To sign or not to sign, that is the question that Bob Gainey will be asking himself and his staff when the summer rolls around, as he will chose which prospects are to make the jump to the next level, and what prospects may not remain in the organization.
This summer will have a host of names for Gainey and his staff to look over and make the best decision they can for the young players future and the building blocks of the future team. The first place to start is the CHL, where 2 players must be signed by June 1st or they reenter the selection draft later that month. Michael Lambert and Andre Deveaux will be getting attention from the staff to see if they will be offered a contract come June, or if they are headed back to the draft once again. Yes it is still four months away, but you can be assured they have been keeping a close eye on these prospects, as no decision will come easy, yet the results can have a major impact. Not only will they look to see who has to be signed, but also they will look to see who can contribute to the farm club, and who should be given a chance with another organization.
This will be no easy task for Gainey and company, as there are several players to consider in various leagues and levels of play. From the CHL, aside from Lambert and Deveaux, there’s last years CHL player of the year in Corey Locke, also eligible to move up a level is Cory Urquhart from the Q. Mark Flood can also make the jump if management feels it will help his game. Over in the NCAA, Ryan Glenn and Scott Selig will finish their careers and be looking for a team to play for next season. Then theirs the Euro leagues, with talk of interest in signing recent first round pick, Andrei Kastsitsyn, with Konstantin Korneev, Johan Eneqvist, Joni Puurula and Alex Buturlin who have gained valuable experience playing in the top leagues in their respective countries.
So of note are prospects currently in the system, but are up for a new contract when the summer gets under way. In the ECHL, Marc-Andre Thinel and Jerome Marois will be first time RFA’s. In the AHL, J-F Damphousse, and Olivier Michaud will be RFA’s as well, with J-P Cote being a FA this summer as he was on a one year contract from the Hamilton Bulldogs. And if that’s not enough, there’s also non Hab prospects from around the various leagues that may spark interest from management due to the four roster spots that should open once the Tampa Bay prospects are returned to their organization.
Michael Lambert- LW. After a somewhat disappointing season last year, the 19 year old will either be offered a contract or reenter the NHL draft. As the leading scorer of his team the PEI Rocket, Lambert has put up impressive numbers as he enjoys a breakout season. Will this be enough to get him a contract with the Habs, who at one time traded up to the 99th overall pick in order to grab his services, or will they not be able to come to terms? If he continues to work hard and produce, it will be hard for management not to sign the good sized winger, as he can play in PEI, Hamilton or the ECHL next year.
Andre Deveaux- C. In the same boat as Lambert, Deveaux will either get a contract or head back to the draft. Although he has improved his numbers, it appears he is still having a hard time improving his consistency which has been a continuos problem for the big center. Now that the second half of the season has started, Deveaux will need to step it up to show he should remain in the organization. Will his improved numbers, impressive face-off abilities and good size be enough? Well he’s had a lot of trouble scoring goals lately and his plus/minus has taken a big hit after being near the top of his team. With the Habs lack of size down the middle, one would think a strong finish to the season and playoff performance he could get picked up. Deveaux can play Owen Sound, Hamilton or the ECHL next year which gives the team options.
Corey Locke- C. While the Habs are not required to sign Locke this summer, they may want to consider moving him up to the AHL or perhaps the ECHL if need be. After being named the CHL player of the year as an 18 year old, Locke is currently the leading scorer of the OHL once again. The AHL will be a big test to see if Locke can produce against the much bigger, stronger, faster players of the American league, the question is wether or not management feels he’s ready physically as he has shown quite the ability to score in the OHL with over 230 points in the last year and a half.
Cory Urquhart- C. The Habs are also not required to sign the recently drafted Urquhart, but as the second leading scorer on his team, they may feel he’s ready to move to the next level in the AHL or ECHL. There’s no pressure to sign him, as he can return to the QMJHL next season if management feels he’s not ready to play at the next level. But a strong second half, and some more physical play could force management to take his development to the next level.
Mark Flood- D. Also does not need to be signed this summer, as he was recently drafted this past June. But with the possibility of a lack of depth on defense next year in Hamilton, and the fact that Flood is enjoying a career year on the blueline, things could get interesting for Flood with a solid showing in his own end in the remaining season. His size and strength may keep him in the OHL for another year, but his puck moving skills could be used in Hamilton or the ECHL as well.
Ryan Glenn- D. With Glenn the Habs are not required to sign the senior, but if they don’t he will need to find a team to play for next year as he finishes his final year in the ECAC. But with his good play of late, solid frame, and a possible lack of defensemen next year, Glenn may get the chance to follow in the steps of other recent NCAA signees, Matt Shasby, Mike Komisarek, Ron Hainsey, and Chris Higgins.
Scott Selig- RW. After having a solid career in prep school, and a good start to his NCAA career, Selig has had his troubles producing on offense for the last three years. This is a tough way to earn a contract, especially when the right wing depth chart is filling up quickly with several quality prospects. Injuries and a disappointing season so far are a good sign for Selig who could find himself without a team come this summer if the Habs do not find room for him, as he ends his NCAA career as well.
