Welcome back! This is the beginning of the top-15 in my 2016 top-30 Montreal Canadiens prospects. Out of the three yearly rankings I’ve done, this was the hardest top-15 to rank. There are 13 players who I believe all have a legitimate case in the top-10. While there’s still a notable lack of a high-end talent (save for Sergachev), this is the deepest the upper portion of the list has been in my short time doing these.
The top-15 begins with quite possibly the best skater in the entire prospect pool, followed by a pair of goaltenders. The grouping finishes with the two most tightly contested prospects on the list.
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: Ranking Methodology
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #30-#26
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #25-#21
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #20-#16
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #15-#11
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #10-#6
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #5-#1
2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: Prospect Awards and Parting Thoughts
#15) Victor Mete
Last Ranking: N/R
Draft: 2016, 100th, 4th round
Position: D | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1998-06-07 | Place of Birth: Toronto, ON
Team: London Knights | League: OHL
Height: 5’10” | Weight: 165
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The eighth overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection has steadily seen his role increase with the London Knights. He finished second among Knights defenders with a 66.43 GF%. This season, he was arguably their best defender in the playoffs and Memorial Cup. I was shocked he slipped out of the second round, let alone into the fourth.
Overview: A high-end (65) skater already…Feet make him a rangy defender, but projects as a 50+ defender…At best in transition…In-zone offence is projects as average.
Mete’s high-end skating and constant desire to push the pace make him best in transition. His powerful lateral movement makes up for any lack of reach that he has, and is one of the better one-on-one defenders in the OHL. Once gaining possession, Mete explodes up the ice, either seeking an end-to-end rush or pass option.
A “fourth forward” of sorts, Mete loves to sneak into high-danger areas to outnumber the opposition. While in possession, Mete challenges defenders with soft hands at top speed and drives the net hard. He can find players off the rush with his vision, too.
In extended periods of offensive zone time, which was common for the Knights, Mete is inconsistent. He has a knack for making smart pinches, but often traps himself with the puck. Furthermore, he lacks a threatening shot from the point, due to a power deficiency and inability to consistently create/locate lanes.
There’s often concern about sub-6’ defenders’ ability to defend, but I’m not convinced. While Mete can puck chase during sustained pressure scenarios, he spends little time in his own zone, even by Knights standards. He’s physical and fearless, but will have to add strength (as will every prospect).
Most likely not the type of defender that will rack up the points, but possibly a sometimes spectacular #4 or #5 who limits defensive zone time.
Ranking Explanation: Mete was a player that I thought would end up higher on the list, but was consistently locked in at #15 in all of my preliminary rankings. He’s better player at the same age as Brett Lernout. Mete is a better skater and offensive player than Lernout, but they’re on the same level defensive prowess. That led to me giving Mete a distinct, albeit small edge.
#14) Zach Fucale
Last Ranking: 16th
Draft: 2013, 36th, 2nd round
Position: G | Catches: L
Birthdate: 1995-05-28 | Place of Birth: Laval, QC
Team: St. John’s IceCaps | League: QMJHL
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 187
Zach Fucale was the IceCaps starting netminder this season, despite performing worse than Eddie Pasquale. Although Fucale’s season was generally average, or even underwhelming, he managed to string together extended periods of quality play.
Overview: A puck blocker with improving puck tracking and consistency…Projects around 55 with glove hand, down low, and blocker…Angles and technical game could be refined to 55+.
Cool, calm, poised, composed…All words that were used to describe Fucale’s ultra-relaxed style. He’s a simplistic goaltender who thrives as a puck blocker. His technique and puck tracking allow him to play smart angles and limit secondary opportunities. The aggressiveness to play at the top of the crease (which is where Fucale plays his best) comes and goes.
Fucale will awe with his glove hand time-to-time, but he isn’t often forced into desperation saves. With some minor tweaking in his glove positioning, he now gets handcuffed far less often. This has helped cut down on the “soft goals” that he had a penchant for allowing. His blocker side rarely gives significant space to shooters. I wouldn’t call his lateral movement “explosive”, but his puck tracking often allows him to stay ahead of the puck.
