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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Top Cheese: January 2019 Edition

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is entering the second half of their calendar, entering the exciting portion of the season and pushing for a spot in the playoffs. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Having reached the 41 games mark, the Canadiens have now played half the season. With a 22-14-5 record good for 49 points, they occupy the last Wild Card spot but find themselves only one point back of both Boston and Buffalo, and have closed in to within five points of Toronto. And they did that with Carey Price struggling through the first couple of months of the season and without Shea Weber in October and November. At what point can we agree that this team has had a major positive turnaround?

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When Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk were traded, many people were wondering where the offense would come from after trading the team’s best two goals’ producers and that, on a team already struggling to find the back of the net. While we know that the addition of Max Domi provides some of the answers, other players have also upped their game as well:

TOMAS TATAR

SeasonGPPts+/-
2017-20188234-19
2018-20194131+9

ARTTURI LEHKONEN

SeasonGPPts+/-
2017-20186621-11
2018-20194121+7

JONATHAN DROUIN

SeasonGPGoals+/-
2017-20187713-28
2018-201941130
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Are there still people doubting that Shea Weber is one of the NHL’s best defensemen? He has done a tremendous job since coming back for a full year absence, and his 11 points in 17 games with a plus -7 rating while impressive, isn’t telling the whole story. Averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game, he plays against the top lines, kills penalties and is a huge threat on the powerplay, and his leadership, often underestimated by some fans, is not amongst the hockey community and certainly not on the team. The Canadiens are 11-6-0 since his return.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Julien said. “I think it’s you getting your top defenseman back who’s got an unbelievable presence not just on the ice, but even off the ice with the team. As a coach, you’re happy to have your top leader — which is your captain — in the room because he’s managing that. As coaches — I’ve always said that, anyways — you go in the room and you tell them what needs to be done and you have your pregame meetings and all that stuff. But if there’s not a follow-up to that — if guys just kind of take off and there’s not a follow-up — it’s hard. But when you have a captain who believes and who’s going to go in there in the dressing room while they’re getting dressed — he’s not the only one — but who’s going to reiterate what we’ve talked about: ‘Hey, guys, let’s make sure tonight we’re doing this and that as what we said in our pregame meeting,’ it makes a difference. So are our guys even better prepared? Probably. I’m sure he has an impact there as well. We were good before he came back, I thought we did a great job. But we’ve gotten a little better now that our captain is back.”

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Speaking of Weber’s return, no one has benefited more than his good friend Carey Price, he whose performances were a legitimate concern for many. But since the return of the Habs’ captain, Price has returned to form. As a matter of fact, since Weber came back on November 27th, the Canadiens’ goalkeeper has allowed more than 3 goals only twice. He has a .924 Sv% since then and that, folks, is a good sign for the second half of the season

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Remember when Dallas’ Stars President Jim Lites did the unthinkable by calling out his team captain Jamie Benn and his assistant Tyler Seguin? Well since then, one Benn has taken Lites’ words serious… Jordie Benn did. The Habs’ Benn has accumulated five points in the five games he’s played since that time. As a matter of fact, the Benn with the nicest beard is plus -5, out producing his younger brother who has three (3) points and is minus -1. Jordie has turned his game around since the return of Weber and his experience has proven valuable. With David Schlemko on the verge of returning, it will be interesting to see who will be spending time in the press box. Benn should be safe.

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The 2019 World Junior Championships are coming to a close and seven of the Canadiens’ top prospects got to participate this year. While Canada and Sweden were upset, participating in this very competitive tournament will have been a very valuable experience for all of them, win or lose. Most have shone for their respective team and they will all take something from it. Ryan Poehling and Cayden Primeau were leaders on Team USA, as was Alexander Romanov for Russia, for whom Habs’ fans have finally got a chance to discover. Perhaps Trevor Timmins knows what he’s doing?

