point producer.

Check back soon for final thoughts and the prospect awards!

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