The Montreal Canadiens continue to boast very impressive depth from their farm system with the main areas of strength coming from between the pipes and some excellent forward prospects. However the team still continues to lag behind with their defensive depth, although it might not be as bad as some think depending on how some of the defensemen develop over time.
With the 2005-2006 season under way, fans are getting the chance to see why so much hype has been given to the Canadiens prospects, after some very poor drafting through most of the ‘90’s. The play of top prospect Alexander Perezhogin, as well as Hamilton’s top three players last season in Chris Higgins, Yann Danis and Tomas Plekanec, are all enjoying a good amount of success in the new NHL.
As Perezhogin, Higgins and Plekanec look to stick with the big club for the entire season, it remains to be seen how much longer they will be ranked as prospects, but for now they are still considered prospects although this could be last time the three appear on the top 30 list.
Canadiens Top 30 Prospects
1. Alex Perezhogin– RW-(22)- Perezhogin remains the Canadiens top prospect as he blends skill with hard work and a strong all round game. Has excelled on the top line, showing off his impressive speed, skating and offensive skills plus his willingness to go to the high traffic areas, in addition to playing solid defense as well.
2. Chris Higgins– LW-(22)- Higgins may not have the offensive flash or skills of Perezhogin, but he makes up for it with his impressive all round play and understanding of the game, as he is one of the smartest prospects in the Canadiens system, always seeming to know where to be on the ice and also very strong on the PK. It remains to be seen how well his offensive skills will translate, but the upside is he’s already capable of handling a checking role or energy line player since he is so strong in his own end, has very good speed and skating, and can throw some good body checks.
3. Guillaume Latendresse– RW-(18)- Latendresse shoots up the depth charts as he made an outstanding debut at camp this summer and during the preseason, and has continued his strong play into the QMJHL this year. With Latendresse’s improved skating and foot speed, the Canadiens finally land a homegrown skilled power forward prospect, something they have been lacking in the organization for several years. Latendresse is also making a name for himself to earn his way onto Canada’s U-20 team this winter, as he brings size, skill and unreal strength for a player his age.
4. Andrei Kostitsyn– RW-(20)- Kostitsyn drops a bit after a somewhat disappointing rookie season, although as one of the youngest players in the league, it was to be expected; but for such a high pick in such a deep draft, his offensive production was perhaps less then what fans would have hoped for. This does not mean that he is any less skilled, but more that he did show trouble adapting to the smaller ice surface, as at times he would continue to try and go through three or four players at a time, or other times he would just shy away from the high traffic areas, not fighting hard enough to create space for himself. This year will be a big one for Kostitsyn who has his work cut out for him, but fans should hopefully see him produce at a much better clip then last season. At this point he remains one of the most skilled prospects in the system but hasn’t been able to put it all together just yet, although his improvement in his defensive game has been very impressive to say the least.
5. Carey Price– G-(18)- Price was a shocker of a pick to may Hab fans, but since then most fans seem very pleased that the Canadiens were able to land the top rated goalie prospect of the 2005 draft, adding to their already impressive goaltending depth. Price is coming off a very good year in the WHL as one of the top goalies in the league, and a decent showing at the U-18 World Juniors, although he did have some struggles early on he picked it up when things mattered most. So far this season, Price has made a big impression on fans with his play in camp and preseason but has since had a tough time playing for Tri City as he was just recently pulled from a game. Expect Price to be a front runner for this years U-20 team, unless he continues to struggle which could cost him a spot.
6. Yann Danis– G-(24)- Danis moves down a few spots but it has nothing to do with his play, as the Habs picked up two impressive prospects in their most recent draft. As one of Hamilton’s MVP’s last season during his rookie year, Danis could very well be considered the Habs top goalie prospect after putting up impressive numbers in both the NCAA and AHL as well as getting off to an impressive NHL start, notching a shutout in first and only game played. Danis has to be one of the few goalies to have earned a shutout in his first ever AHL game and first ever NHL game. Thanks to his outstanding positioning, Danis makes saves look easy, and gives the Habs some very impressive depth in nets.
7. Tomas Plekanec– C-(22)- Plekanec was also one of Hamilton’s MVP’s, after once again leading the team in scoring. Plekanec is currently showing off his skills in the NHL, getting off to a very good start so far this year, and notching his first NHL goal the other night. While not the tallest player, Plekanec makes up for it with his speed, skating, offensive skills and gritty edge to his game, in addition to being very strong on the PK as well.
