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Habs Prospects Turning Pro

Byron Pulsifer, a great motivational speaker and seminar leader, once said: “What is past is past and it does not forebode well to relive past mistakes or transgressions. Move forward rather than being stuck in the past. No one can redo the past but everyone can create a better future.” Admittedly, I am a sucker for motivational quotes and positive vibes. What can I say? I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy. And this quote by Mr. Pulsifer is one that relates greatly to the current management of my very favourite professional organisation: the Montreal Canadiens.

This past summer, after a dreadful year that saw cornerstone Shea Weber playing only 26 games – one one leg – before missing the rest of the season, Marc Bergevin convinced Montreal Canadiens owner and President Geoff Molson that he had a plan: get younger, faster and change the attitude in the dressing room. Out went team captain Max Pacioretty and enigmatic Alex Galchenyuk, and in came Tomas Tatar and Max Domi. Looking at the season the Canadiens just finished, just missing the playoffs with a 96 points season, a 25 points improvement over the previous season, force is to admit that Bergevin was right and so was Molson for trusting his General Manager.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where this team can improve on, but looking at the 180° turnaround, the foundation is there. The young core of Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and the “mint duo” of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete, combined with young veterans like Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Tatar, there are some strong building blocks in place for some of the team’s young prospects on the verge of joining the team in the next few years. And we haven’t mentioned the top leaders on this team, led by captain Weber and supported by Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Paul Byron.

“Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.” ~ Peter F Drucke

After a couple of very strong drafts, Trevor Timmins has proven to be one of the NHL’s top draft specialists and the Habs are in an excellent position in the pipelines. As a matter of fact, the team likely has the best prospect pool they have had in decades, thanks to Bergevin and Timmins. As the NHL Playoffs continue, the Canadiens are looking at their prospect pool and they are in the process of evaluating which ones are about to turn pro, and how close they all are to making a push to make the big club starting next season. Ryan Poehling has decided to make a case for himself in his one and only professional game with a hat trick and a goal in the shootout to help the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the last game of the season. But there are others…

This being a downtime for the Canadiens, we have touched on the team needs as well as the class of 2019 pending free agents that might be of interest this upcoming summer. Now, let’s have a look at the prospects who are ready to make the jump to the professional level in North America, as well as those playing pro hockey in Europe.

“It will also help you realize that though you cannot change the past you can work on the future and make it the way you want it to be, so that the next time you look at your old pictures you will be even more proud of what you see.” ~ Raymona Brown

PRO NORTH AMERICA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Jake Evans22C/RWAHL0.67
Michael McCarron24C/RWAHL0.66
Daniel Audette22CAHL0.55
Lukas Vejdemo23C/WAHL0.44

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Noah Juulsen22DAHL/NHLInjured
Gustav Olofsson24DAHLInjured
Cale Fleury20DAHL0.38
Brett Lernout23DAHL0.12

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Charlie Lindgren25GAHL2.94.884
Michael McNiven21GAHL2.52.902

CHL/NCAA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Nick Suzuki19COHL1.59
Joël Teasdale20LWQMJHL1.21
Allan McShane19COHL1.11
Cole Fonstad18C/LWWHL1.09
Ryan Poehling20CNCAA0.86
Samuel Houde19CQMJHL0.67
Cam Hillis18COHL0.67

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Josh Brook19DWHL1.27
Scott Walford20DWHL0.76
Jarret Tyszka20DWHL0.73

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Cayden Primeau19GNCAA2.09.933

PRO EUROPE

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Joni Ikonen20CLiiga0.77
Jesse Ylönen19RWLiiga0.51
Jacob Olofsson19CSHL0.26
Alexander Romanov19DKHL0.09

You have quite the variety in there, some players being closer to the NHL than others, but most are thought to have a bright future in the NHL. Some will be pushing for a spot starting next season, others will take 3, 4, 5 years before they’re ready to be key contributors. Others might not ever pan out. That’s life and it’s the reality of the draft, when trying to not only evaluate the talent of a 17-18 year old, but to determine when he will hit his plateau and stop improving. It’s not a pure science, that’s for sure.

The obvious names that come to mind are Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook, both of whom made a very strong impression at last year’s training camp, being the last ones cut. They both had an amazing season in the OHL and WHL respectively and as Marc Bergevin always told young players: “Force my hand to make room for you and I will do it.” He has kept his word with Gallagher, Mete and Kotkaniemi, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t do it again this year if any prospect shows that he can contribute immediately.

I don’t know about you folks, but I haven’t been this excited about the Canadiens’ prospect pool as a whole for decades. There are no guarantee that today’s prospects will develop as predicted and have an impact at the NHL level. But look at when Bergevin took over in 2012. The top prospects were Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Danny Kristo, Sebastian Collberg, Brendan Gallagher, Morgan Ellis, Dalton Thrower, Michael Bournival, Steve Quailer, Patrick Holland, Tim Bozon, Darren Dietz, Daniel Pribyl and Joonas Nattinen. It’s quite the turnaround isn’t it? The future is bright Habs’ fans! Go Habs Go!

