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!

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Top Cheese: September 2018 Edition

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Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full gear and the Canadiens are working at making amends for a poor season last year. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Three exhibition games down, four more to go and while no one should read too much in pre-season results, the fact is that this year is a lot better for fans’ morale than what the team showed at the same time last season when they won two of the eight games they played. So far, they beat the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals, while dropping a game against a veteran-filled Florida Panthers’ line-up. It is exciting to see a bunch of new faces in a Habs’ uniform and the battles for a spot are very interesting to watch as well.

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Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Max Domi deserves to be suspended for a sucker punch on Florida Panthers’ defenseman Aaron Ekblad. It was clear that Ekblad wanted nothing to do with fighting Domi and those putting the blame on the defenseman for “not defending himself” or “not expecting the punch” are way out of line. No, he did not expect it and no, he did not protect himself… nor should he have to. If we can tell Ekblad’s intentions on TV, Domi should have been able to see the same looking into his eyes. Habs’ fans spent years defending Alexei Emelin because he couldn’t fight because he had a metal plate by his cheek and they now blame Ekblad for refusing to fight because of his concussion history? I’m sorry folks but that doesn’t sit well with me.

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Back when he was the NHL’s Vice-President and in charge of discipline, Brian Burke – who loves the rough stuff and fighting in hockey – condemned Tie Domi‘s sucker punch on then bad guy Ulf Samuelsson. “If anyone thinks that it’s an acceptable response to a verbal taunting, I’ve got news for you because it’s not.” Tie received an eight game (regular season) suspension for his action.

This action by Max Domi doesn’t define him as a hockey player or as an individual and people, particularly those who aren’t happy about the fact that Marc Bergevin traded Alex Galchenyuk for him, should not hold that against him or make an early judgment.

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Now on to more positive news. A few  young prospects are doing very well for themselves so far at camp. One of them is none other than the Canadiens’ first pick at this year’s draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who seems more and more comfortable as pre-season progresses. In a Cinderella-like story, he scored his first goal in a Habs’ uniform in his first game at the Bell Centre, and while fans are discovering his great skills, he is showing good composure for such a young man. Jokingly (and to rub it in a bit), I posted this after his goal:

 

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Another young man doing things well and drawing praise from everyone is Nick Suzuki, acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade along with Tomas Tatar and a second round pick. He’s showing great composure with the puck and finds himself on the right side of the puck defensively as well. And he’s only 19 folks! Claude Julien likes what he sees of him and you can be sure that he will be given every opportunity to show what he can do before the team makes a decision in his case.

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Last but not least, defenseman Josh Brook has also opened the eyes of many as did Victor Mete at last year’s camp. Not the biggest guy, he makes quick decisions with the puck and plays his angles very well. All of that while wearing number 76, a number which, by the way, was handed to him by the organization, not because he asked for it (so don’t be too quick to hate him). If we go by performances only, he ranks third amongst right-handed defensemen at camp, with only Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen surpassing him on the right side. Unless the team suffers further injuries, it would be unlikely to see him earn a spot in the opening day line-up but he will be on the radar.

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Jonathan Drouin was flattered to see that he had an “A” on his jersey for the game against the Florida Panthers and he had this to say:

“I want to lead this team … I want to be one of the leaders on the squad.” ~ Jonathan Drouin

When asked after the game if management was sending a message to Drouin by putting an “A” on his jersey, Julien said:

“A couple of things. Jonathan came in this year in much better shape than he was last year and he did a lot of good things during the summer. We’re playing preseason games and those guys, you reward them for those kind of things. Tonight with our lineup I thought he was worthy of wearing an ‘A’ and I wanted him to wear it with pride and play the way we wanted him to play and that’s the reason he got the ‘A’. We’re moving them around. We’ll probably get some new ones tomorrow as we play it game by game.”

You can bet that Drouin appreciated the gesture and that he is slowly but surely taking on a bigger leadership role, even at the tender age of 23. Moved to the wing while Domi was available, he seemed more comfortable.

