2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #5-#1

Welcome back to the top five of Mitch Brown’s top 30 Montreal Canadiens prospects! This is the second last segment in this year’s series.

The top five begins with one of the AHL’s top goalscorers this season. Sliding in at number four is the one of the most intriguing prospects in the NHL, followed by the new record holder for Frölunda playoff scoring at three. At number two is the only forward in the prospect pool that I see possessing first-line upside. Wrapping up the list is the best prospect the Montreal Canadiens have had since Alex Galchenyuk.

Series Navigation:
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

CHL/AHL statistics courtesy of Prospect-stats.com. NHL Statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

 

#5) Charles Hudon
Last Ranking: 3rd
Draft: 2012, 122nd, 5th round
Position: LW/C | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1994-06-23 | Place of Birth: Alma, QC
Team: St. John’s IceCaps | League: AHL
Height: 5’10” | Weight: 194

GPGAPPrim. PP/GPPrim. P/GPSOGSH%SOG/GP
67282452400.7760.59718115.47%2.701
Photo: St. John's IceCaps

Charles Hudon followed up a strong rookie campaign with a 28-goal season, good for fifth in the entire AHL. | Photo: St. John’s IceCaps

The transition to professional hockey has been smooth for Charles Hudon. He followed up a 57-point season with a 28-goal, 53-point season this year. The waiver situation perhaps limited to three NHL games, but he was a top-tier possession player in his three games and grabbed two assists.

Charles Hudon

Overview: A crafty opportunist who generates attempts like crazy…Derives most of his offence from his potential 55+ shooting ability…50 skater…55+ defensive player… 55 playmaker…50+ stickhandler…Basically a five-tool prospect (lower-end) who lacks a bit of dynamism.

First and foremost, Hudon is a shooter. Hudon is so effective as a shooter because of his early weight transfer and ability to pick classic goaltender soft spots (such over the shoulder and between the blocker and pad). He also is a high-volume shooter, who smartly intentionally shoots for rebounds. At best off the rush, where he smartly times bursts of speed to give himself slight separation to unload a shot.

Hudon’s deft playmaking doesn’t get utilized as often as his shooting. Hudon isn’t a lane creator, but rather a lane exploiter. His saucer pass allows him to successfully pass through heaps of traffic, and he completes these attempts at a high rate.

A smooth, coordinated stickhandler lacking in flash, but certainly owning plenty of substance. Quick hands allow Hudon to shred goaltenders, but a wide skating base slightly hinders his agility. His hand-eye coordination really stands out, as he is proficient at knocking down loose pucks to intercept or receive passes.

Hudon’s style has always veered to towards methodical rather than aggressive, but he struck a nice balance this season. Defensively, he creates more turnovers than ever before, and consistently takes smart positioning. Offensively, he will occasionally cycle gears, but often remains stuck in his constant desire to slow the play down.

If Hudon fails to become an NHL regular, I’m certain it will be the result of pace. He prefers to stop the play dead while he examines his options, but isn’t dynamic enough to consistently do that at the NHL level. As mentioned, this has been an important improvement this season. Hudon could be a top-six winger if he adds more power in his shot and skating, but perhaps projects better as a quality third-liner.

Ranking Explanation: Hudon kicks off the top-five because of his track record and talent. If it weren’t for the waiver situation, perhaps he is already an NHLer. Where he falls on the spectrum remains to be seen, but besides Daniel Carr and Mikhail Sergachev, he’s the player on this list I’m most confident in becoming an NHL regular.

 

#4) Michael McCarron
Last Ranking: 4th
Draft: 2013, 25th, 1st round
Position: C/RW | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1995-03-07 | Place of Birth: Macomb, MI
Team: St. John’s IceCaps/Montréal Canadiens | League: AHL/NHL
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 238

GPGAPPrim. PP/GPPrim. P/GPSOGSH%SOG/GP
58172037270.6380.46612513.6%2.155
Michael McCarron scored a hat trick (Photo: IceCaps)

Michael McCarron’s production once again took a hit in the second half, but his overall play continued strong. | Photo: St. John’s IceCaps

This season saw McCarron surpass even my highest expectations. McCarron was a legitimate scoring threat in the AHL, and even had a 20-game stint in the NHL (although it was quite underwhelming). McCarron was often assigned the top match-ups with the IceCaps, a role that was previously dominated by Gabriel Dumont for years.