Andrei Kastsitsyn- LW/C. With recent talks that the Habs would like to sign their latest first round pick, there seems to be a good chance he will be offered a contract this summer. The soon to be 19 year old could stay in Russia under the famed Russian coach, or if signed add some offense to Hamilton or even to a CHL team if necessary. One has to think that Coach Doug Jarvis would be able to help the young Belarus star improve his all round game, while adding a strong presence in the goal scoring department.
Konstantin Korneev- D. Last year there were high praises for Korneev from the then GM Andre Savard, who expressed interest in bringing over the young blueliner. With his two years experience playing in the RSL, and for the Russian National Junior and Senior team, Korneev could bring some depth to the defense on the right side. He’ll turn 20 years old this summer, so another year in Russia certainly isn’t a bad thing, but perhaps management will consider getting him accustomed to the North American game sooner rather then later.
Johan Eneqvist- C/LW. After turning heads at the Habs rookie camp in the past, Eneqvist has since left the SEL, and gone to the tier-2 league where he is seeing a lot more ice time playing for the top team in that league. Perhaps now would be a good time to give the 2-way player a shot as he is coming off a good season for Hammerby who could end up in the SEL next year.
Joni Puurula- G. Was named the starter for his team HPK in the sm-liiga last year, after a solid playoff performance the year before. But injury and reduced ice time has slowed down the progression of Puurula, and with the Habs having only two goalies under contract for next year, there could be a spot up for grabs.
Alex Buturlin- RW. Although the previous management felt Buturlin was asking for too much money, perhaps it is time to consider getting him signed if possible. Playing in the RSL, and for the Russian National Senior team, Buturlin could interest management with him impressive play over the last two seasons.
M-A Thinel- RW. Thinel was signed at or near the buzzer as he would have gone back into the draft if Savard had not reached a deal. With some very limited ice time in Quebec, and then being loaned to Utah of the AHL and Lexington of the ECHL, things did not look very good for Thinel’s future in the organization. But this season he has been successful in the ECHL, and with continued production, could find himself resigned to play in Hamilton or the ECHL next year.
Jerome Marois- LW. After being sent down from the ECHL to the Central league, things did not look good for Marois either. But this season he did get a brief chance in Hamilton, and until an injury to his ankle he was producing for Long Beach of the ECHL. It may be tough for him to be brought back, with so much talent on the farm as it is, but a strong second half when he returns from injury will be necessary to get managements attention.
J-F Damphousse- G. One of Bob Gainey’s first moves was to pick up Damphousse to help out in Hamilton. The former first round pick has fallen out of favor and has been moved around recently, but you can never have enough depth in nets and Damphousse has posted impressive numbers in the past. One would think he would be back next year, as he was able to step in for an injured Eric Fichaud, and play well while given the chance, until he was recently injured.
Olivier Michaud- G. Signed as a free agent, Savard saw something in Michaud at camp, but now the question is, has he progressed enough to be brought back. After some decent play in the ECHL, Michaud had to of gotten managements attention with back to back shutouts and his first and second wins ever in the American league. A strong performance in the chances he gets from here on out will force management to think long and hard who they want in nets in Hamilton next year, with no goalies currently signed for those positions.
J-P Cote- D. Signed as a free agent from the Hamilton Bulldogs, Cote will be free to sign with any team this summer, but with his solid play in his rookie season, perhaps the Habs will consider picking him up, as he could add depth on defense, while adding a physical presence.
Then there’s always some overage CHLer or FA NCAAers that can be brought in to fill any holes that may be open next year.
Rene Bourque- C. Playing his final year in the NCAA, the senior brings something the Habs don’t have much of. Size down the middle. The big kid skates hard and drives to the net, and should get the interest of some NHL teams when his season is over.
J-F Plourde- C/RW. Currently under contract with Toronto of the AHL but playing in Columbus of the ECHL, Plourde for now will be a FA come this summer. Plourde already has experience playing with Habs prospects Larrivee and Thinel, while showing the ability to produce on offense.
Guillaume Fournier- RW. Small but a skilled offensive winger, Fournier may be worth a look at to add some offense.
Francois Gagon- LW. Good sized winger who could fill a hole on the lower lines in Hamilton.
Karl Gagne- LW. Good offensive skills, could fill a hole if some forward positions are avaible.
Daniel Spare- LW. Small but speedy may be worth taking a look at.
Yannick Tifu- C. Not great size but good skills on offense and gives us depth down the middle.
These are just some ideas as to who could be invited to camp this summer. Pascal Pelletier, Justin Laverdieve, Yan Gaudette, Gabriel Balasescu, Doug Hennigar, Ryan Vesce, Alex Shinn, Yann Danis, are some other hopefuls to be given a look, but only in my opinion.