The fourth and middle group of this year’s Prospect Rankings is the least experienced of the group as four of the five players were playing at the junior or collegiate level for at least most of 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.
#20) Daniel Audette
Centre, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
5th round pick (147th overall) in 2014
Last year was not a good one for Audette aside from getting his entry-level deal a lot earlier than he needed to. It was supposed to be the season where he became one of the top scoring threats in the league and instead, he produced at a level comparable to his draft-eligible campaign. He did at least finish up with a solid playoff run in a first round exit and held his own in a handful of games with St. John’s.
While he is eligible to return for an overage season, it’s more likely that he’ll kick off his first pro campaign. The question will be whether or not Audette is capable enough offensively to play in an offensive role right away with St. John’s; if not, he may be better served starting in the ECHL in a top line role and getting recalled to the IceCaps when injuries arise.
2015-16 Stats: 52 GP, 22-37-59, 53 PIMS, -10 rating, 185 shots, 45.5% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 18th
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – Audette’s offensive game will make or break his NHL chances but his all-around game is far from good enough at this stage. He’ll need to gradually improve in his own end while putting up top six numbers in the minors before he would be considered for an NHL look. It may be a while before both of those things happen.
#19) Tom Parisi
Defenceman, Providence (NCAA)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2016
While Charlie Lindgren drew all the attention among Montreal’s college signings late last season, Parisi quietly slid under the radar. That’s an appropriate way to describe his game too as he isn’t the most flashy of blueliners but he was rather effective at the college level. After a quality senior year, he joined St. John’s for five games late in the season.
The opportunity for him to make a mark in his rookie season with the IceCaps will be there as he is really only contending with Philip Samuelsson and Joel Hanley on the depth chart and neither of them are exactly high-end prospects. He’ll likely start the year under the radar as he didn’t see much preseason action but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his role increase as the year progresses.
2015-16 Stats: 38 GP, 1-15-16, 24 PIMS, +12 rating, 82 shots, 43 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – As an undersized blueliner that doesn’t have a particularly high skill set, Parisi’s ceiling is quite low compared to some of Montreal’s other defence prospects. His hockey IQ helped land him his first pro deal and if that continues to be a strength of his, it’s possible that he could be an option on a third pairing within a couple of years but that’s about as high as he’ll likely progress.
#18) Michael McNiven
Goaltender, Owen Sound (OHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2015
It was a bit surprising to see McNiven go undrafted last year but the Habs signed him after a strong showing at development camp and the rookie tournament. He was Owen Sound’s starter for the first time last season, playing for one of the lowest scoring playoff teams in the league. He got off to a strong start but tailed off down the stretch which isn’t uncommon when dealing with the bigger workload.
Having been sent back to junior earlier this week, McNiven will pick up where he left off as the Attack’s undisputed number one goalie. Like last season, offence may still be at a premium for his team which may not help his numbers. At this stage of his junior career, he should be one of the top netminders in the league this season.
2015-16 Stats: 53 GP, 21-18-10 record, 2.94 GAA, .902 SV%, 3 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 25th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – With the depth currently in Montreal’s system between the pipes, it’s likely that McNiven will take a slower development path, one that should see him in the ECHL next season. If they make a trade between now and next season that opens up a spot for him in Laval, this could potentially be bumped up by a year.
#17) Jeremy Gregoire
Centre/Right Wing, St. John’s (AHL)
6th round pick (176th overall) in 2013
After a strong junior career, many (myself included) expected Gregoire to be one of the bigger impact rookies with St. John’s last season, especially as the season progressed. That didn’t really happen as he spent a lot of time on the fourth line and struggled offensively. As injuries and recalls destroyed their depth late in the year, he was bumped up in the lineup but that didn’t give him much of a boost either.
This season, he will need to become more of an impact player and history suggests he should be able to step up his game. Depending on how St. John’s opening roster looks (based on who gets cut and potentially clears waivers), he may have to work his way up starting from the fourth line again so a slow start may be in the cards once again.
2015-16 Stats: 62 GP, 6-5-11, 70 PIMS, -5 rating, 78 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 11th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Originally, I thought he could be playing himself into an NHL role as early as some time this season but given what happened last year, the ETA needs to be pushed back. Gregoire won’t be a big scorer at the NHL level but before he can get that far, he needs to be at least a decent scorer in the AHL. It’s going to take a bit of time for that to happen.
#16) Simon Bourque
Defenceman, Rimouski (QMJHL)
6th round pick (177th overall) in 2015
After being more of a depth defender the previous season, Bourque saw a big increase in his role last year as a top pairing player. He was more involved offensively even if it didn’t really show in his overall scoring numbers while he was often tasked with checking the top opponents, something that he hadn’t done much of before last season.
As he enters what could be his final junior campaign, Rimouski will be counting on Bourque to be a dominant player. Expectations of a 50+ point season will be realistic while he’ll undoubtedly receive plenty of ice time. The Habs have yet to sign him (they have until the beginning of June to do so) so there will be lots to play for.
2015-16 Stats: 66 GP, 12-34-46, 50 PIMS, -3 rating, 159 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 24th
NHL ETA: 2019-20/2020-21 – Assuming he gets his entry-level deal, Bourque is more likely to be a slower developer at the minor league level than some of Montreal’s other blueline prospects. If he follows his junior development curve, the offence won’t be there until the second or third year which would keep him in the minors for the bulk of his rookie contract.
As part of our series, we’d like to hear who you think Montreal’s top prospects are. If you haven’t already, please fill out our Top-10 Prospects ballot. The results will be published later on this month.