Michael McCarron

Overview: Gargantuan possession-based centre with high upside…55 skater, 55 shooter, 50 passing & stickhandling, 60 defensive play…The big question: Will he settle in as a third liner, or will he refine skills to be second line scorer?

McCarron emerged as a defensive stalwart halfway through the 2013-2014 season, and has seen continued progression in that area. A true play disruptor, McCarron has a knack for getting his rangy stick in the right lanes to knock down passes and create turnovers. Machine-like winning percentage in the dot has dropped in the pros, but could improve with timing. An effective hitter thanks to his desire for puck possession over punishment.

There’s a notable level of skill in McCarron’s game, and he still has room to improve. McCarron has soft hands in tight, which he combines with his strength and body positioning to often take on two or more defenders at once–and maintain possession. Every now and then he will flash a high-skill one-on-one dangle. Playmaking remains an area of inconsistency: Some games McCarron struggles with routine passes, the next he’s completing high-skill passes.

Barring any unforeseen improvements, McCarron’s biggest point contribution will come from goalscoring. McCarron is primarily a net-front presence, where his hands, coordination, and strength make him a threat. However, with a booming wrist/slap shot, McCarron has upside as a long-range threat if he improves his accuracy.

A lumbering first few steps turn into a deceptive top-end gear, allowing him to really push the pace in open ice. His desire to shoot constantly, mixed in his ability to win battles, control the puck for extended periods of time (while under intense pressure), and attention to detail made him a possession force in the OHL and AHL.

As of right now, McCarron projects to be a third line centre; however, if he can improve his consistency in the skill-side of the game, he could end up as a complementary top-six scorer. McCarron’s flashes of top-six skill are too common to be luck, but not consistent enough to be considered a focal point of his game. Increasing shot accuracy, pass success rate, and confidence could go are the three most important improvements that McCarron needs to make.

Ranking Explanation: Hudon versus McCarron was basically a coin-flip. I see both players being similarly skilled and similar producers at the NHL level. Why I gave McCarron the edge: Possession. McCarron was the best IceCaps forward by CF% in the games I tracked, where Hudon was only slightly above-average.

 

#3) Artturi Lehkonen
Last Ranking: 8th
Draft: 2013, 55th, 2nd round
Position: LW/RW | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1995-07-04 | Place of Birth: Piikkiö, FIN
Team: Frölunda HC | League: SHL
Height: 5’11” | Weight: 176

GPGAPPrim. PP/GPPrim. P/GPSOGSH%SOG/GP
Regular Season49161733220.6730.44911114.414%2.265
Playoffs1611819151.1880.9344822.917%3
Photo: Per Friske, Bildbyrån.

This season, Artturi Lehkonen added an SHL Championship and Champions Hockey League title to his trophy cabinet that already includes Liiga Rookie of the Year and a WJC Gold Medal. | Photo: Per Friske, Bildbyrån.

Not only did Artturi Lehkonen surpass expectations, he shattered them a with a record-setting post-season performance on route to an SHL Championship. For the majority of the season (until an 11-game drought), Lehkonen was among the SHL’s top even-strength producers. Lehkonen found himself on the second powerplay unit, and even spent time killing penalties.

Artturi Lehkonen

Overview: Sly, deft sniper with an evolving game…60+ shooter, 55 stickhandling, 55 defensive player, 50+ playmaking, 50+ skater…A five-tool prospect who is veering on NHL-ready.

Artturi Lehkonen is the only player in the prospect pool who I would consider a true “sniper.” Lekhonen’s open-blade, zero pull-back release would already be in the upper-echelon on the NHL. While the snapper is Lehkonen’s preferred tool, he possesses a half-wrister, half-snapper when he has open space, an under-utilized slapshot, and powerful backhander. Accuracy is what gets Lehkonen’s his goals, but his power can overwhelm from time-to-time. He didn’t shoot enough in the regular season, but playoffs marked a welcome change.

