September is upon us which means that training camp and the start of the season are on the horizon. At HabsWorld, it also means it’s time for our annual prospect rankings. We begin with the bottom five prospects, 31 through 35.
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.
#36) Colin Sullivan
Defenceman, Miami-Ohio (NCAA)
7th round pick (198th overall) in 2011
The injury bug struck Sullivan again as he was hurt for the better part of the season. On the other hand, that prevented him from being a scratch for most of the year as when he was healthy, he didn’t play all that often and at times was forced to play up front. He still has some raw skill, particularly his skating, but those skills have yet to translate to any sort of on-ice success.
Sullivan still has two years of college eligibility left having been granted an extra year by the NCAA but he will need to take a major step forward this season. Only one blueliner from the Redhawks graduated so Sullivan could very well be in tough for minutes early on once again.
2014-15 Stats: 9 GP, 0-1-1, +3 rating, 4 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 36th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Despite it being four years since he was drafted, he’s still very much a raw project. He’ll need both remaining years of college hockey and both ELC years in the minors to be close to being ready. If Sullivan makes it that far, it would be a surprise.
#35) Stefan Fournier
Right Wing, Hamilton (AHL)/Wheeling (ECHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2013
After a subpar rookie campaign, everyone was hoping that Fournier would have a better second season. To put it nicely, that didn’t happen. In fact, he was worse. He missed a good chunk of the year with an arm injury and was completely ineffective when he did make it into the lineup with the Bulldogs. Mercifully, he was sent down to Wheeling late in the year where he got into a dozen games. The Nailers opted not to use him as one of their eligible AHL’ers for their postseason run which is somewhat telling.
With an influx of rookies up front, Fournier may be in tough to even crack St. John’s lineup this coming season and if he does, he likely won’t be in any sort of meaningful role. Barring a big change, this will be his last year in the organization.
2014-15 AHL Stats: 14 GP, 0-1-1, -2 rating, 14 PIMS, 10 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 35th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Fournier needs to show that he has some sort of offensive ability at the pro level if he wants to have any sort of NHL shot. Given that he’s likely no more than a fourth liner to start this coming season, he’s going to need more than this year to demonstrate it. I wouldn’t count on it happening though.
#34) Joonas Nattinen
Centre, MODO (SHL)
3rd round pick (65th overall) in 2009
After more or less plateauing in Hamilton as a bottom six forward, Nattinen tried his luck in Sweden last year. He spent some time in both the bottom and top six but wasn’t much of an offensive threat overall. To be fair, hardly anyone on that team was; their leading scorer had 25 points in 51 games. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the result he was looking for when he went back overseas which has put his overall development further in question.
He now has a two year deal back home in Finland where he will hope to be more of an impact player. The Habs retain his rights during that time as he won’t be 27 by the end of the contract.
2014-15 Stats: 55 GP, 7-11-18, -12, 38 PIMS, 54 shots, 63 hits, 15:06 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking: 34th
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – If he wants to get back to the NHL, Nattinen will need to become a consistent two-way threat. Based on his play in recent years, that offensive consistency isn’t going to come overnight; it’s going to take a couple of years.
#33) Morgan Ellis
Defenceman, Wheeling (ECHL)/Hamilton (AHL)
4th round pick (117th overall) in 2010
After a rough second AHL season, Ellis was hoping to take a step forward in 2014-15. Instead, he took a step back by failing to crack the opening lineup and was subsequently demoted to the ECHL. While there, he showed that his offensive skills from junior hadn’t entirely eroded as he led the Nailers in blueline scoring despite barely playing half the season.
As injuries and recalls took a toll on the Bulldogs, Ellis was recalled and made an immediate impact for a few weeks. After that, he settled in as a passable depth defender. To be honest, I was really surprised he was issued a qualifying offer as I figured they’d opt to play the youngsters more but he has been given one final shot.
2014-15 ECHL Stats: 39 GP, 13-13-26, -13 rating, 22 PIMS, 101 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 29th
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – If Ellis is to get another qualifying offer, he’s going to need a big season with the IceCaps. If he can do that, he could get back on the radar but with a lot of players in front of him on Montreal’s depth chart, it’s going to take a while for him to be NHL ready and the odds of him doing so are slim.
#32) Hayden Hawkey
Goalie, Omaha (USHL)
6th round pick (177th overall) in 2014
In his draft year, Hawkey was the USHL’s goalie of the year while having the best GAA and SV%. His follow-up effort wasn’t so strong. He suited up in just fifteen games and allowed a full goal per game more than the year before. He then tore his ACL and MCL, ending his season before he had a chance to turn things around.
Hawkey now is moving onto Providence of the NCAA where there will be a three way battle for the #1 job with the only incumbent having played a total of twelve games in the past two years. If healthy, he could stake a claim to that position. However, it’s still unknown if he’s going to be ready to start the year or not.
2014-15 Stats: 15 GP, 5-7-2 record, 2.99 GAA, .896 SV%, 1 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 31st
NHL ETA: 2019-20/2020-21 – Hawkey took summer classes this year which helps open up the potential to fast track should he so desire. At the time he was drafted, he was talked about as a long-term project and his injury doesn’t really change the timeline. He’s another 3-4 years away from signing while he’d likely need at least one AHL year after that.
#31) Jake Evans
Centre/Right Wing, Notre Dame (NCAA)
7th round pick (207th overall) in 2014
Evans had a quality freshman season with the Fighting Irish. He got off to a flying start offensively with seven points in his first eight games but was unable to sustain anywhere close to that pace as the year progressed…not that anyone realistically expected him to. Ice time wasn’t hard to come by for the rookie as he suited up in all but one contest and spent a lot of time on the third line.
What will be key for Evans this season is playing with more consistency. That will give him a better shot of moving into a top six role where he can showcase his offensive skills. I don’t like to put any sort of expectations on 7th round picks but there is some potential here.
2014-15 Stats: 41 GP, 7-10-17, +4 rating, 22 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 32nd
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – Evans has taken college classes in two straight summers which helps set him up to fast track but he’s still going to have at least two years of NCAA hockey before making the jump. After that, two years in the AHL seem likely. He’s still a long-term project despite a strong start to his collegiate career.