8. Kyle Chipchura– C-(19)- Chipchura flies under the radar after missing most of last season due to a freak accident that cost him some key development time. This year has started off well for Chipchura as he had a solid showing at camp and preseason and has since been off to a good start with Prince Albert getting ten points in eight games, good for second on the team in scoring. Chipchura should be all but a lock to play for Canada this December at the WJC’s, and will hopefully join the Bullodogs as soon as his season is over with Prince Albert this year. The real question for Chipchura is how his offensive game will translate at the next level, but his other intangibles will likely put him in the NHL within a few years.
9. Makhail Grabovsky– F-(21)- Grabovsky moves up the charts after a very impressive sophomore season in the RSL and a nice showing at the World Championships this past April playing for Team Belarus. Grabovsky has to be one of the Canadiens fastest prospects, as it’s one of his main assets, which can see him hit top gear in only a few short strides. Not the biggest or strongest player, Grabovsky makes things happen on the ice with his excellent skating and foot speed; he knows how to move and control the puck at top speed which is something not many players can do. After some legal troubles this year in regards to his contract status, Grabovsky has picked up where he left off last season, producing at a better rate then last seasons career numbers. No word yet as to if or when Grabovsky will make the jump to North America, but perhaps Bob Gainey can convince him to come over.
10. Christopher Heino-Lindberg– G-(20)- Heino as he is now being referred to as, is one of the Canadiens more underrated prospects, after putting up stellar numbers last year in the Swedish tier-2 league, and has since gotten off to a great start in the SEL, putting up more eye popping numbers. A very aggressive goalie, Heino likes to attack forwards in a sense, as he is not afraid to come far out of his net to challenge shooters. This can lead to him being out of position at times, but perhaps with some work in the SEL and hopefully some time over here in North America at some point, this can be worked on. Heino is already getting early praise for consideration as the SEL’s rookie of the year, which would be a nice achievement for the young netminder.
11. Ryan O’Byrne– RD-(21)- O’Byrne is coming off a very good year for Cornell of the ECAC, where he helped his team win the Ivy league and ECAC Championship, falling one goal shy of a Frozen Four birth. Cornell was flat out dominating at times last season, with a great forechecking game and a huge blueline that could easily handle any team physically, and skate as well as just about any team with some impressive speed for such big defensemen. O’Byrne saw his play improve throughout the season and was more productive offensively, getting career highs across the board. This year should be a big one for O’Byrne, since he will be looked upon to pick up the slack after losing top defensemen Charile Cook. The junior defenseman shown a better head for the game, not always going for the big bone crushing hit but rather making the smart play in his own end. Cornell should once again be a powerhouse in the NCAA, and O’Byrne should be a big part of their success.
12. Corey Locke– C- (21)- Locke drops a few spots despite having a very impressive rookie season that saw him in the top ten in rookie scoring in the AHL. One of the Habs most gifted offensive talents, Locke can make passes that most players wouldn’t dare, and he knows how to put the puck in the net. The concerns for Locke have always been his size, or lack of it, but he’s always found a way to dismiss it and find a way to be successful at each level he’s played. With the more open game, it remains to be seen if it will benefit or hurt Locke, due to the concerns over his skating and foot speed. One thing’s for sure, those that bet against him in the past sure feel silly now, and he will likely see a lot of ice time with the Bulldogs this season, hopefully improving as the season wears on.
13. Ron Hainsey– LD-(24)- Hainsey is the step-child you love to hate, often leaving fans wondering what could be going on inside his head at times and at others asking why isn’t this kid in the NHL. One has to be concerned over the lack of progression in his game: after a very disappointing start to last season, Hainsey went on to be one of the Dogs top defensemen once he was paired up with Mike Komisarek. Known for his defensive blunders and costly turnovers, Hainsey is an enigma wrapped in a large frame with an immense amount of natural skills. Losing his spot with the NHL team this year, Hainsey once again finds himself in the AHL where he will have to wait and see what his future holds with the Canadiens. One of the most skilled prospects in the Habs system, Hainsey has never really put it together and time it seems could be running out for him.
14. Juraj Mikus– C-(18)- Mikus is coming off an impressive draft year that saw him play most of the season in the Slovak Elite league where he put up 12 points in 46 games. This year, so far, he is off to a career season, with five points in 15 games played an a increased role with the team playing on the 2nd line at times. Mikus brings a good set of offensive skills and speed but will need to get physically stronger to handle the bigger players on the smaller ice surface, but at such a young age he has time to mature physically and round out his game.
