The next group of our 2019-20 prospect rankings features the biggest riser from last season plus a pair of newcomers to the organization on the back end.
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, 2019
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 in parentheses):
Graduated: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (1), Charlie Lindgren (6)
Released: Jarret Tyszka (21), Michal Moravcik (22), Brett Lernout (24), Scott Walford (25), Jeremiah Addison (28), Hunter Shinkaruk (31), Daniel Audette (34), Nikolas Koberstein (37)
Traded: Nikita Scherbak (15 – lost via waivers last season)
Included with each ranking is an estimate of the NHL readiness date for each prospect. 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) Allan McShane
Centre, Oshawa (OHL)
4th round pick (97th overall) in 2018
McShane has a strong all-around offensive game. He has shown he can shift between playing centre and the wing and he’s above average at the faceoff dot. So why is he ranked here and not higher?
There are plenty of question marks surrounding him. His skating isn’t particularly strong and as the pace continues to quicken in the pros, it’s fair to wonder how much that will hold him back. He isn’t the most conscientious of defenders either which limits his ability to play lower in the lineup.
For me though, the biggest question is his level of assertiveness. There are times where he can take over a game and you just marvel at the potential. Then ten shifts go by and he’s hardly touched the puck or gone below the faceoff dots. Until he can be more aggressive on a consistent basis, his overall upside is going to be limited which makes it a question as to whether or not he’ll be signed by June despite a statistically strong campaign in 2018-19 and a decent first half to this season as well.
2018-19 Stats: 62 GP, 34-35-69, +22 rating, 18 PIMS, 195 shots, 469/844 faceoffs (55.6%)
Previous HW Ranking: 20th
NHL ETA: 2022-23/2023-24 – If McShane gets signed, he’s going to need a couple of years at least in the minors as there will be another adjustment period as he’ll need to work on his all-around game to get into Laval’s lineup. It wouldn’t be shocking if there was an ECHL stint to start to give him top-six minutes. Junior players aren’t typically projects but in this case, he is one.
19) Cam Hillis
Centre, Guelph (OHL)
3rd round pick (66th overall) in 2018
Nothing went right for Hillis last season. He dealt with three significant injuries (two to the collarbone) and with the Storm loading up for the stretch run (including current Hab Nick Suzuki), playing time was sparse when he was in the lineup and his numbers weren’t the strongest. That said, it’s hard to drop him down too far solely because he had an injury-plagued year.
Hillis is more of a pure playmaker compared to McShane but his all-around game is stronger. He’s someone that can be effective in more of a defensive role while also being quite good at the faceoff dot. In the first half of this season, he has been deployed on the top line routinely and the results have been encouraging.
He’s another player that the Habs will need to make a call on by June but considering how much Trevor Timmins seemed to want him, it’s reasonable to assume that a deal will get done. Last season was certainly a write-off but it shouldn’t have affected his stock too badly.
2018-19 Stats: 33 GP, 10-12-22, -10 rating, 27 PIMS, 68 shots, 265/473 faceoffs (56.0%)
Previous HW Ranking: 17th
NHL ETA: 2022-23/2023-24 – Because 2018-19 was a poor year from a development perspective, Hillis has gone from someone that could move up the depth chart relatively quickly to someone that is likely to have a longer timeline. The fact that he can be deployed in a defensive role should get him into recall consideration at some point in his sophomore pro season.
18) Gianni Fairbrother
Defenceman, Everett (WHL)
3rd round pick (77th overall) in 2019
Fairbrother’s rise in 2018-19 was significant, to put it mildly. He went from being an off-injured rookie on the third pairing to a fixture in the top four while making significant strides in all areas.
As is common with a lot of defencemen in the top-20 of these rankings, Fairbrother’s skating is his strong suit. One element I particularly like is his ability to play in his own end. Instead of being a toolsy player who has yet to figure things out in the defensive zone, Fairbrother is already pretty good in that regard. That’s a nice by-product of playing for a defensive-oriented team. Although he’s not the tallest, he does bring some physicality to the table as well.
Having said all of that and even accounting for the offensive improvements, the ceiling is still somewhat limited. Fairbrother looks like a prototypical third pairing defender, someone that can play 16 or so minutes a night, be strong in his own end, and not be a liability when it comes to the transition game and offence in general. There’s nothing wrong with that either (the Habs could really use one of those) but it does limit his overall upside and has him starting a little lower in the rankings as a result.
2018-19 Stats: 64 GP, 10-26-36, +23 rating, 83 PIMS, 145 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2021-22/2022-23 – Fairbrother turns 20 in late September which makes him eligible to play in Laval next season. I expect the Habs will take advantage of that. Since he’s not a player that’s probably going to spend a lot of time in the top four, he could have a bit of a quicker path to the NHL than some defencemen, especially if they do turn him pro next season.
17) Otto Leskinen
Defenceman, KalPa (SM-lliga)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2019
On the opposite scale of Fairbrother is Leskinen. The Finnish blueliner is much more talented offensively but his play in the defensive end needs a lot of work.
First, the good. He’s a very strong skater and passer while showing the ability to quarterback a power play (at least in terms of setting others up). He’s more than comfortable (sometimes too comfortable) joining the rush, likely the by-product of having to go on the attack early and often with a KalPa team that was not exactly loaded in firepower and were frequently playing from behind.
At 5’11, he’s not exactly the biggest and he has had some issues when it comes to handling physicality and boxing out forwards in front of the net. That’s something that will need to improve considerably as his brief NHL stint showed. The offensive upside is certainly intriguing – especially for an undrafted free agent – but he’s a bit of a project for someone that turns 23 in February.
2018-19 Stats: 57 GP, 8-23-31, -17 rating, 34 PIMS, 250 shots, 21:52 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – His brief NHL stint notwithstanding, Leskinen is far from actually being NHL-ready. He’s on a short entry-level deal (just two years) that’s up at the end of next season. Chances are, he’ll either be ready by then or he’ll be cut loose.
16) Joel Teasdale
Left Wing, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2018
I had a really hard time with this ranking, especially knowing it’s probably going to go down as a result of this current season basically being a write-off. What also made this one tricky is that the player he was in junior is not the type of player he’s going to be in the pros.
In the QMJHL, his size and strength could overwhelm opponents and that came to a head last season when he had 43 goals. Teasdale won’t be able to do that against the pros. But what made him an effective all-around player in junior can be his calling card in the AHL (and potentially NHL). He is a strong player defensively and that’s going to give him a chance to succeed in the bottom six where some of Montreal’s skilled prospects wouldn’t be able to.
I don’t have Teasdale’s ceiling any higher than a third liner but I think he has a decent chance of having some success at the professional level in that role. He is good enough offensively to be a reasonable two-way threat as long as his skating can hold up. Unfortunately, the injury that has kept him out all year is a knee issue which is going to make that element of his game even more in question.
2018-19 Stats: 66 GP, 43-37-80, +38 rating, 48 PIMS, 268 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 30th
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – Even with this season being a write-off, Teasdale will probably only have until the end of his entry-level deal to show whether or not he’s worth an NHL shot. The good news is that with the lower NHL ceiling, he may not have quite as much to prove before he gets an opportunity.