This season has been the one of defencemen for the Canadiens prospects. Mikhail Sergachev is heating up, while Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete have improved significantly. Going further down the depth chart, Brett Lernout and Simon Bourque have also shown progression.
This article is a midseason update on the prospects and their progression and development. The information in the individual profiles is more valuable than the ranking. Think of the rankings as being a way to organize the abundance of information.
As per usual:
For information on the methodology, eligibility, and more, see: 2016 Top 30 Habs Prospects: Ranking Methodology.
Note: Martin Reway was not considered because of health-related concerns.
Players considered for the ranking, but ultimately fell in the seventh tier or beyond: Matt Bradley, Connor Crisp, Max Friberg, Hayden Hawkey, Arvid Henrikson, Ryan Johnston, Nikolas Koberstein, Mark MacMillan, Stefan Matteau, Michael Pezzetta, and Jonathan Racine.
I’ve discussed the reasoning for tiers in length before, so I’ll keep the explanation quick. Essentially, a tier is a group of prospects with similar upside. I utilize tiers to organize prospects who are in different leagues and stages of development. The individual rankings within the tiers are ultimately what I settled on, but within tier movement happens significantly throughout the creation of these rankings. Therefore, comparing tiers, rather than the exact ranking is more valuable.
Tier #1: Sergachev is the best prospect in the organization, and I don’t think it’s close. He’s likely the only prospect with first-line/top-pairing upside, and therefore he’s first.
Tier #2 – #4: Consists of the prospects that I believe have the next highest upside after Sergachev. Think second-line wingers and a top-four defender. Lehkonen is first because he’s producing in the NHL.
Tier #5 – #7: All three prospects are close to the NHL–closer than two of the players ranked above them–but have concerns about their projection. I’ve pegged McCarron and Hudon’s upside as likely third line contributors, but there are legitimate concerns about them reaching that.
Tier #8 – #10: Three prospects that are highly-skilled, just as much, if not slightly more so than tier #5 – #7, but they have not proven themselves at the AHL level. There’s more volatility in their projections, especially because of production-related concerns (Bitten: regression, Mete: sustainability, Evans: plateau). They will need to continue a regular, consistent development pattern to get a shot at making the NHL.
Tier #11 – #17: The ranking opens up here. Aside from McNiven (a goaltender), all prospects all likely third-or-fourth liners/bottom-pairing defenders IF they make the NHL. And that IF is big for a reason. These are players that need significant, often irregular or unexpected improvements to get a shot at making the NHL.
Tier #18 – #21: The long-term projects who either (a) haven’t proven themselves at their level, or (b) have regressed (development-wise) once being exposed to the professional level. Perhaps fourth-liners or journeymen defenders, likely just pieces in the AHL.
#1) Mikhail Sergachev
2016 ranking: 1st
There’s not much to complain about Sergachev’s start to the season. He looks improved defensively, and his offensive contribution goes far beyond production.
Sergachev is a dynamic, explosive defenceman who can change the pace of a game in any given shift. Possessing soft hands, a deceptively powerful stride, and a booming shot, Sergachev is threatening in all offensive scenarios. Perhaps what separates him from other defenders of similar skill is that Sergachev actively challenges forecheckers/defenders in all three zones to create space.
What Sergachev needs to continue to improve is decision-making, particularly the pace. He gets burned from time to time when he moves the puck too slowly under pressure. He gets a bit dangle-happy on the blue line, so he may have to pick his spots better, but ultimately this is the element of his game that makes him unique. There’s risk to his game, but you won’t get the reward without it.
Sergachev hasn’t been a standout at the World Juniors. I’ve watched Russia closely, and noticed a few alarming trends with the team: (1) Inability to orchestrate a clean, controlled exit, (2) Inability to properly utilize teammates in the neutral and offensive zones, and (3) A lack of assignment recognition. These three have created an environment that is not conducive to Sergachev’s strengths. With limited support from his teammates, Sergachev has been unable to step up and assert his normally aggressive three-zone gap. This means he’s spending more time in his own zone–his weakness.
With that said, Sergachev has done a solid job in his own zone, and while he had troubles marking USA’s Clayton Keller, so does everyone. Against USA, he was a staple on the penalty kill, and for the most part did a good job.
