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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Habs Closer to Glory Than to Mediocrity

The NHL hockey season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can try to analyse and break down the season in segments, as coaches often do, but no segment is a true testament of what the season’s results will be. Injuries, a gruelling schedule, travel, mental and physical fatigue, all play a role in determining which teams will be in or out of the playoffs’ race comes April. And that’s the reason why fans and media should never get too high in the face of early success, or too low when their team is going through a rough stretch. But tell Habs’ fans that… good luck!

Many see this five-game losing streak as losing five games in a row. They’re not wrong, but they’re also not being totally honest. Of those losses, two of them were in overtime so in reality, those are ties (with the extra point going to the OT winners). This means that they’ve lost two in a row. Granted, it’s not ideal but let’s not paint this situation as dramatically as some make it out to be. In addition, with the exception of the 5-2 loss to New Jersey, every other game was a one-goal game.

Stéphane Waite has worked hard with Carey Price to get his game back.

When you look at the last game against the Hurricanes, the Canadiens dominated that game. Carolina’s goaltender Curtis McElhinney stopped 48 of the 49 shots he faced, many of them of great quality, and Hurricanes’ skaters blocked an additional 26 shots! The Habs hit a few goal posts and missed at least three open nets, while Trevor Van Riemsdyk robbed Jonathan Drouin of a sure goal with a quick stick on the goal line. 

The return of a healthy Shea Weber has proven, at least for the first game, very helpful for a struggling defensive core as the Canadiens only allowed 22 shots and only had to block 15 in that game. A deflected puck in front of Carey Price and a fluke goal off Victor Mete‘s skate were the difference. If you’ve played hockey or if you’ve been around the game for any length of time, you will know that sometimes, you win games that you didn’t deserve to win and you lose some that you deserved to win. The Hurricanes know that they got away with one they shouldn’t have won. It usually balances out in the course of a long season.

Quality youth and depth

Marc Bergevin doesn’t get half the credit that he deserves for what he’s done this past summer, and even for a few moves that he’s made in the past couple of seasons. For one, Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev is looking better as time goes on. In his first season, the Ste-Agathe native was learning the centre position at the NHL level but still, he came along nicely as the season went along. As a matter of fact, in his last 39 games including last season, Drouin has 33 points, which is a pace for a 70 points season… and he’s only 23 years old! After a hot start (mostly on the powerplay) on a much stronger team last year, Sergachev only has eight (8) assists in 26 games this season. I still believe today as I believed then, that this is a good trade for both teams, but it certainly is not tipped on the Lightning’s side as some claimed last year!

Max Domi has embraced the Montreal market.

Do we need to go back on the Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk trade? As predicted, Domi has quickly become a fan favourite in Montreal and his offensive output has surpassed what anyone in their right mind would have predicted. And he’s doing this while filling the Canadiens’ top-line centre position. Oh and he too is only 23!

Anyone wants to rehash the Max Pacioretty trade for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round pick? While Pacioretty has picked up his goals’ scoring with the Golden Knights after signing a four-year, $28 million extension ($7 millions cap hit), Tatar has as many goals (10) and four more points than him, while the Canadiens are playing him $4.8 million and Vegas picking up $500,000 a year for the remainder of his contract. And then, you add Nick Suzuki and the second round pick…

Without going into the other picks at last June’s draft, which are looking pretty darn good by the way, is anyone in their right mind still questioning Trevor Timmins’ decision to suggest Jesperi Kotkaniemi as a good selection for the Canadiens? While 12 points in 25 games is nothing to write a book about, he is developing nicely and has definitely shown that he belongs at this level. He’s 18 and won’t turn 19 until next July! 

The prospect pool has, aside from Suzuki, blue chips like Ryan Poehling, Jacob Olofsson, Cam Hillis, Lukas Vejdemo and Joni Ikonen at centre, with Jesse Ylonen on the wing, Alexander Romanov, Cale Fleury and Josh Brook on defense, and Cayden Primeau in goal. 

Partner for Weber

Shea Weber’s return has brought to light the fact that the Canadiens are still looking for a suitable partner for their captain, someone able to eat top minutes against the opponents’ top line. David Schlemko certainly isn’t it and they will experiment with Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly but in both cases, it’s a long shot. 

This year’s edition of the Habs has a lot more offensive capability, a lot more depth at forward with four lines capable of contributing offensively and that, even if they’re lacking star power up front. The Canadiens really could use a quality puck-moving left-handed defenseman and if Marc Bergevin can find that, this team is a lot closer to glory than it is to sliding back to what we saw of them last season. Go Habs Go!