Montreal’s 2018 draft class was perceived as a strong one so it’s no surprise that three of their selections find themselves just missing out on a top ten spot in our prospect rankings.
As we’ve done the last few years, the top-10 have been voted on by members of HabsWorld’s writing staff at the beginning of the regular season while I ranked the players from 11 through 38. 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, 2018
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
* – One exception to this rule is Victor Mete. While he technically still qualified (he was at 49 NHL games heading into the season), it’s clear that he has established himself as an NHL regular and the only reason he didn’t get that extra game was his injury. Accordingly, we’re classifying him as a graduated prospect.
Here are the departures from last year’s list (previous ranking in parentheses):
Graduated: Charles Hudon (2), Michael McCarron (6), Victor Mete (8), Max Friberg (31)
Released: Martin Reway (20), Zach Fucale (24), Markus Eisenschmid (25), Jeremy Gregoire (26), Casey Staum (29), Tom Parisi (32)
Traded: Will Bitten (13), Simon Bourque (16), Hayden Hawkey (17)
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.
15) Nikita Scherbak
Right Wing, Laval (AHL)
1st round pick (26th overall) in 2014
It’s not worth going into too much detail here considering the Habs deemed Scherbak worthy of being waived two months into the season and the fact he’s no longer in the organization. He’s a player that’s too good for the AHL but is going to need a lot to go his way to have any sort of consistent NHL success as a fourth line role isn’t a good fit for him. However, talent wise, that’s all he has shown himself to be capable of thus far.
Having said all that, Montreal didn’t do themselves any favours here. Sitting him completely derailed any possible trade value they had and receiving anything in return would have been better than losing him for nothing as there was no realistic expectation that he’d pass through unclaimed. They couldn’t have handled his case much worse.
2017-18 Stats: 26 GP, 7-23-30, -2 rating, 20 PIMS, 53 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 4th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – He’s waiver-blocked basically so for better or for worse, he’s a full-time NHL player now.
14) Jordan Harris
Defenceman, Kimball Union Academy (USHS)
3rd round pick (71st overall) in 2018
The Habs haven’t had a ton of luck when it comes to drafting undersized college-bound defencemen who are known primarily for their skating. Harris looks like he could be an exception.
While offence isn’t going to be his calling card (his high school numbers don’t even jump off the chart), he’s a good enough player in his own end to get away with it. Harris has already cracked the top pairing at Northeastern which is an impressive accomplishment for a freshman and is holding his own against top opponents.
Overall, his ceiling appears to be somewhat limited – he’s probably a third pairing player if everything works out. However, given his early body of work at the college level, he’s quickly becoming one of the more intriguing long-term projects in Montreal’s system.
2017-18 Stats: 37 GP, 6-29-35, 4 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – Even though he’s on the top pairing now, Harris is probably going to need at least three years at the college level (I’m projecting four with this timeline) and a season in the minors to adapt to the pro game before he’ll have a shot at being NHL ready. How his offensive game develops in those first three years may dictate whether or not he gets a fourth or if the Habs turn him pro early.
13) Joni Ikonen
Centre, KalPa (SM-lliga)
2nd round pick (58th overall) in 2017
While Ikonen played a regular role last season, not much else went too well. While he had an opportunity to play more than he would have (including spending some time on the wing), his offensive game didn’t develop too much while he had a fairly quiet showing at the World Juniors as well. In hindsight, spending some more time at the junior level may have been the better way to go than simply holding down a roster spot in the top division.
2018-19 hasn’t gotten off to a good start either. Actually, it hasn’t started yet. He suffered a knee injury while skating in late May and underwent surgery in mid-June. The expected timeline for recovery was six months but he appears to be a little behind schedule. As a result, he won’t get another crack at the World Juniors while he’s going to wind up missing the better part of half the SM-liiga season.
2017-18 Stats: 52 GP, 4-10-14, -6 rating, 8 PIMS, 84 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 7th
NHL ETA: 2021-22/2022-23 – This season is going to wind up being more or less a write-off so it wouldn’t be shocking if Ikonen inks a new contract with KalPa and stays in Finland a little longer. (The Habs have two more years to sign him after this one.) If he can make some strides once he gets back, he could try the Artturi Lehkonen route and make the jump straight to the NHL but given how things have gone so far, time in the AHL is looking more and more likely.
12) Jacob Olofsson
Centre, Timra (Allsvenskan)
2nd round pick (56th overall) in 2018
This was a pick I really liked back in June, especially after some picks that could be classified as risky. The easy comparison is former Hab Jacob de la Rose but I think Olofsson is more of an all-around player instead of a defence-first one. That makes his potential ceiling a little higher than a fourth line centre which appears to be where de la Rose will max out.
Olofsson played an important role in Timra moving up to the top division this season and that has carried over to this year. His offensive game has tailed off in recent weeks but he’s still logging top-six minutes which is nice for his development even if the points aren’t there.
At this stage, it looks like Olofsson is a fairly safe bet to see some NHL action at some point in his career. The overall upside isn’t too high (a top-six role is likely not in the cards) but a two-way centre with size is always a valuable commodity to have.
2017-18 Stats: 43 GP, 10-11-21, +10 rating, 10 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – While his SHL contract is up after the season, I expect he’ll stay there for a couple more years and follow a similar development path as Lukas Vejdemo. That means some time in the AHL is likely as well.
11) Jesse Ylonen
Right Wing, Espoo (Mestis)
2nd round pick (35th overall) in 2018
While Montreal’s prospect pool has improved in recent years, it’s still lacking in terms of capable goal scorers. Ylonen is someone who could rectify that. He was one of the top scorers for Espoo last year in Finland’s version of the AHL and had the most points of any teenager in that league over the past three years.
However, there’s some risk here as well. Ylonen is a speedy finesse forward but his all-around game needs a lot of work while his slender frame is a concern against more physical players. He got off to a slow start this season but has picked up his production in recent weeks and has seen an uptick in playing time as well which is a good sign heading into the World Juniors.
The Habs haven’t had a lot of success with ‘top six or bust’ forwards in the second round but there’s some cause for cautious optimism when it comes to Ylonen who should make a push for a top ten spot in our rankings next year.
2017-18 Stats: 48 GP, 14-13-27, -4 rating, 20 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – Ylonen has one year left after this one in Finland and if he continues to develop, the Habs could push to try to get him over following that season although some time in the minors would be needed. If he stays in Finland a little longer than that though, he’s someone that could follow the Lehkonen route.