Now that we have passed the midway mark of the 2003-2004 season, it’s time to evaluate how the prospects have progressed so far this year and where they were listed when the season first started. For this mid-season report, a few players had to be moved off the top 20 list for various reasons, with some new names also making it onto the list as well. Mike Komisarek who has been the Habs #1 prospect for sometime now, has been moved off the prospect list and into the graduated section, as he is now seeing time in the NHL. Francois Beauchemin and J-F Damphousse had to be removed from the prospect page, as they have played too many AHL games, but can not be moved to graduated as they have not gotten the call to the NHL. Making his first appearance on the Top 20, is Peterbrough Pete’s Mark Flood, as he is having a career year playing on the top pairing where he is a major part of the teams success.
1. Andrei Kastsitsyn- F. (2nd) Kastsitsyn moves up one spot from second to first, as he is having a great season in the Russian junior league. Taken in the recent draft at tenth overall, the Habs have found a pure offensive talent, which is why he is the new #1 prospect in the Canadiens organization. After taking part in his impressive fourth World Juniors tournament, he put up some impressive numbers against the weaker competition. Spending time between the mens league with CSKA, where he is gaining a wealth of knowledge under the famous Russian coach, and at times he will play for the junior team, CSKA-2 where he is scoring close to a goal a game on average against players his age. Hopefully GM Bob Gainey can get the young star from Belarus to sign a contract this summer, so fans can get a chance to see the high flyer in action.
2. Alex Perezhogin- RW. (4th) Perezhogin moves up from fourth to second, as he is starting to show why he was selected in the first round, 25th overall in 2001. It took the young Russian some time to adapt to the smaller ice surface, but when you have that much skill, it’s only a matter of time before the puck starts going in. Playing under a veteran coach in Doug Jarvis, and having a fellow countryman in Alex Svitov, Perezhogin has been able to use his speed and excellent shot to get points on the board, as he is currently tied for second in team scoring for the Hamilton Bulldogs among active players.
3. Chris Higgins- C/LW. (3rd) Higgins stays at third, but that’s not for lack of improvement, as he has been very impressive in his rookie professional season, and a real force for the Bulldogs of the AHL. Playing a solid all round game, Higgins may be the safest bet of the Habs prospects to have a solid career in the NHL, as he is one of the more intelligent and harder working players in the Habs organization, and he’s not even 21 years old. Playing in the ECAC last year, Higgins attended one of the top colleges in the world, as Yale University is well known for it’s high standards of education, which can only benefit the first time pro as he leaves school early to get his pro career started.
4. Tomas Plekanec- C. (7th) Plekanec moves up a few spots due to him having a very good season in his second year in North America, and in the AHL as well. After an impressive rookie season, Plekanec has shown a large amount of progress in his game, as he has been able to improve upon his weaker areas, along the boards, and in his own end, while not digressing in any other areas. For his efforts and hard work, Plekanec has been given the chance to see some time in the NHL this season, a sign of how good he’s been this season, as he has been one of the Bulldogs top players and scorers all season long.
5. Ron Hainsey- D. (5th) Hainsey stays where was before, as he has struggled to earn a spot in the NHL just yet, but has been very good in the AHL, as he may be the Bulldogs top defensemen in the last few weeks that he’s been in Hamilton. Blessed with outstanding natural abilities, Hainsey can be very effective while on the power play or helping the offense in general, as he shoots and passes well. The defensive end of the ice is where the trouble has been, as he continues to develop that side of his game in the AHL, where he has adapted well from the more wide open NCAA where he spent two seasons before being signed by the Habs.
6. Josef Balej- RW. (9th) Balej jumps a few spots, as he is having a breakout year for the Bulldogs, in his second professional season. After suffering from an injury early in the season last year, Balej struggled to find his game or ice time, as he played for the top team in the AHL. Things weren’t looking good for him when the new season started, as he was one of the first cuts to be made by the Canadiens brass, which had to be a big disappointment to the young Slovak, but instead he didn’t let get to him as he has been one of the top scorers in Hamilton and the AHL for most of the season. Using his exploding speed, Balej is able to generate things on offense every time he has the puck, which makes life difficult for opposing goalies and defensemen throughout the AHL and soon to be NHL.
7. Cory Urquhart- C. (8th) Urquhart moves up one spot as he has shown impressive development over each year he’s played in the QMJHL. Recently drafted in the second round, 45th overall, Urquhart has been one of the top scorers for the Rocket over the last two seasons, and has been one of the top scorers in the entire QMJHL all season long. A strong finish again the playoffs could land Urquhart a trip to the AHL next season, as he has displayed the skill level, but may have trouble with the physically stronger defensemen of the American league.
8. Marcel Hossa- LW. (6th) Hossa drops a few spots as other prospects have been enjoying a very successful start to the season, whereas the young Slovak has had his troubles scoring goals at times. Having a brother who may be one of the top hockey players in the world currently, may be causing the younger Hossa to hold his stick too tight or not tight enough, as he has been demoted to the AHL again, as the goals have been hard to come by. A natural center that was moved to the left wing, Hossa may be having difficulty adjusting to his position, as some players have trouble getting used to the mental side of the game when moved from playing a certain spot for several years. Some time in the AHL should do him some good, as he can work on things without the heavy pressure of the Montreal media questioning his every move or lack of.
