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!

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Bergevin Making The Habs Great Again

He was a rookie General Manager. Highly sought, but a rookie nonetheless. And he was the choice of not only Geoff Molson, but of former Canadiens’ GM Serge Savard as well, who was hired by Molson as a special consultant to help him find the right guy. Marc Bergevin was it. Known around the league as a great hockey mind and talent evaluator, Bergevin decided to return home, knowing full well that the challenge wouldn’t be easy. The team had just finished 28th out of 30 teams, the bank of quality prospects was non-existent. He had his work cut out for him… but he knew it.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating, most spread by people who are still hot at Bergevin for trading P.K. Subban, let’s admit. So let’s start by addressing some of the “rumours” or plain made-up stories out there, and set the clocks straight, shall we?

In the summer of 2017, Bergevin wanted to re-sign Andrei Markov and they had some talks. The problem is that for the longest time, Markov insisted on a two-year contract while the Canadiens were offering him one year. Players like Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Joe Sakic – just to name a few – all signed 1-year deals at the end of their career but Markov seemed to think that he was above that. Had he been represented by an agent, he might have received proper guidance but he waited too long and by the time Markov changed his mind, it was too late. The Canadiens went to plan B and signed Karl Alzner (which they shouldn’t have done in retrospect). Markov’s stubbornness indeed cost the Habs… and himself to reach 1,000 games with the Canadiens.

Alexander Radulov followed the money.

And the Alexander Radulov story… the Canadiens’ GM did offer Radulov contract extension back in January, but the player wanted to wait in the summer before making up his mind. Again in June, the Canadiens offered him the same contract that Radulov ended up signing with Dallas, but he wanted to wait to July 1st, to gauge the offers, and he wanted $7M from Habs. Facing the same salary cap as any other teams, the Habs didn’t want to pay him that. When Radulov received his offer from the Stars, Bergevin offered to match that offer but Radulov chose the Dallas, likely due to the taxes, and “sold” to fans that the Canadiens’ offer came in too late, that he had accepted the one in Dallas. Having enough of the lies, Bergevin retorqued publicly, something the organization rarely does.

Transactions

In one of his most underrated achievements, Bergevin picked up Paul Byron off waivers – free! He then re-signed him at $1.1 million per season. If you want to see how valuable Byron is to the Canadiens, here’s a recent article on this blog.

Shea Weber for P.K. Subban: the only reason why this transaction seemed, for a while, to go against Bergevin and the Habs was because of Weber’s injury. Prior to that, they were nose to nose in offensive production, with Weber being more physical and much better defensively. Now that the one nicknamed Man Mountain by Mike Babcock is back healthy, the entire Habs’ team is playing better hockey. Coincidence? I think not. But I’m working on a 3-year recap so stay tuned…

Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev didn’t look so good last year according to many, but lopsided in Habs’ favour this year. With one game left to this season, Drouin is one point shy of his career high. Sergachev plays only 17:55 minutes per game, 1:31 minutes of it being on the powerplay. He has 6 goals and 32 points this season. I still believe it’s a good trade for both teams.

Tomas Tatar/Nick Suzuki/2nd for Max Pacioretty: literally a steal by Bergevin. Pacioretty now has a cap hit of $7M starting next year. Has Tatar (without a NTC) at $500k rebate (paid by Vegas) who has reached the 20-goal plateau this season for the fifth consecutive season. Suzuki is tearing up the OHL and the 2nd in 2019 is the Blue Jackets’ pick.

Max Domi is happy in Montreal

Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk: Not really wanting to put Galchenyuk down here, as much as to praise Domi, who has shattered his career-high in points by about 20 points. He has played admirably well at the centre position and leads the Habs in scoring. Highly in Habs’ favour.

Mike Reilly for a 5th? Okay, Reilly has slowed down after a very hot start to the season, but he’s played top-4 minutes most of the season. No matter how you look at it, getting that kind of return for a 5th round pick is unbelievable value. Further, it’s not the Canadiens’ 5th, it’s the Washington Capitals’.

Phillip Danault & 2nd (Alexander Romanov) for pending UFA’s Dale Weise/Tomas Fleishmann: Much like Domi, Danault has beaten his career high in points in 22 fewer games this season. The new father has been the Canadiens’ second line centre while playing against the oppositions’ top forwards. Many “experts” and “fans” were complaining last June that Trevor Timmins took a no-name, Romanov, so soon in the draft. None of them are complaining today as he’s perceived to be one of the NHL’s top prospects.

Josh Gorges for 2nd: That pick was later traded to Chicago to get Andrew Shaw.

Thomas Vanek & 5th/Sebastian Collberg & 2nd: Vanek was the biggest pending UFA that year and Garth Snow was holding back trying to get the maximum for him. He waited too long and Bergevin pounced like a mountain lion on an unexpected pray. Vanek played outstanding in regular season but disappeared in the playoffs, so Bergevin cut him loose. At that price, he was worth the shot.