Fucale’s technical game has always been ahead of the curve for his age, but the leap to pro hockey two exposed flaws: (1) While Fucale has the puck tracking ability to locate where the chance is coming from, his lateral movement isn’t quick enough to stop it (and/or: he leans too far forward while moving across the crease, leaving the top open), (2) he drops into the butterfly too soon, exposing the area right over his shoulder.
There’s still a lot of time for Fucale, but there’s a bit of a log-jam this season with Al Montoya, Mike Condon, and Charlie Lindgren battling it out for the back-up spot. Next season, Michael McNiven will turn pro, which could further complicate the goaltending situation in the organization. With that said, Fucale is finally trending upwards (after a lengthy period of stagnation).
Ranking Explanation: As I have explained before, goaltenders are more volatile, so I’m cautious ranking them. Fucale, Lernout, and Mete were all closely grouped. I like how Fucale has improved at the professional level, and his upside as a 1A/1B starter is most likely more valuable than what Mete and Lernout could become.
#13) Charlie Lindgren
Last Ranking: N/R
Draft: 2012 undrafted, free agent signing
Position: G | Catches: R
Birthdate: 1993-12-18 | Place of Birth: Lakeville, MN
Team: St. Cloud State | League: NCAA (NCHC)
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 190
Charlie Lindgren was perhaps the most sought after NCAA free agent goaltender this season, and it was for good reason. He holds the St. Cloud State record for most wins in the season with 30, and allowed 2 or less goals in 27 of his 30 games. Lindgren concluded the season by grabbing his first NHL win in his first start.
Overview: A flashy, acrobatic goaltender with a unique style…Reads/Angles and technical game need refinement…60+ lateral movement and 60 glove hand could make him a starting netminder.
Perhaps the most distinct goalie prospect that I’ve seen in the past few years. A truly acrobatic goaltender who can turn routine saves into highlights. He explodes from post to post in an upright position. Although the two-pad stack has been lost in recent years, it’s a key feature of Lindgren’s game.
Glove side is almost unbeatable on Lindgren sometimes, but he can be exposed due to his angling. Down low, he’s lightning quick and loves the aggressive pokecheck.
While Lindgren has improved his technique, his not-so economical style sometimes forces him into too many saves. He thrives in the scrambles, but it’s important that he limits the second and third opportunities in the NHL.
Lindgren played on a high-scoring Huskies team that continually allowed high-danger scoring chances against. While the technical game needs refinement, I’m a believer in his ability. It looks like Lindgren will start the season in the AHL, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he overtook Mike Condon/Al Montoya and grabbed the back-up role.
Ranking Explanation: One spot is all that separates Fucale and Lindgren; however, I believe the actual difference is significant. Unlike other NCAA free agents, Lindgren is just 22, and was draft eligible only a year before Fucale. Lindgren was much better relative to his peers than Fucale. Furthermore, I believe that Lindgren can be a true starting netminder at the NHL level thanks to acrobatic style and tools.
#12) Jake Evans
Last Ranking: 24th
Draft: 2014, 207th, 7th round
Position: C/RW | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1996-06-02 | Place of Birth: Toronto, ON
Team: University of Notre Dame | League: NCAA (Hockey East)
Height: 6’0” | Weight: 185
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Jake Evans took a silently solid freshman season and turned it into a tremendous sophomore year. Evans finished second on Notre Dame scoring 33 points, while spending half of the season on the third line with two freshmen. Add in the fact that he was one of Hockey East’s top playmakers and defensive forwards, and he had quite the season.
Evans’s assists production was mostly primary and at even-strength, which points to sustainability.
Overview: Consistently effective playmaker who’s a shot (literally) away from being a top prospect in the organization…55+ playmaking, 50+ defensive play, 50+ stickhandling and skating…40+ shooting.
