Our second group of prospects in our rankings series features players who are all at completely different stages of their development from just being recently selected to one who could be out of the organization in the summer.
As we’ve done the last few years, the top-10 have been voted on by members of HabsWorld’s writing staff while I ranked the players from 11 through 33. Voting was done prior to the beginning of training camp. 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, 2017
2) The player must have no greater than 55 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 in parentheses):
Graduated: Artturi Lehkonen (2nd), Daniel Carr (6th)
Released: Matt Bradley (23rd), Ryan Johnston (26th), Mark MacMillan (27th), Connor Crisp (32nd), Dalton Thrower (33rd), Colin Sullivan (34th)
Traded: Mikhail Sergachev (1st), Tim Bozon (21st)
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.
29) Casey Staum
Defenceman, Dubuque (USHL)
5th round pick (124th overall in 2016)
Staum started off slow but made a few improvements as the season progressed while perhaps most importantly, he stayed healthy after coming off an injury-plagued draft year. What is a tad concerning though is that he has pushed back his college debut by a year to remain in the USHL this season which isn’t something you see from an NHL draft pick very often.
The Habs have placed more emphasis on mobility in their drafted defencemen in recent years and that’s what Staum brings to the table. However, the rest of his game is still quite raw. After spending most of the year as a third pairing option with the Fighting Saints, he will need to hold down a top-four spot this season if he wants to have a shot at being a serviceable college defender.
2016-17 Stats: 55 GP, 0-16-16, -1 rating, 18 PIMS, 37 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 25th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – With the route he’s going, Staum could still be as many as five years away from signing and if he continues to be a slow developer, he may need all those seasons. I don’t like to project players making the NHL right out of college so add another year in the minors and you have a ridiculously long timeframe before he could plausibly have a shot at helping in Montreal.
28) Michael Pezzetta
Centre, Sudbury (OHL)
6th round pick (160th overall in 2016)
There was clearly some projection going on with Pezzetta’s selection last year. As his junior team was expected to finally be competitive, the hope was that he’d take a step forward in his offensive game. The opposite happened and he wound up missing more games due to suspension than he had goals scored.
What stops me from completely lowering him to the bottom of the rankings is the thought that he could fit the model of the modern-day enforcer down the road. Pezzetta is not going to be a point producer at the next level but he is a strong fighter and with some further development, he’s the type of player that could play eight minutes a night and not be a huge liability, especially if he can be above average at the dot. That’s a really low bar but he might have a chance to meet it.
2016-17 Stats: 54 GP, 10-9-19, -21 rating, 88 PIMS, 119 shots, 53.6% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 28th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – Assuming he does well enough to earn a contract by June (he’s off to a good start at least), a couple of years in the minors to acclimate him to a fourth line role and tougher fighters would be beneficial before trying him in that role in the NHL if the Habs are looking for a tough guy by then.
27) Cayden Primeau
Goaltender, Lincoln (USHL)
7th round pick (199th overall) in 2017
While it’s fair to say that bloodlines had something to do with this pick, Primeau is an intriguing project netminder but it will be a long time before he’s ready for the pros.
He did not fare particularly well at the USHL level and it’s not as if he was on a bad team as their other goalie had some of the better numbers league-wide. He has played well in tournaments for the US in the past and displays good athleticism between the pipes. (And given who his father is, he may yet grow a bit more as well.)
It will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets as he heads to Northeastern at the college level. He’s on a team that rarely plays their backup and their starting goalie is returning so he may not be in line for a ton of playing time in 2017-18.
2016-17 Stats: 30 GP, 14-11-1 record, 3.16 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2021-22/2022-23 – If he can take over the starting job at Northeastern fairly quickly, he’s someone that could go less than four years before turning pro which would expedite things a bit. If not, the full four seasons in college plus at least one in the minors would be needed to be NHL ready.
26) Jeremy Gregoire
Right Wing, St. John’s (AHL)
6th round pick (176th overall) in 2013
After a slow and rather uneventful rookie season, Gregoire followed that up with a similarly slow and uneventful 2016-17 campaign that saw him become scratched a bit of regularity down the stretch which is never a good sign.
Although he was an above average point producer in junior, he has struggled offensively so far at the AHL level. He’s a serviceable energy player that will drop the gloves from time to time but merely being that two years into an entry-level contract isn’t where he should be. Gregoire should have another gear to his game that could help his chances of getting a second contract but with the depth that Laval may be starting with, earning more ice time may be hard to do.
2016-17 Stats: 56 GP, 9-3-12, -2 rating, 78 PIMS, 73 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – Although he only has one year left on his contract, he’s not one year away from the NHL. If he can show flashes of top-six ability this season, he might earn another look where he’ll then need to become a consistent and productive scorer to have an NHL shot as simply being an undersized energy player isn’t going to be enough for him to take that next step.