We’ve nearly reached the top ten in our 2019-20 HW Prospect Rankings. Some of these players received top ten votes from our writers but ultimately came up a bit short this year.
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.
15) Joni Ikonen
Centre, KalPa (SM-liiga)
2nd round pick (57th overall) in 2017
First, the good news. After a rough season offensively as he got acclimated to playing in the Swedish league, Ikonen made much more of a positive impact offensively and actually had more goals than 2017-18 despite playing in a fraction of the games.
Of course, the fraction of the games is the bad news. The oft-injured centre suffered a knee injury that limited him to just 13 games last year and took out his chance to play at the World Juniors. That set things back in terms of his development.
This year has not gone better as he has missed the entire season with the leg injury and while the hope was that he’d return late in the year, that won’t be the case as he has been shut down. (That injury isn’t factored into this ranking as the voting and rankings were done back in training camp.)
When he signed with KalPa, it seemed like Ikonen was likely to cross the pond following this season. However, with two years basically as a write-off, that may not be the case anymore. There is an intriguing offensive skillset to work with here but he needs to be able to stay in the lineup to actually utilize it.
2018-19 Stats: 13 GP, 5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, -3 rating, 6 PIMS, 44 shots, 47.4% faceoffs, 16:58 TOI
Previous HW Ranking: 13th
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – At this point, I could see the Habs leaving him in Finland for next season in what would basically amount to a rehab year. If he can earn an ELC from there, he’ll probably need some seasoning in Laval, again in large part due to the last two years basically being throwaways from a development perspective.
14) Jacob Olofsson
Centre, Timra (SHL)
2nd round pick (56th overall) in 2018
Olofsson’s first foray into the Swedish league wasn’t great but it wasn’t all bad either. His team was, to put it lightly, dreadful. On the plus side, this meant that he received a lot of ice time for a 19-year-old at more than 15 minutes a night. That’s a fair bit of ice time in a top league although the end results weren’t pretty as he struggled (which could be said for pretty much everyone on that team).
What was a bit more concerning was his limited offensive role at the World Juniors with Sweden. That limited offensive upside makes him a bit difficult to rank as a prospect. The hope was that another year with a new team (Skelleftea) would help get him going. (It didn’t although that’s not reflected in this ranking.)
At this point, Olofsson has some NHL upside as a checking forward. There’s still some value in that but the fourth line could be his realistic ceiling. That’s not a particularly exciting profile for a second rounder but he still has two more years before he needs to be signed so things could change between now and then.
2018-19 Stats: 34 GP, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, -14 rating, 2 PIMS, 36 shots, 15:18 TOI
Previous HW Ranking: 12th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – He’d have to have a big season next year to warrant an entry-level deal in 2021 which doesn’t seem too likely. While it’s possible that Olofsson could handle fourth line minutes in Montreal right away, the smarter play development wise would be some time in Laval first which puts him a few years away at least.
13) Mattias Norlinder
Defenceman, MODO J20 (SuperElit)
3rd round pick (64th overall) in 2019
This feels like a good time to remind everyone that these were voted on back in October and it has just taken a long time to get these written. Clearly, he’ll be higher on next year’s edition…
Last season was an interesting one for him. After not being drafted after an okay season at the U-20 level, Norlinder returned there at the start. He did a lot better offensively in his second stint with the team which got him promoted to Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier pro league. His performance there is what really got him on the radar.
Norlinder, while a defenceman by position, doesn’t really play like a defenceman. He’s more of an old fashioned rover. He loves to get involved in the rush – leading it is somewhat common. He’s also a very strong skater and with a greater emphasis on mobility nowadays, that will come in handy. The big question when it comes to his overall NHL upside, however, will be his ability to actually defend. That still needs a fair bit of work.
Because Norlinder was a third-round pick, it’s hard to put a boom/bust ceiling on him as most players picked at this spot in the draft don’t make it. But with the style he plays, it’s certainly fair to give him that distinction. He’ll probably either be an impact player or an afterthought and there isn’t a lot of room in between.
2018-19 Stats: 30 GP, 5 goals, 16 assists, 21 points, +14 rating, 43 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – The plan is for him to stay in Sweden for another year and play in the SHL this time. Assuming that goes well, the Habs would then likely bring him over where some time in Laval would be beneficial. By then, they should have a sense of whether Norlinder is going to be an impact player or not in Montreal’s system.
12) Jayden Struble
Defenceman, St. Sebastian’s (USHS)
2nd round pick (46th overall) in 2019
Struble is another boom or bust player. The skillset is there for him to be a capable top-four defender which would be great value at that pick. But there are plenty of questions as to whether or not he can reach that ceiling to the point where some teams had him on their do not draft lists.
He’s another strong skater and unlike Norlinder, he actually possesses somewhat of a refined defensive game as well; the rover designation doesn’t apply to him. Struble is more than willing to get engaged physically even though he’s not the biggest player out there (6’0) but one of the concerns is that he has a tendency to hone in on the physicality a little too often to the detriment of positioning.
Struble was originally expected to be a five-year project but instead opted to not go to the BCHL as planned and instead went straight to college at Northeastern for this season. Even with that, it will be a while before we find out whether he was the right project to take or not.
2018-19 Stats: 28 GP, 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – Two more seasons in college seem like an absolute minimum for Struble who will then need a year or two in the minors as well. If he spends his full four years college, then this timeline will be pushed back a bit as he still wouldn’t be able to make the jump to the NHL right away.
11) Jordan Harris
Defenceman, Northeastern (NCAA)
3rd round pick (71st overall) in 2018
Harris didn’t get much support in terms of top ten voting from the writers (so I could only bump him up to here) but that likely shouldn’t have been the case based on his freshman year. Blueliners making the jump from high school hockey to the college ranks usually have some difficulties making the transition and often play a depth role as they get their feet wet. That was supposed to happen for Harris. It didn’t. Instead, he was on the top pairing quickly.
There are legitimate questions about how much offensive upside he’ll have at the professional level. To be fair, that question could be extended to having any offensive upside. But that’s not a big part of his game.
Instead, he’s yet another lefty whose skating is a primary asset (are you seeing the pattern with these last few players?). He can step up on the rush if he needs to but I like his mobility more in terms of getting back defensively to break up plays. He’s not the biggest (another pattern with these last few rankings) but he’s a smart, sound defender and those aren’t the easiest to come by.
The upside isn’t as high as it is with Norlinder and Struble but the bust factor is a lot lower as well. It’s quite possible that Harris can be a steady part of Montreal’s back end before too long.
2018-19 Stats: 39 GP, 1 goal, 12 assists, 13 points, +21 rating, 8 PIMS, 57 shots, 56 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 14th
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – It’s possible that Harris could turn pro next season which could bump up the timeline as he may not need a ton of time in Laval. A return for his junior year also makes some sense, especially if the Habs want him to work on his offensive game a bit more. He’s closer to being ready than some of their other blueliners though.