Is Sergachev playing too safe? Yes.
Are their structural and team performance factors that have hindered Sergachev’s ability to play his game? Yes.
Could Sergachev be better? Absolutely.
What does an underwhelming WJC performance for an 18-year-old defender mean? Not much.
Ranking Explanation: He’s the best prospect in the organization. It’s not close. Any objections?
#2) Artturi Lehkonen
2016 ranking: 3rd | 2015: 8th | 2014: 5th
Lehkonen is an NHLer; therefore, will be his last appearance in my rankings. Lehkonen has taken monumental steps forward every season.
Lehkonen hasn’t been too deterministic in controlling shot attempts, but his 53.38 CF% is well over the break-even point. He has been trusted in crucial defensive situations, such as closing out close games. He starts in the defensive zone 36.09% of the time–fourth highest among forwards on the team. Lehkonen’s defensive game has always been one of his strengths, and already earning the trust of Therrien
With seven goals in 27 games, Lehkonen is making an impact offensively. His individual expected goals (ixG) sits fifth on the team, a great result for a rookie. While Lehkonen has made his mark around the net, we have yet to the see Lehkonen’s killer shot. (Stats from Corsica.Hockey.)
Lehkonen’s deceptive, lightning-quick release and pinpoint accuracy will make him a quality medium- or long-range threat within the near future. He also does plenty of little things–like receive passes in stride, shift weight to the opposite foot, and recover loose pucks in dangerous areas–that complement his shooting ability.
Ranking Explanation: He’s on the cusp of being a scorer in the NHL. I could be convinced that he already is.
#3) Nikita Scherbak
2016 ranking: 2nd | 2015: 1st | 2014: 1st
The last time the Canadiens prospect who took over games in the AHL like Scherbak was Brendan Gallagher. That’s a testament to both how the farm system has performed, but also how excellent Scherbak has played.
Scherbak creates offence is a variety of ways unmatched by even the best scorers in the AHL. The increasingly common net drives add a powerful north-south dynamic to his slippery east-west dangles. A lethal playmaker across the ice, Scherbak is just as likely to send a quick pass to create an odd-man rush as he is to rifle a tape-to-tape pass through traffic.
Where Scherbak remains problematic is defensively. It’s not because he’s not working hard. He’s moving his feet and engaging in battles (to varying degrees of success; tends to enter battles on the wrong side, reducing his chances to win). But he still struggles with DZ positioning–It’s his Draft+3. If you ask me, that can be improved with coaching. And he hasn’t had that since turning pro.
One thing I’m curious to see: How Scherbak adapts as his unsustainable shooting percentage falls. So far, so good. But with his limited amount of shots on goal, I want to see him start firing more often.
Ranking Explanation: The most skilled and dynamic forward in the prospect pool. I’ve consistently ranked Scherbak ahead of the other names on the this list, and while we’ve seen Noah Juulsen improve significantly, so has Scherbak. Therefore, I’m not willing to budge. I believe Scherbak has the highest upside of the tier of Lehkonen, Scherbak, Juulsen, but gave Lehkonen the edge because he’s already a good NHLer.
#4) Noah Juulsen
2016 ranking: 6th | 2015: 2nd
You’ll be hard pressed to a find prospect on this list who has improved more than Juulsen has this season. The production is back, and better than ever. Now Juulsen isn’t just dependent on a booming shot, instead balancing his blasts with passes of laser-beam precision and power. Improved footwork (and confidence) has enabled him to traverse the OZ like never before. While he’s not creative in the OZ, an expanded selection of shots and softer pass reception have given him the extra punch he needed to become a threat from the point.
The biggest concerns I had about Juulsen coming into the season were slot protection and possession plays around his net–both have improved significantly. While it’s easy to point to increased nastiness as the driver of these improvements, the subtler details, such as keeping his stick in lanes, angling out forwards without the puck, and greater success in battles (think: proactive defence) are arguably even more important. The preventative aspects of his defensive game, such as OZ blue line holds and pinches, forcing uncontrolled entries, and stopping controlled entries remain his strong suit.
There’s still a fair bit of refinement needed, such as improving his crossover-to-stride ratio (he’s a straightforward skater; not quite as economical as he could be) or puck plays without pressure, but Juulsen ticks off all the boxes for a modern NHL defender. My best guess says, at this time next year, concerns about Juulsen’s offensive upside will be eradicated.