9. Konstantin Korneev- D. (10th) Korneev moves up a spot after recently taking place in his third World Junior Championship. After winning the gold in his first two trips, this year did not go well for Team Russia, but Korneev was able to be the leading scoring defensemen on his team, and has been a regular in the Russian Super League for two seasons now, and is still only 19 years old. A late pick of the 2002 draft, taken 275th overall, Korneev lacks in size, but makes up for it in skill, hard work, and solid positioning.
10. Maxim Lapierre- C. (18th) Lapierre makes the biggest jump of all Hab prospects, as he has shown a great deal of progress from the start of the season to now. Taken in the second round of the recent draft, at 61st overall, Lapierre has been able to develop the weaker points of his game, while also improving his stronger assets. Playing under coach Vigneault seems to be very good for him, as he has shown a solid effort on the ice, while playing a very gritty hard nosed game that is lacking from several of the Habs prospects. In addition, he has been able to find his scoring touch, and has been rewarded with top line ice time for his efforts.
11.Oskari Korpikari- D. (12th) Korpikari moves up one spot, as he has been a regular in the mens league, sm-liiga since being called up late last season, and even earned a spot on the roster of Team Finland’s World Junior team. An effective stay at home defensemen, who plays a safe and steady game in his own end, is gaining a ton of great experience playing under one of Finland’s all time great defensemen.
12. Ryan O’Byrne- D. (20th) O’Byrne makes a big move up as he has shown some impressive size and skills while playing his first season in the ECAC for one of the top programs in college hockey, Cornell University. A physical defensemen, who has great skating ability especially when you consider his 6’5 frame, O’Byrne also can move the puck in a hurry or lead the rush up ice.
13. Michael Lambert- LW. (15th) Lambert moves up a few spots, as he has shown a great deal of improvement over a somewhat disappointing season last year. Blessed with a very good wrist shot, size and skating, Lambert has been one of the top scorers for the Rocket all season long, and one of the top scorers in the entire QMJHL for most of the season. Recently minor injuries have slowed him down some, but considering he is playing for a contract by June 1st or he reenters the draft, he picked a good time to find his game, as he has been a major reason why the Rocket have had so much success this year.
14. Jaroslav Halak- G. (19th) Halak moves up a few spots, as he is having a breakout season playing in Slovakia, as he leads the junior league in goals against and save percentage, while even being called up to the top mens league in his country, and finding success in that league as well. In addition the young 18 year old was named to be the starting goalie for Team Slovakia’s World Junior Championship, where he played very well for the most part, on an overmatched team.
15. Jonathan Ferland- RW. (11th) Ferland drops a few spots, but not because of his play, but due to other prospects having so much success this season. Playing in his first pro season, Ferland has shown he can handle the bigger stronger players of the AHL, but scoring goals hasn’t been as easy for him, as coach Jarvis juggles his lineup in order to make room for so many first year players. Expect Ferland to have a much improved role on the Bulldogs next year, as he adapts to the AHL, and improves his skating.
16. Corey Locke- C. (16th) Locke stays where he was at the start of the season, which is a bit unfair, as he has shown an impressive ability to score with less talented wingers, but the real test for him will be in the AHL, where he will look to show why he was selected the CHL player of the year last season. Not blessed with NHL size, Locke has extremely impressive vision on the ice, as he has the ability to find the open man and thread him the pass in the tightest of areas. Locke has put up 92 goals over the last season and half, as he was one of the highest scoring players in the OHL over the last ten years.
17. Duncan Milroy- RW. (13th) Milroy drops a few spots, not for lack of talent or effort, but with several other prospects playing so well, and with Milroy having some difficulty being able to produce in the AHL, he was moved down slightly. After racking up the points in the physical WHL, while also winning a championship and Memorial Cup, with the Kootenay Ice, Milroy has shown he can step it up when it counts. Over the last few years, it seems that Duncan has been much more of a second half player, so hopefully he continues this trend and gets himself a few more goals. Look for Milroy to have an improved role with the Bulldogs next season, as he has had some trouble getting ice time after returning from injury.
18. Andrew Archer- D. (14th) Archer is in the same boat as Milroy, as he has dropped as well, but not for lack of talent or effort either, but he has had some difficulty adjusting to the AHL in his rookie season. After missing training camp and several games at the start of the season, Archer is finding it tough to earn a spot in the lineup, but expect the tall defensemen to have a much more increased role with the team next year.
19. Mark Flood- D. (NA) Flood makes his first appearance on the Habs Top 20 list, as he is having an impressive season for the Petes, and is considered one of the most improved players in the OHL so far this season. Already setting career highs in goals and close to it in points and assists, Flood is getting valuable experience playing on the top pairing, leading the PP.
20. Alex Buturlin- RW/LW (21st) Buturlin makes the final spot, in a close call between Eneqvist, Linhart and Stewart, but he’s having another solid season playing on the top line for Lada of the Russian Super League. He is on pace for a career year, as he is one of the leaders on the team, and top scorers as well.