The CHL’s cancellation of the playoffs and Memorial Cup last week is one for the history books but it also means that decision time has arrived for several of Montreal’s prospects.
For the first time in its 102-year history, there won’t be a winner for this particular trophy. Even in 1919 back when the Spanish Flu wiped out the Stanley Cup (a particularly notable event given the current circumstances), the Memorial Cup was still awarded.
But back to the Canadiens. Typically, a strong showing in the postseason could go a long way towards determining whether or not a prospect gets signed but that opportunity isn’t there now. That means Marc Bergevin and company will have to go with what they saw from each player during the regular season.
Contract slots are going to be an issue for the Habs for the foreseeable future with the number of picks they’ve made in recent years while holding 14 for the upcoming draft. With that in mind, there’s a good chance some decent prospects get let go. Here is a rundown of decisions that will need to be made.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard: Here’s a player whose postseason showing in the QMJHL a year ago likely got him drafted. His overage year with Chicoutimi wasn’t quite as productive as last season but he still led his team in scoring by a country mile (over someone who will be mentioned shortly). Since they drafted him at 20, the Habs actually have some flexibility here. They can sign him to an entry-level deal or if they want to keep a contract slot open and evaluate him further, an AHL pact is also an option. Put me down as being in favour of the latter although I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs an NHL contract in the near future.
Keep or Release
Cole Fonstad: An early-season trade to Everett helped boost his numbers after a slow start with Prince Albert but the uptick was only marginal. Fonstad’s offensive production in his draft year made him look like a steal in the fifth round but he has shown he’s more of a complementary player than a go-to one. The raw offensive upside is intriguing but it’s debatable as to whether that will be enough to get him signed.
Cam Hillis: The third-rounder that Trevor Timmins originally wanted to take in the second round had a really nice bounce-back year with Guelph. Finally healthy, he set new career bests offensively while finishing tied for 12th in league scoring. He’s not likely to be a top-six forward in the pros but an effective two-way centre would still be useful.
Samuel Houde: He managed to set new career marks despite missing a good chunk of the year due to a wrist injury and finished second in Chicoutimi scoring behind Harvey-Pinard. However, it’s hard to imagine he’ll get a contract now, especially since he won’t have a long postseason run to bolster his chances (he had just come back a week before play was halted).
Allan McShane: The offensive tools have always been there but the end result hasn’t and that continued this season where his goal and point totals both dropped. He slid a fair bit in his draft year (many had him ranked well before 97th where the Habs got him) but he hasn’t really improved a ton since then. He may very well just be an early bloomer and that won’t help his chances of getting signed.
The Habs have until June 1st to decide whether or not to sign these players although it’s possible that timeline could be delayed depending on whatever else happens during this pandemic. Shortly after the trade deadline, Bergevin suggested only one of these four players was likely to be signed. Out of the group, I’d peg Hillis as the top contender.
Junior or Pro
Gianni Fairbrother: Although he was only drafted a year ago, Fairbrother turns 20 in late September which makes him eligible to play in the minors next season. Partway through the year, he seemed to be trending towards that outcome but a lingering upper-body injury cost him the final two months of his season which is a notable setback. At this point, a return to Everett for a final season in Everett with a chance for a much bigger role with the expected graduations of Wyatte Wylie and Jake Christiansen is probably the best way to go.
Jacob LeGuerrier: He was born about six weeks after Fairbrother which also makes him eligible to turn pro although he’d be starting the season at 19. I don’t see a scenario where signing him makes sense as he still could benefit from a bigger role with Sault Ste. Marie. He’s more of a bubble player in terms of the likelihood of him eventually getting a contract so his play this season shouldn’t be enough to change that plan.
It’s also quite possible that the Habs eat into their contract space for next season by looking at the free agent market. With the CHL seasons now over, that could result in a small uptick in UDFA signings in the days to come, similar to how the NCAA market has played out over the past couple of weeks. If that happens, the chances for some of these players signing for next season would dip even lower.