Ranking Explanation: A complete defender who makes a big impact at both ends. If he played on a different WHL team, I feel as though the concerns about his offensive upside wouldn’t garner much attention. I project him as a top-four defender who makes a solid contribution at both ends of the rink. Personally, I see that as just as valuable as potential second line scorers like Lehkonen and Scherbak, and that’s why he’s in the same tier despite being further behind in development.
#5) Michael McCarron
2016 ranking: 4th | 2015: 4th | 2014: 8th
The turning point of McCarron’s slow start was the two-game series against Providence in late-November. Among the best performers in both, McCarron went silent for the next two games, but returned with arguably his best game in the AHL to date. Shortly after McCarron’s eight SOG, five HDSC, and one goal performance against Springfield he was recalled to the NHL, where he remains.
I suppose there was legitimate cause for concern as McCarron’s production dipped and the play was dying on his stick. He became heavily reliant on cycling the puck, rather than bringing it to the net or attempts shots on the rush (two of his biggest assets). Despite this, McCarron is among the IceCaps leaders in shot attempt differential (Corsi-for). I think the explanation for this lies in McCarron’s DZ and NZ play. He’s generally a positive impact player because he’s abnormally proficient at disrupting plays (through applying back pressure, clogging passing lanes, tipping passes out of danger, etc.). Then, even if not leading the transition, he occupies lanes and creates more room for the puck carrier. This ability to positively impact the game without possession is already evident in the NHL.
Plenty of things have room for improvement, but I think he’s basically an NHL player now. The debate about McCarron has shifted from does he have NHL upside to how much NHL upside does he have? I remain among the most optimistic in his ability, but I’m afraid that his physical traits have forced him into a role that is not optimal for his skill set. Rather than developing his stickhandling and shooting ability, McCarron has become (since the trade from London) increasingly reliant on cycling the puck, screening the goalie, and other plays that we associate big players being best at.
This development strategy isn’t necessarily bad–he still looks on track to becoming an NHLer, and his skating/strength has improved every year. However, I’ve seen McCarron go from picking corners off the rush, unloading bombs on the powerplay from the circle, and beating defenders one-on-one, to not even attempting such plays. And I don’t think it’s because he can’t, but because he isn’t being given the opportunity to do so.
Ranking Explanation: McCarron’s playing in the NHL right now, and doing fairly well. I would like to remind that the early stages of the NHL play does not make a career. I’ve been bullish on McCarron’s upside, and remain so, but with greater questions than before. I think McCarron and Hudon possess similar NHL upside in terms of production, but McCarron brings elements that make him more likely to do so. And no, it’s not because he’s 6’6″.
#6) Charles Hudon
2016 ranking: 5th | 2015: 3rd | 2014: 12th
This was supposed to be the season that Hudon answered the questions regarding his NHL upside, but instead I have even more questions now.
The once pass-first player now tends to be more shoot-first, which has become increasing apparent this season. He’s still a technically skilled passer, armed with an accurate saucer pass, but he’s attempting difficult passes less. His shot is deadly at the AHL level because he’s able to change the angle of his shot just after the weight shift occurs. This deceptive release, along with his pinpoint accuracy, is likely his best weapon at this stage.
The primary concern with Hudon remains space creation. Rather than creating his own space, he’s best when exploiting the space given to him–this makes him more opportunistic rather than dynamic. This resembles many top AHLers who couldn’t score in the NHL, such Travis Morin, Chris Bourque, and Chris Terry.
With that said, there’s been key improvements in his foot speed and defensive zone coverage this season. Hudon has a fair bit of NHL upside. Now let’s hope he gets a chance.
Ranking Explanation: Hudon’s a talented player but I question his upside. I’m a little uncomfortable ranking goalies, so I gave the edge to Hudon. He’s above Bitten and Mete because he has already carved out an excellent professional hockey career, while possessing a similar level of NHL upside.
#7) Charlie Lindgren
2016 ranking: 13th
The early candidate for IceCaps’ MVP is one of the best goaltenders in the AHL–right where I expected him to be. With just five sub-.909 SV% and two sub-.900 SV% performances, Lindgren has been the epitome of consistent on a team that is anything but.