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Speaking of letters on the jersey, much has been said and written about the vacant spot left by the departure of team captain Max Pacioretty. Who will be his replacement? Do they need to have a captain? Here’s my humble opinion on the topic: Yes, yes they do need a captain. And they have two very solid candidates for the position:

Brendan Gallagher is a born leader. He was captain of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL and has been wearing the “A” on his jersey for a couple of seasons now with the Canadiens. No one will outwork him so he’s a leader by example. And in normal time, I’d say: give it to him.

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Shea Weber should be the team’s next captain.

But when you have a guy like Shea Weber on your team, a Mark Messier Award winner, an alternate captain for Team Canada, former captain of the Nashville Predators for many seasons, you simply cannot pass that along. Weber is not the type to be phased or intimidated by reporters. As a matter of fact, he’s the one who brings the fear of God in them, as did guys like Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson back in the days. And if he stands up in the dressing room, you bet that everyone is listening. In my opinion, he will be the Canadiens’ captain. Whether it’s announced before the season starts or when he’s ready to come back, we’ll see.

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When Marc Bergevin told everyone at the end of last season that there needs to be an attitude change in the dressing room, he wasn’t talking about Weber – who was out with an injury – or about Brendan Gallagher. He wasn’t talking about Paul Byron or even Jeff Petry. Seeing the moves that have been made this summer, the finger was obviously pointed to Pacioretty, who completely folded like a towel when things got tough, and about Galchenyuk whose effort simply wasn’t there.

But something tells me that he wasn’t impressed with his biggest leader, Carey Price, and I’m convinced that he had a long talk with him. Bergevin committed a lot of money in Price and most see him as one of the team’s biggest leaders. But much like Pacioretty, he too seemed to have packed it in early last year. True leaders don’t do that. Look at Jonathan Toews and Connor McDavid. They gave it all in spite of their teams’ lack of success. Bergevin wants Price to have that mentality. He needs Price to be like them… and he will.

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Love him or hate him, Marc Bergevin did extremely well in comparison to his peers in his trades of big name players. When you look at what the Buffalo Sabres received for Evander Kane (conditional 1st, conditional 4th and former 5th round pick Danny O’Regan), and what Don Waddell and the Hurricanes received for Jeff Skinner (2nd, 3rd and 6th round pick and former 3rd round pick Cliff Pu), how can someone not be happy with what the Habs receive for Pacioretty? Getting a 20-25 goals’ scorer in Tomas Tatar, three years younger than Pacioretty and under contract for another three years, former first round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick is an excellent return. Further, he convinced George McPhee and the Golden Knights to pick up $500,000 of Tatar’s contract for each year remaining on his contract?

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Then rewind a bit… Many fans are still hurt by the fact that P.K. Subban is no longer in Montreal but the Canadiens received Shea Weber in return! Shea freakin’ Weber! Pierre Dorion probably wishes he could have received a Weber in return for a much, much better defenseman than Subban when he traded his captain Erik Karlsson to San Jose. What did he get? In exchange for Karlsson, the Senators received four players: Chris Tierney (career high 40 points), Dylan DeMelo (bottom pairing defenseman), former 1st round pick Josh Norris and former 5th round pick Rudolfs Balcers. They also got a 1st and a 2nd round pick and if Karlsson re-signs with the Sharks, they get another 2nd round pick. Now if you’re from the school that quantity equals quality, you will like this one but most hockey experts are unanimous in saying that Doug Wilson robbed Pierre Dorion in this one. This trade makes Bergevin look like Sam Pollock!

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So here you have it folks! Your Canadiens are NOT is as bad of a shape as some want you to believe. As a matter of fact, they are in pretty good hands in spite of what those who are still butt-hurt by the Subban trade are trying to make you believe. The future is bright and the sun will rise again tomorrow in Montreal. Enjoy this time of year and hop in for the ride, it will be a fun season! Go Habs Go!!!