Being a goalscorer also requires complementary tools, and Lehkonen has a bevy of them: Receiving awkward passes, shooting under pressure or while falling (see: Lehkonen’s unique inside foot weight transfer or no weight transfer at all), space creation to shoot through stickhandling and/or skating, and offensive zone positioning. Lehkonen also can score in a variety of ways, and is just as proficient around the goal as he is from medium-range.

I was once concerned about Lehkonen’s lack of dynamism, but not anymore. Lehkonen is neither an explosive skater nor a flashy stickhandler, yet he manages to beat defenders regularly with smart bursts and quick movements. Not a high-skill playmaker, but his proficiency at space creation and rapid short-to-medium range distribution projects well to the NHL-sized rink.

Lehkonen isn’t your classic “take smart positioning along the boards” winger in his own zone. In fact, Lehkonen’s defensive value is derived from doing the opposite. With a proactive approach that sees him patrol his wing, Lehkonen shuts down lanes and handles puck more often than most wingers. This is turn leads to less time defending, and more time on the attack.

Lehkonen is headed to North America this upcoming season to see if he crack the Habs roster. Considering the amount of bodies in the way, perhaps the odds are slim, but his ability says he should be on the roster.

Ranking Explanation: Hudon and McCarron are two players who have top-six upside, but project more comfortably as third-liners (in terms of production, of course), whereas Lehkonen is a potential top-six player who I see him as having a greater chance to produce at a second-line equivalent rate. This minor difference of around ~10-15 points make a huge difference in the long-run, giving Lehkonen the edge.

 

#2) Nikita Scherbak
Last Ranking: 1st
Draft: 2014, 26th, 1st round
Position: RW | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1995-12-30 | Place of Birth: Moscow, RUS
Team: St. John’s IceCaps | League: AHL
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 174

GPGAPPrim. PP/GPPrim. P/GPSOGSH%SOG/GP
4871623180.4790.375798.861%1.646
 | Photo: St. john's IceCaps

The dynamic Nikita Scherbak was one of the most impactful IceCaps while in the line-up this season. | Photo: St. john’s IceCaps

Many say Nikita Scherbak was a disappointment this season, but I vehemently disagree. When playing his natural position with quality linemates, Scherbak created chances consistently. No matter the position or role he played, he was the IceCaps second-best possession forward after Michael McCarron (in the games I tracked).

Overview: Sublime, pass-first winger with an unrelenting desire to create flashy plays…65 stickhandler, 55+ playmaking, 55 shooting, 60 skater…Consistency could be ultimate downfall.

What Scherbak does better than any forward in the prospect pool, and even many of the Canadiens, is handle the puck. Yes, it results in turnovers; however, more often than not the effect is positive. Scherbak’s soft, rapid hands with expansive reach, along with explosive top-end speed and lateral agility, give him the impression that he’s moving East-West, when he’s actually heading full-steam up the ice.

Scherbak’s unique skillset creates passing lanes in every which direction, which he can exploit with three-pronged passing technique: Forehand, backhand, and saucer. As an instinctual playmaker, Scherbak has a knack for completing passes that defenders “almost intercepted.” Never-ending creativity makes Scherbak a one-man highlight-reel.

There’s a slight disconnect between Scherbak’s shooting and scoring instincts. His accurate wrister is on the cusp of being a long-range threat, but he passes/dangles himself out of clear shooting lanes. He doesn’t show a “killer instinct” around goal (in traffic), but he takes great pride in his ability to shred goalies on breakaways. Every now and then, Scherbak’s power-winger game emerges, but that still is more of a playmaker rather than scorer.

Scherbak generally understands where to be on the ice without the puck; however, he too often he skates by instead of engaging. Becoming more implicated in the play would dramatically the perception of his defensive game.

Finding balance between the high-flying and methodical Nikita Scherbaks will be imperative. If he continues to flesh out his skill mechanics, his defensive game will naturally improve. Next season, Scherbak is a darkhorse candidate for a roster spot at best, but could be among the AHL’s top scorers.

