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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Habs’ Prospects: When Quality Meets Quantity

The NHL draft process is not a pure science, we all know that, but nobody knows it better than the people having to scout and make those tough but crucial decisions. You see, it’s one thing to compare players at the same age and their current on-ice performances, but then you add the different competition they’re facing, the leagues they play in, the teams they play for and the support they’re getting and it’s a different story. Every player will eventually reach his development plateau but with the exception of a few gifted ones, few are certainties to play hockey at the NHL level and even fewer will have an impact. Choosing amongst a bunch of 17-18 year-old teenagers, trying to predict when they will reach their own plateau is almost impossible.

As a head scout and a General Manager, you can dot the “i” and cross the “t” all you want, there are too many factors out of your own control that can or will affect the young men they’re selecting. Some will be in a positive way, but others will be affected negatively. Injuries, coaching, life events, mental toughness as a teenager and young adult, reaction to early “fame”, maturity level, dedication to put in the necessary effort on and off the ice, all play a key role in a kid’s future.

When Marc Bergevin took over the Montreal Canadiens in May 2012, he soon realised that while he had some promising young players on the team (Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban). But he also rapidly found out that the prospect cupboards were almost empty and that, for a GM, is not good news in a cap era.

Here’s a list of the Top 15 prospects of 2012, when Bergevin took over the team:

  • Alex Galchenyuk (drafted under Bergevin)
  • 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
  • Joonas Nattinen

Off this group, only Brendan Gallagher (a former 5th round pick) has turned into an impact player. We all know the story behind Alex Galchenyuk, which led to his departure for Arizona in return for Max Domi. And Nate the not-so great, who once was one of the Habs’ top prospects and seen as a potential partner for Shea Weber, is struggling to keep a spot on the bottom defense pairing in Buffalo.

A complete turnaround

It soon became obvious that Bergevin understood the need to keep his high draft picks and his game plan was to build through the draft. Oh he did trade some of them, but always ensured to get some back in return. For example, he did trade two picks to get his hands on Andrew Shaw, but he also got similar two picks in return for Lars Eller.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi could have many reasons to smile in the future with the Canadiens

Trevor Timmins has a bad reputation with some Habs’ fans but as shown in a previous article on this blog, his record is not as bad as they seem. The issue, up until recently, has been the results from his top two rounds and something tells me that this cycle is about to change.

Without further ado, let’s move to today, shall we? In no particular order, here’s the list of the Canadiens’ top prospects:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Jake Evans

Lukas Vejdemo

Nick Suzuki

Ryan Poehling

Jacob Olofsson

Cam Hillis

Joni Ikonen

Allan McShane

Cole Fonstad 

Jesse Ylönen 

Victor Mete

Cale Fleury

Alexander Romanov 

Josh Brook 

Cayden Primeau 

I don’t know about you folks but when I look at that list, I’m more excited about the prospects in this organisation than I’ve felt in a long, long time. As a matter of fact, the last time I was this optimistic about the Habs’ future, many of you weren’t born or old enough to be aware of the team’s prospects.

If my 50+ years on this planet have taught me anything, it’s that there’s no certainty that all of those prospects will pan out. But when you have that many quality prospects, the odds are that the Canadiens’ future is very bright and, whether some want to believe it or not, they are in good hands. Yes, Bergevin knows what he’s doing folks.

Many talk about his so-called 5-year plan, a made-up story by reporters and fans. When hired, he answered the famous 5-year plan question by turning it around, saying instead that his plan was to build a team that will contend year in and year out. And that’s exactly what he’s doing folks. With a young core with Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi and company in their early 20’s, with the addition of the new prospects, this team will be exciting to watch for years to come. And like most of you, I’m planning on enjoying every minute of it. Go Habs Go!