Michael Ryder & 3rd (Connor Crisp)/Erik Cole: While this trade won’t go down as remarquable in history, getting Ryder back when Cole’s play was fading rapidly was a good trade. That is when young Brendan Gallagher gave up his number 73 to Ryder, and picked number 11, which he’s still wearing to this date.

Andrew Shaw / 2 x 2nd: As mentioned above, one of the 2nd round picks was acquired in the Josh Gorges trade. When you can turn a fading and banged up Gorges into a proven competitor like Shaw, that’s gold. Shaw is tied with Tatar on the Habs with 0.73 points per game.

Jeff Petry was a great pickup

Jeff Petry / 2nd & 5th: This might be one of Bergevin’s most underrated trade he’s made. Petry is a very serviceable top-4 who has done a good job under difficult circumstances filling in for Shea Weber last year. This season with one game to go, he has reached a career-high 45 points.

Joel Armia, Steve Mason, 4th, 7th / Simon Bourque: That was a strategic trade. The Canadiens had cap space, the Jets needed to clear some so Bergevin bought out Mason’s contract and got Armia and two picks for a guy that will never see the NHL. Highway robbery.

Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev, 2nd (Jacob Olofsson) / Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Baun: While Rychel and Valiev have not panned out, Olofsson is a very good prospect in the Canadiens’ organisation. Plus, they got Plekanec back as a UFA so he could play his 1,000th game with the team that he loves.

Jakub Jerabek (UFA) / 5th: Bergevin had signed Jerabek as a UFA so he didn’t cost him anything. The 5th round pick was the Washington Capitals’ pick, which Bergevin flipped to Minnesota to get Mike Reilly.

Nicolas Deslauriers / Zach Redmond: Deslaurier is a physical fourth liner with grit, a local product who loves being in Montreal. Redmond played three games for the Sabres since the trade.

Jordie Benn / Greg Pateryn, 4th: Benn has had his ups and his downs since being acquired by the Canadiens. He finished his first season with the Habs very strong, which earned him a new contract. Last season, he did not play well mostly due to injuries to Weber, which put everyone in a role they weren’t suited for. But he has bounced back this season playing on the third pairing and killing penalties.

2nd in 2017 (Joni Ikonen), 2nd in 2018 (traded to EDM) / Lars Eller: If people complain about Andrew Shaw costing the Habs two second round picks, they have to be happy that Bergevin received two second round picks for Eller. It’s almost like a Shaw for Eller trade. Then you add Ikonen who is one of the team’s best prospects.

Christian Folin, Dale Weise / David Schlemko, Byron Froese: Weise is thrilled to be back in the Canadiens’ organisation. Schlemko had become an dead weight and Froese is a good AHL player, nothing more. Folin has played some very good hockey alongside Benn down the stretch.

Nate Thompson, 5th round pick / 4th round pick: That’s your typical, annual Kings/Habs trade. Remember the Dwight King trade for a pick? Then the Torrey Mitchell trade getting that same pick back? Thompson has taken some pressure off Phillip Danault for defensive zone faceoffs, winning 55.1% of his faceoffs.

Jordan Weal / Michael Chaput: Another depth move, this time bringing in a quality right-handed faceoffs’ centre (57% with the Habs), Weal has also been a key contributor offensively down the stretch. Don’t be surprised if the pending UFA gets offered a contract this summer.


As you can see, Bergevin has won a vast majority of his transaction and even the one he’s been most criticized about, the Weber / Subban deal is in his favour this season.

While some will get stuck on the Alzner contract, they also forget that he is also the one who signed some of the most one-sided contracts (in the Habs’ favour) in the NHL. Who could get a 30-35 goals scorer – Pacioretty – at $4.5 million per season long term? A 20-goals scorer in Byron at $1.1 million? Perhaps shall we look at another 30-goals’ scorer –Brendan Gallagher – at $3.75 million? Domi at $3.15 million isn’t too shabby either, is it? Or what about Danault at $3.08 million? But let’s focus on Alzner, right?

Now that the Canadiens are officially out of the playoffs, there’s this (same) group of people out there calling for his head because the team missed out for the second year in a row. Yet, Geoff Molson was quite clear last summer when saying that he had accepted Bergevin’s plan, which seems to be to get younger and add an attitude of hating to lose. Molson is a smart and reasonable man. He understands that going through a reset through youth likely meant that the team would miss the playoffs. You can bet that he’s satisfied with the way his GM turned things around, even after narrowly missing the playoffs. Oh I personally would have liked for him to do more at the deadline, but his overall work since last summer has been spectacular. Even his recent depth moves have paid off.

Now he must continue in the same direction this upcoming summer as he did for the past year or so. Trevor Timmins has 10 picks to play with at the upcoming draft and Bergevin MUST find a quality left-handed top-4 defenseman at the very least. Someone in the mold of Cam Fowler or Shayne Gostisbehere, who can also play on the powerplay would be ideal. Either way, the future is very promising in Montreal folks. Go Habs Go!