Featured

Pending Free Agents: Class of 2019

It’s early, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is just starting and talks about free agents is somewhat premature. Having said that, when your team is eliminated, there isn’t much to look forward to except for their next move, the next big date and that date is about two months away, at the NHL Draft. The next day, teams will be able to talk to pending UFAs and on July 1st, players will be able to announce their choice.

Much can change from now until the actual date but let’s explore the possibilities as they stand today and admittedly, those lists will look somewhat different at that time. Regardless, let’s do the exercise, shall we?

Team needs

Ever since Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, there has been a huge hole on Weber’s left. You see, Weber plays big minutes against the opposition’s top lines game in, game out and it’s not everyone who can do that. At the top of his game, Andrei Markov was the perfect partner for the one they call Man Mountain but he was getting too old to play top minutes. Victor Mete did okay but he’s not the ideal candidate. Bergevin MUST finally address this gaping hole on his team and if he fails to do so once again, many people, myself included, will be very disappointed in him.

Also, the powerplay was atrocious and it needs some sort of injection. Whether it be a top-end right-handed goals’ scorer or a left-handed pointman (they have Weber and Petry on the right side), Bergevin needs to help his coaching staff by providing them with the necessary tools to fix a powerplay that finished 30th in the NHL with a 13.2% success rate and was too often a momentum killer for the Canadiens last season.

While I personally fully expect that Bergevin’s biggest splash will be through a trade or two as he’s always done, let’s still have a look at the pending unrestricted free agents’ pool this upcoming July first. Granted, it’s early and some of these guys will re-sign with their respective team but as it stands right now, it promises to be an interesting off-season, a buyers’ market if we can say.

Defensemen

The Canadiens’ depth chart on the right side is deep, very deep with quality assets both older and younger. Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury and Brett Lernout form a solid depth group on right defense. But on the left, there are numbers but the quality is lacking, particularly at the top end. Victor Mete, Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly are in the NHL and Jordie Benn is, at the time of writing this, a pending UFA. Alexander Romanov is the team’s best hope but he has one year left to his contract in the KHL and he is likely a few years away from having an impact at the NHL level. Gustav Olofsson is interesting and he will be coming back from injury. Scott Walford and Jarret Tyszka are good projects but they too are a few years away.

Having said all of that, here are some of the top pending UFA’s on defense:

Alex Edler has made it clear that he wants to stay in Vancouver and the Canucks would like to have him back. Marc Methot has slowed down the last two years and so has Niklas Kronwall. The most interesting might be Jake Gardiner but according to TSN Insiders, he should fetch between 6-8 million per season for seven years. That’s way too rich for him and I would personally stay away from him. He’s simply not that good. Ben Chiarot might be an interesting gamble but is he really an improvement over what the Habs already have? I think that the best way to get what he wants would be for Bergevin to sacrifice a forward or two to get the right fit and two names come to mind: Anaheim’s Cam Fowler and Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere, both of which can also man the point on the powerplay.

Forwards

At forward, it’s a different story. The Canadiens are deep at that position and so is their depth chart. Max Domi was a very pleasant surprise at centre and unless a Matt Duchene type of players lands in Montreal, he’s likely to stay at that position. But there are currently plenty of very interesting names on that list and Bergevin should have a chance at picking at least one of them… if the price is right.

Of course the two biggest fish are Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Panarin apparently wants to play in a big US market but many link Duchene to the Habs because “he grew up a Habs’ fan”. We all know how that works out most times so don’t hold your breath folks. If I’m Bergevin, it doesn’t matter if it’s a centre or a winger, I go after the best player available as Domi could go back to the wing if need be. It’s easier to make a winger out of a centre than the other way around.

Pending RFA’s

I have to touch on that because some feel like offer sheets are a tool that NHL GMs don’t use often enough. As we’ve touched on before, Paul Holmgren explained that offer sheets can be devastating to a GM’s career and that is predominantly why we don’t see them. That and usually, the price is steep, very steep for the more lucrative contract offers.

OFFER SHEET (AVG)COMPENSATION
$1,339,575 or belowNone
Over $1,339,575 to $2,029,593rd
Over $2,029,59 to $4,059,3222nd
Over $4,059,322 to $6,088,9801st, 3rd
Over $6,088,980 to $8,118,6411st, 2nd, 3rd
Over $8,118,641 to $10,148,302(2) 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Over $10,148,302(4) 1st

Still, here’s this year’s list of pending RFA’s:

Some folks see the signing of Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal as a sign that Bergevin will be satisfied with minor signing. That’s either ill intent or ignorant on their part as the Canadiens’ GM has always been one of the most active on the trade front since taking over in Montreal… and it’s only April 27th! You can expect much of the same this upcoming summer. They have a plan and will follow through with it. The future is bring in Montreal. Go Habs Go!