We’ve reached the final group of our 2016 Prospect Rankings. Over 90% of our readers voted Mikhail Sergachev as Montreal’s top prospect but our writers were a bit more split on who should get the nod.
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.
#5) Noah Juulsen
Defenceman, Everett (WHL)
1st round pick (26th overall) in 2015
From an offensive standpoint, it’s hard to classify Juulsen’s 2015-16 campaign as anything but a disappointment as his point total was nearly cut in half from his draft-eligible year. However, the Silvertips were a very defensive-minded team after losing three of their top five scorers (including someone you’ll see shortly on this list) which took away some of Juulsen’s point producing chances.
On the defensive side of things, he wasn’t particularly flashy but was steady and reliable while playing with a physical edge. He also made a strong impression in rookie camp and suggested he may not be too far away from getting a look in the NHL. He’s off to a very good start this year and should be a key cog at next month’s World Juniors after being a surprise cut last season.
2015-16 Stats: 63 GP, 7-21-28, even rating, 37 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 4th
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 6th
NHL ETA: 2018-19/2019-20 – Most defencemen need at least a couple of years of minor league development but Juulsen is someone who I think could move a bit quicker depending on how his offensive game progresses to the pro level next year. He’s a very trustworthy player for his age and I can see Montreal’s coaching staff wanting him in the lineup fairly quickly as a result. Despite the down year, things are looking up for Juulsen.
#4) Michael McCarron
Centre, St. John’s (AHL)
1st round pick (25th overall) in 2013
McCarron kicked off his pro career with a bang last season with 20 points through the first two months of the season (spanning 21 games). Things weren’t quite as smooth afterwards as he averaged under half a point per game the rest of the way. He did earn himself a lengthy call-up with the Habs late in year and showed flashes of making an impact before too long.
How much of an impact he’ll eventually provide is really the big question. Is he a top six player down the road or more of a third liner whose size would allow him to wreak some havoc on the power play? Both are useful players but players with a third line ceiling generally aren’t too highly rated. This will be a big year for McCarron – strong, consistent production could go a long way towards trying to show that he can be a core top six forward instead of a third liner.
2015-16 Stats: 58 GP, 17-21-38, -8 rating, 91 PIMS, 125 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 3rd
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 3rd
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – While I think it’s likely that McCarron will again spend a decent amount of time with Montreal this year, I don’t think he’ll make the push for more of a permanent spot until next season. Until the time comes where he shows that he can handle greater than fourth line NHL minutes, they’ll likely want to keep him in the minors where he can take on a much bigger workload to work on his all-around game.
#3) Nikita Scherbak
Right Wing, St. John’s (AHL)
1st round pick (26th overall) in 2014
Scherbak’s first foray into the professional ranks didn’t go exactly as many hoped. An ankle injury cost him a big chunk of the season while when he was in the lineup, he was plagued by inconsistency both in terms of his production and effort level. I’ve mentioned this plenty of time already but it’s worth mentioning again that he was an underager last year and is only beginning his contract this season. Accordingly, a slower development path was to be expected.
In terms of raw offensive upside, Scherbak is probably atop the list among Montreal’s prospect forwards. For a team that is often lacking in top six players, he has the potential to be one of them as long as they’re patient enough to work some of the warts out of his game (such as the inconsistent effort and attention to detail in his own end). Of the players in our top five, Scherbak’s votes had the biggest discrepancy – he had a #1 vote but also had one that barely had him as a top-10 prospect.
2015-16 Stats: 48 GP, 7-16-23, -26 rating, 20 PIMS, 79 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 1st
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 4th
NHL ETA: 2018-19/2019-20 – Some top six prospects don’t need to stay in the AHL for long before making the jump to the NHL. Scherbak is not going to be one of those. He’s off to a much better start this season in terms of his offence but his all-around game is still very much a work in progress. Until he’s more reliable in that area, it’s hard to envision him locking down an NHL roster spot (and that’s not going to drastically improve over night). He might see time as a recall in the next year and a half but I think he’s still two years away before he makes a push for a full-time role. (And there’s nothing wrong with a timeline like that either, even if it is slower than some others.)
#2) Artturi Lehkonen
Left Wing, Frolunda (SHL)
2nd round pick (55th overall) in 2013
What a difference a year makes. Two years ago in his first season in Sweden, Lehkonen had a decent season but nothing to get overly excited about. The proverbial light bulb went on last year and he became a go-to player for Frolunda during the regular season before a record-breaking playoff performance really thrusted him into the spotlight.
He came to training camp with the Habs with an NHL or bust situation (thanks to a clause in his contract considering he’s signed in Sweden, not because he didn’t want to play in the minors) and earned a spot on the opening night lineup. Before getting hurt, he didn’t look out of place either after spending time on both the second and third lines.
2015-16 Stats: 49 GP, 16-17-33, +6 rating, 12 PIMS, 111 shots, 15:24 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking: 10th
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 2nd
NHL ETA: 2016-17 – Lehkonen has shown that he’s ready for a regular NHL spot based on his play in training camp and the early part of the season. There are going to be ups and downs and I’m not certain he’s an ideal top six forward on a contending team (I like him more as a third liner that moves up when injuries strike) but his two-way game should earn him a lot of trust and a lot of ice time before too long.
#1) Mikhail Sergachev
Defenceman, Windsor (OHL)
1st round pick (9th overall) in 2016
After a collapse like the one the Habs had last year, their top pick from a few months back is what they have to show for it. It’s hard not to be excited about Sergachev, a potential top pairing defenceman with plenty of speed and offensive upside. As the league trends towards more skill and speed, that should only bode well for the Canadiens.
His play in his own end is where a lot of work still needs to be done (not entirely surprising given last year was his first on the smaller ice surface). Sergachev has a tendency to go for the big hit and his attention to positioning can waver at times. We saw that happen in his brief stint with the Habs to start the season.
Our writers weren’t as bullish as our readers were on Sergachev as the top prospect. While over 90% of readers that voted had him #1, only two-thirds of our writers did with Scherbak and Lehkonen also receiving at least one first place selection.
2015-16 Stats: 67 GP, 17-47-57, +15 rating, 56 PIMS, 156 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 1st
NHL ETA: 2017-18-2019-20 – If Sergachev improves in his own end, he should make a real push to make the team next season on a full-time basis. If he doesn’t progress, then they may have to send him back for one more junior season. At that time, that would also open up the potential for him to start the following year in Laval if they want to develop him at a slower pace or if his in-zone play continues to be an issue. I don’t think the three year route is likely though (but it’s possible in a worst case scenario), I suspect he’ll make a real run at a roster spot next October.