Nick Suzuki (CAN) 5GP – 3A
Josh Brook (CAN) 5GP – 2A
Jacob Olofsson (SWE) 5GP – 0Pts
*Ryan Poehling (USA) 6GP – 8Pts
*Cayden Primeau (USA) 4GP – 1.25GAA .947Sv%
*Jesse Ylönen (FIN) – 6GP – 5Pts
*Alexander Romanov (RUS) – 6GP – 7Pts

*One medal game to play

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Speaking of the World Juniors, what a shame to see the treatment given to Team Canada captain Maxime Comtois by some idiots hiding behind Twitter handles. The good news is the outburst of support Comtois has received from fans, coaches, Hockey Canada and even some NHL players including none other than Sidney Crosby himself:

“I feel bad,” Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s too bad that people have to react that way, and social media gives them that opportunity. My advice to him would be to ignore it. He’s a great player. He’s going to have a great career. That’s not going to define who he is — that penalty shot. The real fans and the players who are behind you … I think everybody is there to support him. Anything can happen in hockey in a quarterfinal game like that. You see [Dobson’s] stick break, it was one of those things. It’s easy to be a good fan when you’re winning. It’s a little tougher when you’re losing. I think everyone should keep that in mind.”

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Speaking of broken sticks, I’ve been swearing at those sticks for a long, long time as an advocate to the return of the wood sticks. Baseball resisted the aluminum and composite sticks. Hockey should have done the same. Al Iafrate and Al MacInnis were shooting at over 100mph with wooden sticks. Why couldn’t today’s players do that? But we have to laugh at a Tweet from a Finnish sticks company who jumped to the occasion to tease Noah Dobson, offering him a new stick.

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It would have been fun to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi play for Finland at the World Junior Tournament but let’s face it… the Canadiens need him. Since the start of his draft year, KK as they call him has made it a habit to surprise everyone with an incredibly rapid development. While some were shocked – even angry – to see the Canadiens draft him third overall, few question that decision today. He has now reached the 40 games plateau which ensures that this will officially be his first year pro and as a result, he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency at… 25 years old! But he should be a Montreal Canadiens for many, many years to come.

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This week saw a very incident involving Kotkaniemi and Vancouver Canucks rookie sensation Elias Pettersson. As Pettersson was trying to join the rush when Kotkaniemi hooked him to slow him down. Feeling the tug, Pettersson tried to reverse hit the Finnish rookie and both players got tangled up, falling to the ice. Had Pettersson’s leg not bent in a way a leg shouldn’t, no one would be talking about it but since the Canucks’ best player missed time after a concussion suffered after being slammed to the ice by Florida Panthers’ defenseman Mike Matheson earlier this season, Canucks’ fans were livid. After the game, Vancouver players, coaches and even Pettersson himself called it an accident, stating that it wasn’t a dirty play. Some Canucks’ fans need to channel their frustration elsewhere.

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Let’s just take a minute and give some well deserve praise to Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien for having the guts and ability to completely change his system from last season, making this team fun to watch, win or lose. The arrival of new assistant coaches Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson are no coincidence I’m sure but ultimately, it’s Julien who makes the final decisions and he has done the right thing.

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At least two Montreal Canadiens’ players were more deserving to get an invitation to the All-Star game than Carey Price but they fell victims to the NHL’s flawed system. Max Domi should be the Habs’ representative, most fans and members of the media agree on that. Jeff Petry, a much underrated player, is another one who would be more deserving but they simply couldn’t beat other players at their respective position. Really though… who cares about the NHL All-Star game? Players are better off taking a bit of a break to lick their own wounds and prepare for the tough stretch of games ahead.

Atlantic Division (All-Star Appearance)
Auston Matthews, TOR (3rd)
Jack Eichel, BUF (2nd)
Nikita Kucherov, TBL (3rd)
David Pastrnak, BOS (1st)
Steven Stamkos, TBL (6th)
John Tavares, TOR (6th)
Thomas Chabot, OTT (1st)
Keith Yandle, FLA (3rd)
Jimmy Howard, DET (2nd)
Carey Price, MTL (7th)

But Habs’ fans can still vote for Shea Weber to join that group as NHL All-Star Last Men In.

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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 some want you to 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!!!