Ranking Explanation: Nikita Scherbak is the only forward in the prospect that has first-line upside. The likelihood of him achieving that is likely slim, but it’s impossible to ignore his combination of skills. Given that I base this list heavily on what I perceive as upside, it makes sense that the player with the second highest upside is the second-ranked player on the list.

 

#1) Mikhail Sergachev
Last Ranking: N/R
Draft: 2016, 9th, 1st round
Position: LD/RD | Shoots: L
Birthdate: 1998-06-25 | Place of Birth: Nizhnekamsk
Team: Windsor Spitfires | League: OHL
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 220

GPGAPPrim. PP/GPPrim. P/GPSOGSH%SOG/GP
67174057400.8510.59715610.897%2.328
| Photo: NHL.com

With a variety of top-pairing and all-star level tools, Mikhail Sergachev is the best Montreal Canadiens prospect since Alex Galchenyuk. | Photo: NHL.com

The accomplishments speak for themselves: Youngest ever OHL Defenceman of the Year and 50 points in his last 48 games, an elite total.  The dynamic blue line force is the Canadiens only true “blue chip” prospect.

Sergachev ES

Overview: An explosive, #1 defender-level talent in many facets…A true “modern” defender in the way that he doesn’t need to defend much at all…65 skater, 65 shooter, 60 stickhandling+, 55 playmaking, 60 defensive play…Minor tweaks needed, but upside is all-star defender.

Sergachev has every trait that a high-end offensive defender needs, but none are better than his shooting ability. Sergachev possesses a variety of shots that all can beat beats goalies with overwhelming power or pinpoint accuracy. Complementing these shots is graceful agility, first-step explosiveness, and dynamic stickhandling that propels him into shooting lanes.

In fact, Sergachev’s shot commands so much respect that it masks his playmaking ability. With the same combination of hand/feet quickness, Sergachev can create-locate-exploit passing lanes. His skillful technical passing ability really shines on the powerplay. He also rarely makes poor pinches.

Considering how little time Sergachev spends defending, I don’t think he likes it very much. Balanced with an active stick, Sergachev is rarely beat one-on-one. The 220-pound is an often hitter, but too soft on forwards around the net. Slot coverage is his biggest deficiency; however, his proactive style everywhere else will surely translate with time.

Sergachev’s smooth and explosive skating makes him lethal in transition. Once gaining possession in the defensive zone, Sergachev quickly locates his options. He opens up lanes for himself with patience, stickhandling, and evasive foot work. He’s an aggressive puck rusher, who loves to complete the controlled zone-exit (and then, entry) on his own stick.

There’s a shot that Sergachev makes the Canadiens out of camp, but I expect that he will play in the OHL next season. With the Memorial Cup Host Windsor Spitfires, expectations will be lofty.

Ranking Explanation: There’s no debate about who the best Canadiens prospect is. Sergachev is dynamic talent and a blue chip prospect. Not only am I confident that he will an NHLer, I’m confident he will be a top pairing defender.

 

Check back Tuesday for prospect awards and series wrap-up!

NOTES:

  1. This list, just like every other installment, is for entertainment purposes only. The information in each prospect profile is far more valuable than the actual ranking.
  2. The information is always “in my opinion.”
  3. I am neither a professional scout nor an amateur scout. In fact, I hesitate to use the word scout at all. (I’m an amateur amateur scout, I guess). Watching the future of the NHL is my passion, not my job.
  4. Feel free to send me your questions, comments, concerns, or complaints in the comments, on twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). Or just tell me I suck. I don’t care.
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3 Responses to 2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #5-#1

  1. thank you , for your work on this ,as a habs fan , I appreciate any writing about our prospects, and their directions and ability. I enjoyed reading this information. cheers/

    Guy Gagne July 31, 2016 at 4:14 pm Reply
  2. Really enjoyed your reports on the top prospects. Your explanations which include things like weight transfer when shooting are details I don’t know about but help clarify why you rate certain players where you do. Good job!

    dishonest john August 1, 2016 at 9:02 am Reply
  3. Top of the line reporting. Great read and as a very long time Habs fan its nice to get high quality reports on the potential of young players.

    Bruce Jessop August 2, 2016 at 1:34 pm Reply

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