Lindgren stops the puck in a unique, flashy way. While it’s easy to see the times where he gets caught out of position, he does a remarkable job staying with the play. He stops high-difficulty shots routinely.
Rebound control could be Lindgren’s biggest limitation in the NHL. He could mitigate the amount of crazy saves he makes by improving his rebound control. I’ve seen quite a few errors related to freezing the puck as well. He has a nasty habit of throwing pucks back into traffic, which may get him exposed in the AHL in the near future.
Ranking Explanation: I take a cautious approach with ranking goaltenders. This is the highest I’ve ever ranked a goaltender in the Habs organization (I’ve been doing these for only a few years). I think he’s going to be Price’s backup next year, and has starting upside in the NHL.
#8) Will Bitten
2016 ranking: 7th
I thought Bitten was poised for a huge season production-wise, but that hasn’t happened. Bitten’s speed made him the ultimate counterattack threat for Flint last season; however, Hamilton’s system is more focused on establishing an in-zone presence. There’s no doubt that Bitten has been forcing plays, but I think a huge part of his production-related struggles are luck-related.
Bitten’s playmaking remains his best asset, particularly his ability to thread passes through traffic and/or into the slot. It seems like he sets up multiple high-danger scoring chances each game, but his teammates can’t finish. While he has yet to score on a breakaway, a move back to RW on November 4th has brought forth opportunities. He’s among the best in the OHL at getting to the net, and despite having the tools to finish, has struggled to find twine until very recently.
Don’t be fooled by Bitten’s stature, he’s quite physical and has thrown some borderline hits. Deceptively strong, Bitten can win battles, but too often looks for the big hit when the puck is easily accessible.
Despite the production, Bitten routinely pushes the pace of the game, and that’s the biggest reason why I’m not budging on his ranking.
Ranking Explanation: I’m not concerned about Bitten’s lack of production–at least yet. While Mete has significantly improved his production, I have questions about the sustainability of it. I ranked Bitten over Mete in the summer, and there hasn’t been enough hockey played for that to change.
#9) Victor Mete
2016 ranking: 15th
Without Olli Juolevi for the first four games of the season, Mete made it clear that he’s ready for #1 defenceman duty in the OHL and hasn’t looked back. Mete is the Knights’ go-to in crucial situations and on the PK, and has brought his offence to the next level.
Mete’s explosive straight ahead speed makes him a threat in transition, as evident by two dazzling goals this season. But what makes Mete an elite skater is his footwork–His pivots, edge work, and heavy reliance on crossovers. This means that his skating is both economical (doesn’t needlessly exert himself) and deceptive.
I identified my primary concern with Mete in the summer as his offence from the point. While this remains a concern, he’s getting shots on goal and completing passes with more regularity thanks to improved ability to scour the point for lanes. With Olli Juolevi gone to the WJC, Mete has become the Knights’ de facto powerplay quarterback. In those four games, Mete has seven points, including five on the powerplay, and 18 shots on goal.
People are quick to question his size, but I’m convinced that his puck battle-related issues can be fixed with improved positioning. A rangy, rock-solid defender who has the ability to push the pace from the back-end has value in the NHL, and that doesn’t change because he’s 5’10”.
Ranking Explanation: If Mete keeps up his play, expect to see him higher in my rankings this summer. There are two reasons to question the sustainability of his production: His high 13.45 SH%, and his role on the PP when Juolevi returns from the WJC.
#10) Jake Evans
2016 ranking: 12th | 2015: 24th | 2014: 29th
I thought this was the season that Evans put himself on the collective radar of Habs Nation. Although his numbers have stalled, his development has not. This season, Evans has been more consistent and shooting more (’15-’16: 1.49 SOG/P, ’16-’17: 2.24). And some of those shots have been howitzers.
The smooth stickhandler has improved his ability to wow without losing his overall effectiveness across the ice. Primarily a playmaker, Evans makes high-skill passes in-stride and without hesitation. He’s lethal around the goal line area, thanks to his vision in-tight and soft hands. Proactive positioning makes Evans a high-end defensive player in the NCAA. He has a knack for being near the puck everywhere on the ice.
Evans is a quick player, but lacks a separation gear and acceleration. He can also go extended stretches of time not making much an offensive impact, despite his tools.
