We’ve reached the top ten in our 2019-20 prospect rankings. Included in this group are a pair of prospects that made their NHL debuts this season plus one that has seen his value start to tumble a bit.
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.
10) Jake Evans
Centre, Laval (AHL)
7th round pick (207th overall) in 2014
After a slow start to his season that saw him spending a fair bit of time in the bottom six, Evans moved up fairly quickly, in part because Michael Chaput was recalled fairly quickly (and was eventually traded) but his performance helped keep him there.
The bad news is that the overall ceiling isn’t particularly high. While he’s a strong playmaker, the rest of his offensive game doesn’t look like it’s going to come around to the point where he could contend for a top-six spot in the NHL. But the good news is that his defensive game is good enough to hold his own in the NHL. The Habs got a bit of a look at that this season. That gives him a very realistic chance of being a useful bottom-six option.
The fact that Evans can hold his own at centre and the wing also helps his cause. While he’s certainly in the mix for the fourth line centre role as early as 2020-21, he could also play on the right wing which is a spot that the Canadiens don’t have a ton of depth. The high likelihood of him having some sort of impact with the Habs in the immediate future helped earn him enough support from the writers to sneak into the top ten ahead of Mattias Norlinder.
2018-19 Stats: 67 GP, 13 goals, 32 assists, 45 points, -11 rating, 26 PIMS, 110 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 10th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – The stoppage to the season certainly hurt him as he was getting a long look at auditioning for a full-time role next year. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, it’s a safe bet he’ll spend more time with the Canadiens but there will be an adjustment period just like there was when he started in Laval.
9) Noah Juulsen
Defenceman, Montreal (NHL)
1st round pick (26th overall) in 2015
After finishing up strong in 2017-18, Juulsen cracked Montreal’s roster to start last season and it looked as if his days of being a prospect were going to come to an end. He was a regular on the third pairing and while he wasn’t dominating by any stretch, he was certainly holding his own.
And then he took two pucks to the head in the same game and everything changed. He was pulled out of the lineup with a concussion that was also referred to as migraines and sat for a while. Juulsen was sent to Laval when he returned to get back into game shape but the migraines returned and cost him the rest of the season.
Had this been written at the beginning of the season, this would have been where I would have mentioned that he was slated to return and would need to make up for lost time. Yeah, that didn’t happen as 2019-20 was pretty much a waste as well.
Do the Habs think he has recovered to the point where they give him a cheap qualifying offer and give him one more chance? If they don’t, it’ll be pretty telling that they think this issue is a long-term one.
2018-19 Stats: 21 GP, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points, +5 rating, 6 PIMS, 33 shots, 39 blocks, 17:07 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking: 5th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Had it not been for the concussion and migraines, Juulsen easily would have established himself as a regular by now. If the Habs give him another look, he’ll be waiver-eligible for next season so there’s a decent chance that he could start as the eighth defenceman in the role that Jarred Tinordi occupied not too long ago (afraid to waive him but hesitant to play him). His development has certainly stalled.
8) Jesse Ylonen
Right Wing, Pelicans (SM-liiga)
2nd round pick (35th overall) in 2018
Ylonen’s transition moving from the second-tier Mestis to the top level was a pretty successful one overall. He actually equalled his offensive output from the year before which, considering the higher level of competition, is actually pretty good. Unlike some prospects that play in top leagues, playing time wasn’t an issue either as he logged regular ice time throughout the season.
Ylonen certainly has some intriguing skills although there are some areas of concern as well. Let’s look at the good first. He’s a top-notch skater and that element will help him push for a role on a fast-paced Montreal squad. He’s also a particularly adept shooter and is among the top prospects on the Habs in that regard. This is a team that isn’t exactly brimming with sharp shooters so bringing that to the table will certainly help his cause.
On the flip side, the rest of his game still needs a fair bit of work. He’s not lazy defensively but that’s not a strong spot for him. While a top six or bust profile isn’t as common now, it might still apply to Ylonen at this stage as Montreal’s bottom two lines are usually pretty good in their own end. While he’s not the smallest of prospects in terms of height, he needs to bulk up somewhat if he’s going to withstand the higher level of physicality in North America.
Overall, Ylonen is one of Montreal’s more promising offensive prospects but the risk factor is a little higher here than it is with some of their other youngsters.
2018-19 Stats: 53 GP, 13 goals, 14 assists, 27 points, +10 rating, 8 PIMS, 144 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 11th
NHL ETA: 2021-22/2022-23 – It’s certainly possible that Ylonen plays himself into the mix right away for next season but some time in Laval would certainly help. A full year makes sense but if his defensive play doesn’t improve too much, he may need some more time before making the jump.
7) Cale Fleury
Defenceman, Laval (AHL)
3rd round pick (87th overall) in 2017
Fleury’s first professional season had some ups and downs but overall, it was a pretty good one. They decided to limit his minutes for most of the year and had him tethered to Karl Alzner which helped insulate him defensively but also limited his offensive progression since he was basically in a stay-at-home role.
As the year progressed and Laval’s depth thinned out, Fleury was able to see some more time on the power play and he began to show some improvement at the offensive end. That helped him earn a bit of a larger role but he was a little erratic with the extra ice time.
Back when the voting was done (before Fleury surprisingly cracked Montreal’s roster), it looked as if he was a year away from being NHL ready. That would have allowed him to log bigger minutes consistently and play in all situations instead of being painted into a very narrow role. We know what happened in the end but he has shown that there is an NHL-level ceiling.
2018-19 Stats: 60 GP, 9 goals, 14 assists, 23 points, -16 rating, 23 PIMS, 85 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 9th
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – Even though Fleury spent most of this season with the Habs, he wasn’t really ready for full-time duty just yet. He’ll be entering the final year of his entry-level deal next season and should make a case for that full-time spot sometime next season.
6) Josh Brook
Defenceman, Moose Jaw (WHL)
2nd round pick (56th overall) in 2017
After his production largely levelled off in his post-draft year, there were some question marks for Brook heading into his final year at the junior level. To state it quickly, he answered all of them and then some.
Offensively, he was dominant. He led the league in points by a defender (a year after scoring just three goals) and did so in a variety of ways. He can produce from the point but he also showed a willingness to lead the rush and drive the net (and had a reasonable amount of success doing so). That helped him get a spot on Canada’s World Junior team as well as the WHL’s top All-Star squad (and even a few games on the right wing when injuries struck).
The big question for Brook heading into this season would be whether his defensive game would translate enough for him to get into the mix for an early recall. While we know what happened, that doesn’t factor into this ranking. Oftentimes, players with gaudy junior numbers are expected to make an impact in the NHL in short order. