Three Keepers: One Net

The year: 2005. As a lockout cancelled the games of the 2004–05 NHL season, the draft order was determined by lottery on July 22, 2005. One by one, teams were eliminated and we were down to five teams still in the hunt to get the grand prize: the number one overall pick, franchise player Sidney Crosby. When NHL assistant-commissioner Bill Daly pulled out the next card, the disappointment of Habs’ fans could be felt around the world.

That year, Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey took the hockey world by surprise by picking, at number five overall, goaltender Carey Price. Many were hoping that they would pick Anze Kopitar and others wanted… Gilbert Brule. But why pick a goaltender at number five when you had, in your net, Jose Theodore, only a couple of years removed from a Hart Memorial and Vezina Trophy? The hockey world was baffled. Not so much today with perhaps the exception of Theodore himself, who seems to carry (no pun intended) a grudge against the organization to this day, but that’s a whole different story.

Jump ahead to today and with Price entering the second of an eight-year, $84 million contract, there seems to be a line-up of quality prospect goaltenders within the Canadiens’ organization trying to make a name for themselves in hope to, one day, take over from the winningest goaltender in the history of the NHL’s most successful franchise.

Log jam in Laval

With the Habs signing veteran backup Keith Kinkaid, the oldest prospect of this group, Charlie Lindgren, will have an uphill batter if he wishes to pierce the Canadiens’ opening day roster. While Kinkaid had a lackluster season with the NHL’s 28th overall New Jersey Devils last season with a 3.36 goals against average and a .891 saves percentage, the 30 year-old veteran is only a year removed from a couple of good seasons as a backup. It is highly unlikely to see the Canadiens go with three goaltenders at the NHL level, which means that Lindgren would have to clear waivers in order to report to the Laval Rockets in the AHL.

Charlie Lindgren’s days with the Habs are likely counted.

However, the Rockets already have two young, promising prospects in Michael McNiven and newly signed NCAA star Cayden Primeau. The problem? Players need to play in order to develop, and that applies to goaltenders as well. But there’s only one net on any given night. The AHL season consists of 76 games so sharing the duties with two prospects will result in each one starting about 38 games. Add one more goalie and you’re down to around 25 starts each, which is far from enough for any given prospect goaltender to properly develop.

We’re only in mid-August but the Canadiens’ rookie camp will be starting in a few weeks, followed by the team’s main training camp with the first pre-season game scheduled for September 16th against Kinkaid’s former team, the New Jersey Devils. A lot can happen until then and Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin isn’t afraid to go against tradition in making trades in the Fall, even major ones, as we saw a year ago when Max Pacioretty was sent packing to Vegas. Could Lindgren find a new team by training camp? It’s entirely possible. Would he clear waivers if sent down? At 25 years old and with the statistics that he has had, one would think that he would. But the net in Hamilton must belong to McNiven and Primeau. There’s simply no room for Lindgren who should be the odd-man out. Go Habs Go!

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!