Ranking Explanation: Perhaps a bit more of a ranking based on “feel” rather than the statistical approach I take in many instances. Evans’s playmaking is only second to Scherbak’s, and he may even be better at in-tight and goal line dishes.
#11) Jacob de la Rose
2016 ranking: 10th | 2015: 4th | 2014: 4th
It took de la Rose 22 games to score his first goal of the season. However, I think he’s played fairly well this season, particularly lately (evident by his five points in last six games).
I believe that de la Rose’s development has been dramatically effected by his NHL call-ups, which I’ve discussed at length. This season, in a solidified secondary scoring role, de la Rose has been a consistent contributor, regardless of what the points say.
De la Rose continues to exhibit smarts and skill in the offensive zone, although his execution (i.e., ability to transfer smarts+skill into production) remains the biggest concern. His finishing ability is noticeably poor for the AHL level.
There continues to be much to admire about de la Rose’s defensive game. He can play all three forward positions, win faceoffs, block shots, win battles, and penalty kill like few in the AHL can. However, de la Rose’s net defensive impact is probably lower than it should be. He spends a fair bit of time doing the things that make him good defensively instead of limiting the amount of time doing these things (efficiency is key). Additionally, his shot attempts differential sits a few ticks below IceCaps average. However, there’s been a noticeable uptick in his Corsi% lately (36.67% in late November/early December, 49.15% since), coinciding with his uptick in offensive contribution.
#12) Daniel Audette
2016 ranking: 19th | 2015: 21st | 2014: 19th
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Audette’s performance in the AHL this year. Despite the high-skill level, Audette stagnated at the QMJHL level. As a secondary scorer, he’s been quite good and perhaps the unsung hero of the team.
It didn’t take long for Audette to grow comfortable making plays in traffic and with speed in the AHL. He’s among the most effective puck handlers on the IceCaps, and likely the flashiest after Scherbak. He uses bursts of speed and quick hands to beat defenders on the outside.
A gritty, buzzsaw who has struggled with discipline in the past has all but erased those concerns early this season. He’s hangs around the opposing net quite often, but is most effective just outside the slot.
Puck distribution has been a problem for Audette this season. The faster pace in the AHL (compard to the QMJHL) means passing lanes are closed faster. This is likely an explanation for his passing woes. It’s worth mentioning that in the past six games or so, Audette has been completing passes with more regularity.
I believe that Audette is becoming an integral part of the IceCaps. It shouldn’t be long before he’s one of their best scorers.
#13) Michael McNiven
2016 ranking: 20th
Has any Habs prospect improved as much as McNiven in the last two seasons? The goaltender went undrafted in 2015, but leapfrogged the majority of draftees as he signed an ELC with the Habs just months after. He refined his lateral movement and glove hand in the 2015-2016 season, and turned himself into one of the OHL’s best goalies–when in form. Consistency was the big question coming into this season, but he’s been consistently among the best OHL goaltenders this season.
McNiven’s combination of explosiveness and flash enables him to showstopping saves regularly. His glove hand is arguably the best in the OHL, and undeniably the flashiest. McNiven has stolen games from many top teams in the OHL this season. His excellence against powerhouses like London goes back to his rookie season. He’s also an avid puckhandler who will make a jaw-dropping 100-foot-plus pass from time-to-time.
Where McNiven must continue to improve is his technical game. His combination of improved puck tracking and challenging shooters from the top of his crease is perhaps the biggest reason for his significant uptick in SV%. However, he still gets “caught swimming” so to speak, as his lateral movement can launch him outside of the crease.
McNiven has come a long way, but still has a ways to go. I think that’s a positive, and that’s why I’m high on him.
#14) Lukas Vejdemo
2016 ranking: 11th | 2015: 11th
With a new coach and weaker roster, Lukas Vejdemo looked set to secure a top-six spot with Djurgårdens IF. Unfortunately, not only has that not happened, but Vejdemo has regressed. While his point totals have taken a massive hit, perhaps the greatest is that he has been a non-factor most nights. With that said, Vejdemo has improved lately since playing with younger, like-minded players such as Marcus and Jonathan Davidsson, as well as Juuso Ikonen.