15. Maxim Lapierre– C-(20)- Lapierre will be a fan favorite in Hamilton with the intense style of play he brings to the rink every night. Not the most skilled player, Lapierre works hard, doing whatever it takes to win, the kind of player every team needs and players don’t like playing against. Lapierre has filled out his frame while not losing a step, a very good skater that will take the body, drop the gloves and do his best to rattle opposing players.
16. Jaroslav Halak- G-(20)- Halak is coming off a very strong rookie year in the QMJHL, after being one of the top goalies in the league and helping Lewiston enjoy their most productive season in their short history. Although Heino-Lindberg is a few spots higher, the difference between the skill level of the two is very close indeed. While they play different styles, with Halak often staying deep in net and not being as good of a puckhandler as Heino, both are very good at stopping pucks, something the Canadiens now seem to have an abundance of. Halak will spend the season in the ECHL it appears, after being cut by the Bulldogs.
17. Oskari Korpikari– LD-(21)- Korpikari is coming off a tough season that saw him miss a good bit of time due to injuries and milatary duties. But the defensive defensemen has once again worked his way onto the blueline of Karpat of the Finnish Elite league, one of the top teams where he is getting regular ice time. Not known for his offensive abilities, Korpikari plays a smart, safe game in his own end and can take the body while also handling the puck well. It’s unclear what the Canadiens plans are for Korpikari at this time, but hopefully they can bring him over at some point to add depth on defense.
18. Alexi Emelin– LD-(19)- Emelin had an interesting season last year that saw him earn a roster spot with Lada of the RSL, but he only dressed in 12 games during the season. He also was named to the U-20 team for Russia that picked up a silver medal and then ended the year dressing for the final Championship game only to have his team fall just short of winning it all. This year Emelin has been enjoying a career season, despite the fact that his team is in the mist of a financial crissis, which will leave the team with many question marks for the near future. For the time being, Emelin continues to play his physically aggressive style of defense but is also producing offensively as one of the leaders on the team in scoring for defensemen, even seeing time on the power play. Again it’s unknown just what the Canadiens plans are for Emelin in the future, but I’m sure they will be watching closely to see what transpires with Lada next month when the team is expected to make many changes.
19. Duncan Milroy– RW-(22)- Milroy drops a few spots after a solid season but not fully progressing in the areas he needs to improve upon, with other prospects starting to jump ahead of him. What makes matters tougher is the impressive depth the Canadiens have at right wing, which could hamper Milroy since there is only so much ice time to give out. A standout in the WHL, Milroy has yet to really find his game at the pro level, but entering his third season this year he will be looked upon to pick up some of the offensive slack due to the loss of key offensive players.
20. Siarhei Kostitsyn– LW-(18)- Kostitsyn rounds out the top 20 with an outstanding debut in North America where he is one of the OHL’s top scorers, currently third with 24 points in just 11 games. The speedy Kostitsyn plays with a lot of heart and natural abilities – although he lacks the build of his older brother – but can dish out the puck and handle it at top speeds.
21. Garth Murray– C-(23)- Murray just turned 23 the other day -he just missed the cutoff for the 2000 Entry Draft. Murray was acquired at the end of the preseason in a trade that sent Marcel Hossa to New York. The Canadiens got a hard working gritty center with size. In a trade that sent skill for grit, GM Bob Gainey was faced with the fact that Hossa was not going to make the team and likely would not clear waivers, so he turned one asset into another. With the hot start for Hossa, the trade looks very lopsided at this point, but with Murray the team adds more depth down the middle, getting a player that does what it takes to win and is a team player.
22. Mathieu Aubin- C-(19)- Aubin just missed the cutoff to be an ‘04 draft pick, which means he would be able to join the Bulldogs after Lewiston’s season is over this year. The skilled center has impressive hands and vision to go along with a solid frame, skating and foot speed but needs to add physical strength to excel at the next level. So far this year Aubin has gotten off to a strong start to the season leading the team in scoring and playing some very consistent hockey, getting points in 10 straight games.
23. Konstantin Korneev– RD-(21)- Korneev is coming off another solid season for AK Bars, although he has never reached the career numbers he had while with Sovetov. This year Korneev suffered a injury to his face that saw him miss several games and has since gotten off to a slow start getting only 1 assist so far. The future for Korneev is unknown at this time, but the team must sign him this summer or lose his rights.
