Part two of our prospect rankings is bookended by a pair of players who saw NHL action last year but whose overall ceilings are fairly low. It also features the second biggest faller in the rankings from last season.
As we’ve done the last few 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, 2016
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 (previous ranking and reasoning in parentheses):
Graduated: Jacob de la Rose (2nd, NHL GP), Sven Andrighetto (8th, NHL GP), Joel Hanley (29th, age), Joonas Nattinen (34th, age)
Released: Darren Dietz (17th), Mac Bennett (20th), Gabriel Dumont (30th), Morgan Ellis (33rd)
Traded: Jarred Tinordi (7th), Christian Thomas (16th), Stefan Fournier (35th)
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.
#30) Max Friberg
Right Wing, St. John’s (AHL)
Acquired from Anaheim in December, 2015
Friberg was brought in from the Ducks in exchange for Dustin Tokarski with the hopes that he’d bolster the secondary scoring for the IceCaps after leading Anaheim’s farm team in scoring the year before. That didn’t happen although to be fair, he was often deployed as a checker when he got to the IceCaps.
At this stage of his career, Friberg’s ceiling is basically that of an injury fill-in, someone that’s defensively responsible enough to handle a fourth line NHL shift if need be. He did that for Anaheim last year before the trade although it was telling that he didn’t get the chance when the Habs were bringing up several players late in the season. He has to clear waivers to get back to St. John’s but that shouldn’t be much of a risk.
2015-16 Stats: 67 GP, 12-24-36, -6 rating, 14 PIMS, 123 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2016-17 – I don’t think there’s much development left in his game so he’s more or less ready now. If the Habs are hit with injuries, Friberg is a passable emergency recall that could handle a few minutes a night on the fourth line. That’s nice depth to have but his overall ceiling is pretty low.
#29) Nikolas Koberstein
Defenceman, Alaska-Fairbanks (NCAA)
5th round pick (125th overall) in 2014
Koberstein’s first college season wasn’t anything to write home about which was more or less expected given that he’s a very long-term project. However, it is disappointing and noteworthy that he couldn’t crack the regular lineup on a back end that had no other NHL draft picks on it and quite frankly wasn’t very good. But, to be fair, he was their youngest player overall.
Down the road, Koberstein projects as a third pairing, stay-at-home physical blueliner. That road is a very long one though as he has an awful lot to improve on over the next few seasons to try to earn a contract with the Canadiens.
2015-16 Stats: 23 GP, 1-1-2, -1 rating, 8 PIMS, 20 shots, 26 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – As things stand, it looks like Koberstein will need his three remaining years of college eligibility at a minimum and likely a year or two in the minors before he could potentially be thought of as NHL ready. A lot has to go right for him to even get that far.
#28) Michael Pezzetta
Centre, Sudbury (OHL)
6th round pick (160th overall) in 2016
Pezzetta was a high draft pick at the junior level but has yet to put his offensive game together in two OHL seasons. He hasn’t experienced much in the way of team success either as Sudbury has been among the worst teams in the league each year. What he has brought to the table so far is a quality defensive game and a willingness to get involved physically.
While it’s expected that Pezzetta will at least somewhat break out offensively this season, at this point it’s hard to project him as anything more than a bottom six forward. Montreal is lacking a bit in terms of physical forwards in their pipeline which should work in his favour at least.
2015-16 Stats: 64 GP, 10-18-28, -44 rating, 98 PIMS, 129 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – If he has a couple of quality scoring seasons in junior, Pezzetta should have a good shot at getting a contract. If that happens, a couple of AHL seasons would likely be needed but given that his upside is that of an energy bottom six player, he could potentially move a bit quicker than that.
#27) Mark MacMillan
Centre, St. John’s (AHL)
4th round pick (113th overall) in 2010
I had high hopes for MacMillan last season as a rookie that could make an impact fairly early and move up the lineup as the season went on. That didn’t really happen. He missed the beginning of the season from the leg injury he had back in college and wasn’t much more than a depth player for most of the year with the IceCaps.
Injuries forced him into a bigger role late in the year and their roster turnover should allow MacMillan to potentially play on the third line. If he can do that and work his way up from there, he could stay on the radar for the Habs. If not, he could find himself out of the organization next summer.
2015-16 Stats: 62 GP, 6-11-17, -10 rating, 41 PIMS, 54 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 19th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – MacMillan isn’t going to be a big scorer at the professional level but his defensive game won’t be enough to get him to the NHL either; he needs a quality two-way game. He will have to show considerable improvement in the offensive end fairly quickly for that to happen.
#26) Ryan Johnston
Defenceman, St. John’s (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2015
Johnston earned a contract last summer after a strong showing at Development Camp and it was hoped that he would give St. John’s a bit of an offensive boost. That didn’t really happen (aside from one really strong game late in the year). A herniated disc in his back cost him roughly half the season and he had some struggles in his own end with the IceCaps in the second half of the year.
Johnston isn’t going to be a defensive dynamo and is at his best in transition as a strong skater and puck mover. But that alone won’t be enough to get him a regular NHL role, particularly given his small stature. With the departures of Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz, Johnston should be in line for more ice time and a bigger role this season and will need to make the most of it.
2015-16 Stats: 37 GP, 0-12-12, -14 rating, 14 PIMS, 34 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 23rd
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Whether or not Johnston makes it to the next level (short of being an injury recall like he was last year) will depend on his defensive game. It was well below average last season and needs considerable improvement. If he can get a lot better there, he has third pairing upside down the road, especially with many NHL teams trending towards more mobility on their bluelines.