With rookie camp and the prospect tournament now underway, it’s a good time for another edition of the Habs prospect mailbag.
Should the Habs turn Cale Fleury pro or send him back to junior?
Fleury is eligible to play in Laval this coming season due to a late birthdate, similar to Brett Lernout and Nikita Scherbak in recent years. While I wouldn’t say he has done everything he needs to from a development perspective in the WHL, I’d be looking at playing him in the minors unless he has a dreadful showing at camp.
From a physical standpoint, Fleury is ready to withstand the rigours of a full professional season. He also happens to be a right-hand shot, something that Laval doesn’t have a lot of (especially if Noah Juulsen and/or Lernout break camp with the big club). There’s an opening for him to play regular minutes right away (likely on the third pairing which is fine to start) and I think he could handle that without too much difficulty.
It would also allow them to somewhat stagger integrating a bunch of rookies in the near future. Fleury joins Josh Brook, Jarret Tyszka, and Scott Walford as blueliners needing to sign by June. Breaking in as many as four rookies in Laval next season would be tough so getting one out of the way in Fleury would help in the long run.
How quickly will Jake Evans push for a spot in Montreal?
(The answer to this came before Evans suffered what looked to be a serious injury in the rookie tournament opener on Friday night.)
Given his showing at the college level, some have suggested Evans should be NHL-ready quite soon. I’m not prepared to go that far. His faceoff ability makes him a candidate for a recall to cover the fourth line when injuries strike but in terms of coming up and making an impact, he’ll probably need close to a full season in Laval at the very least.
For starters, I don’t expect Joel Bouchard to have Evans on the top line right away. They’re going to want him to develop as a centre and I can’t see them dropping Michael Chaput to the second line right away with the commitment they gave him. It’s going to take some time to earn the trust of the coaching staff to play in all situations; they’re not just going to hand him top minutes just because he has some NHL upside (at least they shouldn’t be doing that).
I wouldn’t be shocked if Evans starts on the second or third line and works his way into more playing time as the season progresses (and players get injured/recalled). That will allow him to develop with a lot less pressure but the flip side is that it will take more time. If the Habs are out of it near the trade deadline, I could see Evans getting a real look at that time but probably not before then. He’s closer to being ready for NHL action than a lot of prospects but I wouldn’t say he’s close to being ready just yet.
Alexander Romanov has cracked the CSKA Moscow roster to start the season. What does that mean for his development?
First, Romanov simply cracking a deep roster like that is an accomplishment. That’s the good news. The bad news for the Habs is that this is not an ideal scenario for his development.
Romanov has started the season as the seventh defenceman and like NHL teams, seventh defenders don’t play a whole lot. Until someone gets hurt, that’s not going to change. It’s not as if CSKA will be looking out for Montreal’s best interest either; KHL teams have had no qualms about keeping up young players and hardly playing them.
As crazy as it may seem, the best thing for Romanov here may be for him to struggle so that he gets dropped down to either the MHL (junior) or VHL (minor league) level. Playing time is what is crucial here; simply practicing against better players doesn’t do a lot for development. Romanov did well to crack the KHL squad but those gains will quickly be undone if he’s playing very limited minutes for long.
Who are some candidates to be a breakout prospect in 2018-19?
Considering he wasn’t even Montreal property a year ago, it’s hard to call Allan McShane a breakout prospect but I’m going to anyway. He should be a top liner in Oshawa and as far as mid-round draft picks go, the offensive talent is impressive. I can envision him safely surpassing the point-per-game mark which is really going to get him on the radar.
As much as I wasn’t a fan of this pick back in June, I think Samuel Houde will have a much bigger impact this coming season. Three of Chicoutimi’s top-four scorers from last year are gone which paves the way for Houde to have a much more prominent role in their offence.
In terms of players that were in the system a year ago, I’m going to go back to that defensive group from the 2017 draft and pick Tyszka. He should be the undisputed top blueliner in 2018-19 with the departure of Turner Ottenbreit and with that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his offensive numbers climb a bit higher. He made some strides in his defensive play last year but this should be the one where everything comes together.