We’ve reached the top-20 in our prospect rankings. This group of players is one of the oldest in the series as all but one prospect are at least 22 years of age. It’s also relatively light on experience as only one player has seen NHL action so far.
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, 2015
2) The player must have no greater than 50 games of NHL experience (including regular season and playoffs)
3) The player cannot be signed to an AHL contract
Here are the departures from last year’s list (in alphabetical order):
Graduated: Nathan Beaulieu (NHL GP), Mike Condon (age), Magnus Nygren (age), Greg Pateryn (age), Maxim Trunev (age)
Released: Josiah Didier – he signed an AHL deal but Montreal has relinquished his NHL rights
Traded: Patrick Holland, Jack Nevins, Jiri Sekac
Included with each ranking 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) Mac Bennett
Defenceman, Hamilton (AHL)
3rd round pick (79th overall) in 2009
It was a disappointing rookie campaign for the 24 year old. Despite being one of the elder statesmen on the back end, Bennett found himself fighting to get in the lineup and when he did play, he didn’t make too much of an impact. Even when injuries and recalls struck late in the year, Bennett didn’t play more than a sparing role most nights.
I’ve long been a proponent of Bennett as I felt his skill set would translate well to the pros. He’s a strong skater and a good passer and on an offensively-challenged team, I expected he’d make an immediate impact. With the blueline depth now much weaker on the left side, the time is now for Bennett to step up. There’s a regular top four spot for the taking and he needs to be the one to take hold of it.
For more about Bennett, I took a closer look at his season and situation heading into 2015-16 earlier this summer. Click here for that column.
2014-15 Stats: 59 GP, 4-8-12, -2 rating, 10 PIMS, 64 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 15th
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – I had hoped Bennett would be a quick study but it looks as if he’s still a bit of a project despite already being 24. He needs a strong season to earn another contract but even a solid year probably won’t be enough to get him on the NHL radar for 2016; he’ll need another year after that with the hopes that he won’t be too old by then to avoid being overlooked.
#19) Mark MacMillan
Centre, North Dakota (NCAA)
4th round pick (113th overall) in 2010
There was some good mixed in with the bad when it came to MacMillan’s senior season. On the good side, he set a career high on goals and was on pace to set a new career best in points while his faceoff percentage was fantastic (57.2%). He also won the NCHC’s Best Defensive Forward award. On the bad side, he broke his knee cap, an injury that ended his season prematurely and has cost him an offseason of training.
I’m really intrigued with how he’s going to be used (when healthy) with St. John’s this year. By the end of his college tenure, MacMillan’s defensive play had vastly improved while he has shown a consistent scoring touch. He could be someone who starts on the lower lines but moves up quickly as he’ll earn the trust of the coaching staff quickly.
2014-15 Stats: 29 GP, 16-9-25, +9 rating, 27 PIMS, 61 shots, 17 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – If he stays healthy, MacMillan may find himself in recall territory as early as 2016-17 based strictly on his defensive skills if they translate well to the pro game. But for him to reach his full potential (a two-way third liner), he’ll need a couple of years for his offensive game to come along.
#18) Daniel Audette
Centre, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
5th round pick (147th overall) in 2014
While Audette didn’t have a bad season, he also didn’t take any significant strides forward although he did improve a bit in terms of his defensive awareness. He led his team in scoring for the second straight season but failed to get on Team Canada’s radar for the World Juniors. I don’t want to say he took a step backwards but it felt like his development may have stagnated a tad.
Expectations will be high for the small pivot this year as once again, he will be expected to lead the attack for the Phoenix. From a development perspective, it would also be ideal for him to become more of a regular presence on the penalty kill. The Canadiens appear to be confident that he can take that next step forward as they curiously signed him a year earlier than they needed to.
2014-15 Stats: 60 GP, 29-44-73, -16 rating, 64 PIMS, 196 shots, 44.7% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 23rd
NHL ETA: 2018-19/2019-20 – It seems inevitable that Audette will be destined for the wing but that should be helpful for him. Regardless, he has enough skill that he should be able to be a solid AHL’er before too long. The Habs don’t have a ton of offensive-minded prospects that haven’t already turned pro so there should be an opening for him in a few years if he can stand out as an undersized scorer.
#17) Darren Dietz
Defenceman, Hamilton (AHL)
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2011
Dietz was the surprise of training camp last year as he wound up making a serious run to make the opening roster and was one of the final cuts. It was hoped that coming that close to making it would propel him to a big year but that didn’t really happen. Dietz was a fixture in the top four but didn’t provide as much of a physical or offensive presence as he has shown himself capable of doing in the past.
Whether he’s ready or not, Dietz will be a key cog (perhaps the key cog depending on what happens with Mark Barberio) on St. John’s blueline. He should play on the top pairing and in all special teams situations. If he handles the increased workload well, he could make a big jump in the rankings for next season.
2014-15 Stats: 71 GP, 4-13-17, -3 rating, 64 PIMS, 65 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 19th
NHL ETA: 2016-17/2017-18 – If he acquits himself well as a top pairing guy with the IceCaps, Dietz could earn an NHL look this season. A strong season could force him into a #7 role with Montreal next year (avoiding waivers) but he’s more realistically a couple of years away from potentially becoming a regular NHL’er.
#16) Christian Thomas
Right Wing/Left Wing, Hamilton (AHL)
Acquired from NY Rangers in 2013
It was expected that Thomas would rebound from a poor sophomore AHL season and become the go-to threat the Bulldogs needed him to be. That didn’t happen. In fact, his numbers went in the wrong direction and he wasn’t a factor most nights.
On a happier side, he spent 18 games with the Habs and while the offence wasn’t there (1-0-1), he seldom played above the fourth line. Thomas adapted relatively well to playing limited minutes and while he didn’t do a whole lot, he didn’t hurt the team either.
Thomas has an outside shot at cracking the team out of training camp, in part due to his adequate play in his stints with the team last year. If he doesn’t, he will need to clear waivers to make it back to the IceCaps. Assuming he makes it through, he’ll once again be counted on as a go-to scorer with the hopes that he’ll do a better job of delivering this time around.
2014-15 Stats: 52 GP, 11-11-22, -10 rating, 18 PIMS, 125 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 17th
NHL ETA: 2016-17 – If Thomas wants to be more than a passable fourth liner in the NHL, he needs to rediscover his offensive touch. He’ll need another year in the minors to do that and may need to double his output from last season to really get back into the discussion as a legitimate option moving forward for Montreal. I think he’ll make it through the waiver wire to give him that last chance to prove himself as an above average scorer in the AHL.
Before we reveal our top-10 prospects, we’d like to hear who you believe Montreal’s top prospects are. Click here to fill out your ballot.