24. Greg Stewart– RW/LW-(19)- Stewart is coming off a career year with the Petes where he was able to more then triple his rookie season numbers on a very strong team. This year he has gotten off to a good start and so have the Petes, who could be looking at a Memorial Cup run this season. Stewart isn’t the most skilled player, but he works hard, skates well with good speed and will take the body. The question remains if his offensive skills will translate at the next level, but his hard work and team play should hopefully earn him a contract this summer.
25. Jonathan Ferland– RW-(22)- Ferland had a tough season last year where he battled injuries and had trouble producing offensively. This year he seems to be 100% healthy which should go a long way for him to show he should remain in the organization, since he is playing in his final contract season and will be looked upon by the Bulldogs to carry some of the offense. Not the most skilled guy, Ferland could easily be ranked in Milroy’s spot as he brings a physical presence that the Habs are short on. You can always expect him to be working hard, going to the net, taking the body and he often will come up with the puck when battling in the corners or along the boards. The question remains if his offensive skills from his days in the QMJHL will translate at this level, but even if they don’t he is still an effective hockey player.
26. Michael Lambert– LW-(21)- Lambert had a disappointing rookie season with Hamilton but did pick it up a bit when he was sent down to Long Beach. This year he will be looked upon to carry some of the offensive load, and with his skills there’s no question if he can do it or not, but will he work hard enough to get the points? As a shooter Lambert has the size, skating and speed you would want to see, but needs someone to get him the puck and at times he’s prone to making lazy plays.
27. Andrew Archer– RD-(22)- Archer is coming off a career year last season with Hamilton, after a disappointing rookie year that saw him spend a few games in the ECHL. Archer still doesn’t use his size as much as one would hope but he’s very steady in his own end and plays a safe, smart game. While not being known for any offensive upside, and not the most physical defensemen for a player his size, Archer gives the Habs decent depth on defense if he can continue to improve his game.
28. J-P Cote– LD- (23)- Cote is coming off another solid season with the Bulldogs, where he once again led the team in plus/minus and is the career leader in Hamilton’s history. A hard working defensive defensemen, Cote is not the most skilled guy but always does whatever he can to help the team win. Plays a good physical game and can move the puck well, but his skating and mobility may keep him from being anything more then a depth defensemen. That said, he has been a very solid free agent pickup, giving the Habs options in case of injuries.
29. Matt D’Agostini– RW-(18)- D’Agostini was a walk on at Guelph last year where he went on to be one of the top rookies in the OHL and was second on his team in scoring. Blessed with very good speed and good hands, D’Agostini can create things on offense as well as being effective on the PK due to his skating and being able to hit the high gear in a few strides. What he’ll need to work on is getting physically stronger, hopefully adding some mass to his frame, which would help him at the next level.
30. Philippe Paquet– RD-(18)- Paquet is still more of an unknown at this point, after playing in the USHS last year, he has made the jump to the ECAC as a true freshman. With good size and skating abilities, Paquet was recruited by several schools in the ECAC, but chose Clarkson, a team that might not win many games but where he is very likely to see a good amount of ice time; that should go a long way in helping him improve his skills.
Outside the Top 30
Just missing the cut is Cory Urquhart a highly skilled center who has struggled a bit since being signed by the Canadiens two years ago. His lack of any sort of physical game or any willingness to play in the high traffic areas is a concern and something he will have to work on in the ECHL once again this year.
J T Wyman could easily find himself ranked the next time around, as he got off to a slow start last year with Dartmouth of the ECAC when the entire team struggled until later in the season. Wyman was also a true freshman and hopefully this season he can add more offensive production since he already has the size, skating, speed and a willingness to take the body.
Jon Gleed will look to finish out his NCAA career this season, and as the senior will be looked upon to be a leader for Cornell in what’s expected to be another very strong season for the “Big Red.” Not the most skilled defensemen, Gleed is a smart hockey player, works hard in his own end, and can play a good physical game. He won’t hurt you in his own end but his offensive skills haven’t developed yet at the college level.
Tomas Linhart has finally found a home playing in the Czech elite league after spending his time in the past few seasons playing for several different teams each year. The question remains as to what the Canadiens will do with Linhart, but he has to be signed this June or they will lose his rights. The defensive defensemen is getting very good experience playing in the top Czech league, and even helped his team win a league championship last season with fellow Hab Jan Bulis.
Olivier Michaud could be on his last legs with the organization but so far he is showing he still belongs in the future plans. After a somewhat rough season last year that saw him lose the starting job in Long Beach, Michaud has rebounded this year to earn a roster spot with Hamilton where he will be looked upon to help his team win until Yann Danis is sent back to the Bulldogs.