Our fourth group of prospects in our 2017 rankings features a pair of players who have largely flown under the radar since being drafted.
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.
20) Martin Reway
DNP in 2016-17
4th round pick (116th overall) in 2013
After missing an entire season as a result of his heart ailment, it was hard to place him in the higher end of the prospect group as he had been before, especially with what happened with Tim Bozon a couple of years ago. As it turns out, that was a smart move as he decided to not stick it out with Laval, instead of asking for his release less than a month into the season. He quickly signed with HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL so his release clearly wasn’t health related but rather a preference to play closer to home. It will be interesting to see if he tries to play in North America again down the road but if he does, it won’t be as a member of the Canadiens.
19) Lukas Vejdemo
Centre/Left Wing, Djurgarden (SHL)
3rd round pick (87th overall) in 2015
After a quality post-draft season, expectations were higher going into 2016-17 and to put it nicely, he failed to deliver. Even though his role largely stayed the same (as a bottom-six forward), his production dropped considerably which made him more of a one-way defensive forward which isn’t great value for a third-round selection. Scoring is never going to be a big part of his game but if he can’t be even somewhat productive in Sweden, it’s hard to imagine him having success at that element in North America.
The 21-year-old is off to a much better start this season, however. He’s in a top-six spot and has already equalled his production from last year which is a good step in the right direction. Montreal signed off on him sticking around in the SHL for 2017-18 but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them push for him to cross the pond for next year.
2016-17 Stats: 48 GP, 4-4-8, -1 rating, 8 PIMS, 49 shots, 13:08 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking: 13th
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – If the Habs do sign him for next year, he’ll already be 22 and at that age, it’s not too likely that they’d ask him to stick around in the minors for too long. Given that his upside is limited, it’s plausible to think that he could be NHL-ready after a year of getting acclimated to the shorter ice surface.
18) Daniel Audette
Centre, St. John’s (AHL)
5th round pick (147th overall) in 2015
Audette was gifted an opportunity in his rookie season as injuries and a lack of depth saw him receive a lot of time in the top-six in the early going. Aside from a short stretch, he didn’t really make the most of it and eventually was dropped to the third line which actually worked out better for him as that put him in a role he was more capable of producing in.
He is one of Montreal’s more naturally-gifted offensive prospects and for someone with his stature, his shot is a pretty good weapon. That said, Audette has to improve his all-around game considerably to have a shot at the next level as while he has some offensive upside, that alone won’t get him to the NHL. For this season, a reasonable goal is to maintain a second line spot for at least most of the season which would set him up to be more of a key piece in 2018-19.
2016-17 Stats: 75 GP, 10-20-30, -7 rating, 37 PIMS, 104 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 20th
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – I’d like to go a year later than this as I could realistically see him needing three more AHL years to really develop the rest of his game at more of a gradual pace but he’ll be eligible for waivers starting in 2019-20. Unless a bunch of injuries strike or he gets on a real tear in Laval, it’s hard to foresee him getting any sort of long look as a call-up this season.
17) Hayden Hawkey
Goaltender, Providence (NCAA)
6th round pick (177th overall) in 2014
With the performances of Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven last year, Hawkey more or less became the forgotten goalie on the depth chart. However, he too had quite the season. He made every single start and made considerable strides as the season progressed.
He has entered 2017-18 as the undisputed starter and is once again off to a decent start on the season. If Hawkey holds down that position and maintains or bests his totals from last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Montreal make a push to sign him for next season and have him forego the final year of his college eligibility. (Worth noting, he could drop out of college and opt into free agency next summer, similar to what Cal Petersen, a former Buffalo prospect, did last summer.)
2016-17 Stats: 39 GP, 22-12-5 record, 2.19 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 shutouts
Previous HW Ranking: 24th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – I’m not convinced that Hawkey has the upside of an NHL starter but I do think he could potentially hold his own as a backup if he continues to progress so he could move through a system a bit quicker as a result. At least one year in the minors will be needed (similar to someone like Lindgren) but he’ll be 25 at the start of ’20-’21 so once he does turn pro, he won’t be afforded the opportunity to have several years of development.
16) Simon Bourque
Defenceman, Saint John (QMJHL)
6th round pick (177th overall) in 2015
Bourque followed up a solid 2015-16 campaign with a dominant final season at the junior level, flirting with a point-per-game average for most of the year. He was shipped to the Sea Dogs midseason and when that happened, his role changed from being the go-to guy in all situations to a bit more of a complementary piece and he made that transition nicely.
Despite the impressive production, Bourque’s offensive game isn’t at the stage where he’s going to make a big impact right away in the minors while his in-zone play needs a lot of work as well. There is upside here but it’s going to take some time to come to fruition and considering he’s seeing intermittent minutes at best in the early stages with Laval, it might not be a bad idea to put him in Brampton for a while in that go-to top-pairing role.
2016-17 Stats: 59 GP, 15-41-56, +31 rating, 58 PIMS, 143 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 16th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – There are some players who come out of junior and force their way into an NHL lineup before long. Bourque won’t be one of those as he is somewhat of a project player. He’s going to be someone who will be best served developing at a slow pace so the full three years in the minors seems like the logical way to go.