Vejdemo remains a top-notch puckhander who can weave through traffic and transition with ease. A lack of separation speed is masked by his first-step quickness and ability to change gears in an instant.
The disconnect between his puck skills and ability to create opportunities remains his biggest problem. Vejdemo is a below-average shooter, and he’s not the type to attempt high-difficulty passes. So, while he often looks highly skilled, that skill hasn’t translated into scoring opportunities this season.
With an interesting package of skills but a lack of a scoring role, I’m cautiously optimistic with Vejdemo. His talent level is much better than the points indicate, but does he have the next step to become an NHLer?
#15) Brett Lernout
2016 ranking: 17th | 2015: 19th | 2014: 23rd
Lernout’s season summed up in word: Progression.
Lernout possesses a plethora of tools: Rapid lateral movement and an explosive stride, a variety of powerful shots (slapshot and snapshot) that stay low and on target, and a bit of a mean streak–Packed into a 6’4″ frame. While the tools are there, the decision-making is not. But all areas of concern have improved, beginning with his plays in possession. Lately, he has been attempting controlled exits with regularity and moving on the blue line to find shooting lanes. He still commits the odd terrible giveaway while under pressure, but it’s more forgivable now as he’s trying to make an impact with the puck.
Defensively, Lernout has improved, but not quite to the same extent. The gap control has improved, but he’s still not active enough with his stick to be truly effective in one-on-one situations. Despite upping the nastiness to his game in recent weeks, he’s too soft on forwards around the slot.
If Lernout improves his defensive game significantly, there’s a shot that he makes the NHL one day. The good news is it seems like he’s improving every week.
#16) Simon Bourque
2016 ranking: 22nd | 2015: 28th
I’ll admit, I don’t think there’s a prospect in the organization that perplexes me more than Bourque. While the results are great, I’m concerned of the process by which he obtains them.
At first glance, there’s a lot to like about Bourque’s defensive game. He regularly establishes a neutral zone gap, which along with his active stick and ability to read attackers, enables him to prevent zone entries at an excellent rate. Bourque isn’t the physical type, but does a fair job protecting his slot and shows no hesitation blocking shots. Where my concern lies is with his reactive style after he gets beat. Established presence in the DZ typically results in Bourque reaching as the puck flies around him.
Offence is mostly the same story. There’s a fair to like, particularly with the improvements with regard to his even-strength primary production (’15-’16: 0.09 P/GP, ’16-’17: 0.31 P/GP). Bourque is a smart distributor from the point, and adds a shooting element on the powerplay. While he handles the puck nicely, he’s not creative and relies a fair bit on his teammates to create the lanes for him. While armed with a powerful shot, it doesn’t overwhelm goalies, and while an accurate passer, he doesn’t move the puck at a speed faster than others in the league do.
Of the three prospects that need contracts–Jeremiah Addison, Matt Bradley, and Bourque–I think Bourque is the most likely to receive one. As a left-shooting defender, he fills an organizational need, and is likely to carve out a solid professional career. Stiff puck skills and average skating have always been masked by Bourque’s smarts in the QMJHL.
Bourque has just been traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs, where he will join a loaded blue line featuring Thomas Chabot and Jakub Zboril.
#17) Tom Parisi
2016 ranking: 18th
Parisi has been in-and-out of the lineup despite relatively solid play. The IceCaps are carrying nine defencemen, and somehow regularly dress the two worst (Julien Brouillette and Jon Racine), while scratching Parisi.
The professional adjustment curve has definitely affected Parisi’s defensive game the most. At first, he was overly reliant on body work and strength to dispossess, but these past few games have seen Parisi adapt to use his footwork and quickness. He’s possibly the most effective IceCaps defender at preventing controlled entries, thanks to his aggressive gap control and angling.
Puck plays in the DZ have been a hit-or-miss area for Parisi. His powerful skating, strength on the puck, and vision allow him to make controlled exits under pressure, but I’ve tracked quite a few lapses where he carelessly plays the puck into traffic.
Why Parisi deserves to be in the lineup, as strange as this sounds considering his offensive output in the NCAA, is for his offensive play. He’s getting shots on goal (second among IceCaps defencemen per game) and passing the puck well. He’s not creative, nor does he have a powerful shot, but the impact that Parisi has on a game is almost always positive.
