We’ve reached the top-20 in our prospect rankings and it’s here where Montreal’s depth really begins to show. This group features a pair of players from the 2013 draft that have seen their stock improve considerably. On the flip side, one of this year’s biggest droppers finds himself amongst these prospects as well, falling well out of our top-10 from last season.
As we’ve done the last couple of years, the top-10 have been voted on by members of our HW writing staff while the remainder of the rankings were done by yours truly. Here are the criteria that each player had to meet to be eligible to be in these rankings:
1) The player must be 24 years old or younger as of October 1, 2014
2) The player must have no greater than 50 games of NHL experience (including regular season and playoffs)
3) The player has to be signed on an NHL contract
Here are the departures from last year’s list (in alphabetical order):
Graduated: Michael Bournival (NHL GP), Dustin Tokarski (age)
Released: Michael Cichy, Peter Delmas, Robert Mayer, Erik Nystrom, Brady Vail
Traded: Sebastian Collberg, Louis Leblanc, Steve Quailer
New this year is an estimate of each prospects’ NHL readiness date. For some players, the estimate is a specific season while others whose projected development paths are harder to determine will be in a range.
#20) Connor Crisp
Left Wing/Centre, Sudbury, OHL
3rd round pick (71st overall) in 2013
I must admit, I was not a fan of his selection last year. I wasn’t sold on his drastic offensive improvement in the prior season but not only did Crisp match his 2012-13 numbers, he significantly improved on them while showing thathe could handle a top six role with the Wolves. He also didn’t look out of place during his end-of-year stint with the Bulldogs before a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. Of course, it’s not his offence that is going to get him to the NHL, it’s his physical play. In past years, both the Habs and Bulldogs have carried fourth line tough guys that couldn’t handle a regular shift. The fourth line is likely where Crisp will start his season with Hamilton but unlike those players, he should be able to take a regular shift right away.
2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 28-27-55, 120 PIMS, +10 rating
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2016-17 – While he may be called up at some point this year for added toughness, he’d be best suited spending a couple of full years in the minors. The more that he can work on his all-around game in Hamilton, the better the odds that he can become more than a five minute per game fourth liner down the road for Montreal.
#19) Darren Dietz
Defenceman, Hamilton, AHL
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2011
Injuries were not kind to the rookie blueliner last year. Dietz missed nearly a month and a half early in the year with a wrist problem and missed the final two months of the campaign with a leg injury. In between, he dealt with some ups and downs as most first year defencemen do but there were more downs than ups. Despite being one of the top offensive threats from the back end in the WHL in his last two years there, he was unable to get anything going at that end of the rink. Simply staying healthy will be key for himas he looks to take aim at a full-time spot in the lineup. With the amount of potential turnover on Hamilton’s defence corps, a bigger role is his for the taking.
2013-14 Stats: 34 GP, 0-5-5, 49 PIMS, -3 rating, 33 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 12th
NHL ETA: 2016-17/2017-18 – Missing more than half the year due to injury has really set his development back. Simply playing and maintaining a regular role will be enough of a focal point in the early stages of this year. That’s going to delay the development of his offence – a big part of his game – even further.
#18) Dalton Thrower
Defenceman, Vancouver, WHL
2nd round pick (51st overall) in 2012
Thrower’s 2013-14 campaign didn’t get off to the best of starts as he failed to earn a spot with the Bulldogs; instead, the Habs opted to send him back to junior for his overage year. He put that extra WHL time to good use as he became the impact defenceman he was in his draft year. He was still one of Vancouver’s most physically-punishing blueliners while rediscovering his offensive touch. Unfortunately, his season also came to an early end due to an ankle injury. That also prevented him from suiting up with Hamilton late in the year as the Giants failed to make the postseason. It’s looking like there will be a lot of players vying for a bottom pairing spot in Hamilton; it’s not crazy to think that Thrower may start in Wheeling this season to guarantee that he gets regular minutes.
2013-14 Stats: 42 GP, 12-27-39, 70 PIMS, +9 rating, 70 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 20th
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – With the amount of young defencemen in the system, it’s going to take a while for there to be an opening for Thrower. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either as he’s not the type of player who is going to shine right away at the minor league level. He’s a project who could become a top four blueliner if he can successfully adapt his playing style to the pros.
#17) Christian Thomas
Right Wing, Hamilton, AHL
Acquired from NY Rangers in 2013
Expectations were high for the sniping winger after a quality rookie season with New York’s AHL affiliate. Unfortunately, he, like many other Bulldogs in recent years, suffered a sophomore slump and has seen his value drop somewhat. Thomas was injured to start the year and he never really seemed to get his game going. He started off in the top six but spent a fair bit of time down the stretch in a third line role. As one of the better goal scoring prospects in the organization, he still can’t be counted out but will need a strong training camp (so far, so good) and a good start to his AHL season to keep his name in the mix for an early recall this season.
2013-14 Stats: 55 GP, 11-16-27, 22 PIMS, -5 rating, 155 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 9th
NHL ETA: 2015-16/2016-17 – Presuming he can rediscover his scoring touch, we should see Thomas in Montreal at some point this year as a call-up. I don’t see him pushing for a regular role until next year at the earliest and that’s only if he can stick in a top six role. His two-way game needs to be improved for him to play in the bottom six in the NHL (his most likely starting point given who is there now) and that may take a while to develop which could delay him somewhat.
#16) Jeremy Gregoire
Centre/Right Wing, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL
6th round pick (176th overall) in 2013
One of the questions going into last year about Gregoire was whether or not his offensive improvements late in 2012-13 were a sign of things to come or just a timely hot streak. He clearly demonstrated that his improved production wasn’t a fluke, posting more goals and assists than his past two seasons combined. Of course, there’s more to his game than his points as Gregoire is a pesky, hardworking forward who can be used in all situations. He earned an invite to Canada’s World Junior summer camp and while he likely only has an outside chance of making the roster, the fact that he’s even in the discussion tells you how much his stock has improved in just one year.
2013-14 Stats: 65 GP, 35-34-69, 84 PIMS, +25 rating, 265 shots, 163/265 faceoffs (61.5%)
Previous HW Ranking: 29th
NHL ETA: 2017-18/2018-19 – Once he turns pro, he’s likely going to need a couple of years to work his way up the lineup with the Bulldogs. His aggression alone could make him a somewhat effective bottom six NHL’er but the more time he spends honing his offensive game in the minors, the better chance he has of being an impact bottom six player down the road.
If you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to vote for your top-10 prospects. Click here for the ballot. The results will be revealed before we begin posting our writers’ top-10 in the coming days.