Evans is an ultra-smooth playmaker who has developed exponentially lately. The consistency at which he completes high-skill passes makes his playmaking ability easy to take for granted. Evans displays the unique ability to work against the grain to find targets, which shreds defences. Although primarily a forehand playmaker, his backhand is just as impressive when utilized.
A slick set of hands and never-ending patience allow him to exploit open ice. Not a true space creator, but his ability to seemingly change the pace of the game without changing his skating speed is rare. His heads fakes and smooth stickhandling moves draw defenders in, while his vision allows him fire a pass across the ice.
No area has seen more growth than Evans’ defensive game. After performing slightly below-average in defensive play in 2014-2015, he emerged as Notre Dame’s top defensive forward this season. His team controls the puck more often than not when he’s on ice. He won 57% of his faceoffs and shutdown some of Hockey East’s top forwards with his patience and knack for being in the right place.
The next step for Evans is to improve his goalscoring ability. As of now, his shot limits him to be a strictly a playmaker. He’s not a natural scorer or shooter, which points to his shooting ability merely becoming a secondary tool if it improves.
Evans’ development is currently rocketing upwards. I have questions surrounding Evans’ dynamism and ability to change pace at the NHL level. With a large player turnover, Evans will have an even greater role as ND shifts to the Big-Ten Conference this season.
Ranking Explanation: Placing Jake Evans at 12th was one of the hardest decisions on this list. To me, he feels like a top-10 prospect in other years, which is a testament to how the strength of the pool has improved. I would like to see Evans repeat, or even improve upon, the season he had. The lacks the lengthy scoring record of some of the players above him, such as Martin Reway and Daniel Carr, which holds him out of the top-10.
#11) Lukas Vejdemo
Last Ranking: 11th
Draft: 2014 undrafted; 2015, 87th, 3rd round
Position: LW/C/RW | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1996-01-25 | Place of Birth: Stockholm, SWE
Team: Djurgårdens IF | League: SHL
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 194
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Vejdemo was an unknown when drafted, but quickly became a staple for Djurgårdens IF, a mid-table SHL team. Vejdemo was a valuable third player who had scoring spurts that could evolve into a full-season next year.
Overview: A well-rounded forward who excels as the puck carrier…Projects as 55 skater, 55 stickhandler, 55 playmaking, 50+ defensive play…Lacks a notable shot, likely projects around 45.
With a near full tool-kit, Vejdemo is a rather impressive player. Vejdemo’s game is based around two things: Smarts and speed. His knack for being in the right position and ability to make plays at top-end really stand out. He processes his options rapidly, with his head always up, and moves the puck quickly.
The pace at which Vejdemo plays allows him to be a valuable possession player at the age of just 19 in a men’s league. He’s an excellent forechecker who disrupts player at noteworthy rate. But what really stands out is his ability to lug the puck out of the defensive zone and gain the blue line.
In the offensive zone, Vejdemo is primarily a playmaker, although not a great one. While he doesn’t create his own lanes at the SHL level (yet), his rangy stickhandling and ability to push the pace points to him developing that important trait.
Where Vejdemo really fails to shine is shooting. He only gets 50.8% of his attempts on target and there’s no deception or power in his shot. He has the smarts and positioning (“sniper’s mentality”) that gets him into the slot, but lacks the shooting ability to utilize it.
An improved shot could completely change the dynamic of Vejdemo’s game, making a more multi-dimensional threat. Adding that shot could make a Vejdemo a potential second-line forward in the future; however, it’s most likely that his potential falls as a middle-six scorer.
Ranking Explanation: Evans versus Vejdemo (and the #10th and #9th ranked prospects) was the toughest decision yet. They both have similar strengths and weaknesses. I gave Vejdemo the slightest of edges due to three things: (1) His slightly superior puck handling at top speed, (2) the scorer’s mentality he displays, (3) production at a higher level than Evans.
Check back Wednesday for prospects ranked #10-#6!