#18) Jeremy Gregoire
2016 ranking: 16th | 2015: 10th | 2014: 13th
Gregoire’s professional career hasn’t been promising, but he has been continually improving. Together with David Broll and Mark MacMillan, Gregoire has formed a low-scoring, yet strikingly effective fourth line for the IceCaps. As injuries have struck, Gregoire has found himself in the top-nine, where he looks even better.
Skating has seen the most improvement, as Gregoire went from often being behind the play to occasionally pushing the pace. His acceleration and footwork aren’t great, but the most striking concern is his “grinder mentality” of finishing checks behind the net and cycling until losing possession.
Lately, particularly when playing other skilled players, Gregoire has displayed more confidence with the puck. He’s attempting difficult passes around the net, and succeeding. While he’s reluctant to shoot, it’s encouraging to see him getting to the net and making plays.
It wasn’t long ago that Gregoire was among the QMJHL’s best goalscorers. Perhaps that’s the major reason why I still have him ranked fairly high despite an underwhelming professional career, but there are positive signs.
#19) Zach Fucale
2016 ranking: 14th | 2015: 16th | 2014: 7th
Once a promising prospect, Fucale is now an ECHLer. But that doesn’t mean he can’t redeem himself. Fucale’s SV% was just .897 through seven games, but has posted a .930 and eights wins in the 10 starts since. He currently finds himself representing Canada at the Spengler Cup.
Watching Fucale is often a rollercoaster, from “how did he save that?!” to “how did he let that in?!” He’s often playing a step behind because his puck tracking is bit suspect, and the positioning of his glove gives up way too much space.
Fucale can make difficult stops, but not as often as McNiven or Lindgren. Add in the irregular development curve, and occasional lack of focus, and there’s reason for concern.
Why he’s still in the top-20 is partly because it shouldn’t be long before he becomes a solid AHL netminder, and partly a result of the prospect pool. One and a half professional seasons isn’t enough to close the book on a goaltending prospect, but it is enough to raise major concerns.
#20) Jeremiah Addison
2016 ranking: 26th | 2015: 29th
With 10 goals in the first 13 games, it looked like Addison had finally improved his finishing ability. 10 games, and just one goal and one assist later–coinciding with the absence of Logan Brown and Gabe Vilardi–and it’s clear he remains a complementary player at the OHL level. Addison has suddenly recorded five goals in his last three games, which also coincides with the return of Brown and Vilardi.
Addison looks more confident with the puck than ever before. He’s challenging defenders in one-on-one situations, and while rarely successful, you see improvement with each passing attempt. He’s not the prettiest skater out there, but improved acceleration means that he’s always involved in the play.
Addison does a lot well–Skate, shoot, defend, etc. But finishing is not one of those things. If there’s a prospect in the pool who is going to defy the general rule that low/average-scoring junior players don’t make the NHL–it’s him. But those chances are still slim.
(HM) Casey Staum
2016 ranking: N/A
Staum’s usage has wildly varied this season, from playing the final 2:00 of a one-goal game to being a scratch. Lately, he’s beem a staple on the penalty kill and second powerplay unit. Although the production is non-existent, he has shown some quality offensive tools.
Staum’s best asset in his smooth skating ability. Not a burner, but rather an effortless skater with an explosive first step. He still has a lot of work to do in his own zone, particularly proactively cutting out lanes and improving his positioning in puck battles, but he’s a strong defender in the neutral zone and generally takes tight gap control as the opposition crosses the red line.
I think Staum has decent potential. His ability to exit the zone with control is impressive, which is largely the product of his skating and crisp passing. He’s in an odd situation in Dubuque as they regularly dress eight defenders, but Staum has become top-four on the team.
This is a prospect pool that noticeably lacks high-end talent. There are some nice pieces, but getting even a handful of NHLers out this group would be a success. I think there are plenty of interesting prospects, who have more to give than what they’ve shown, such as Audette, Vejdemo, and Lernout.
Goaltending has been an interesting story to follow in the organization. It was once a position of weakness (after Price), but now the prospect pool has two legitimate NHL prospects (Lindgren and McNiven), one fascinating reclamation project (Fucale), and another coming into his own in the NCAA (Hayden Hawkey).
Thanks for reading!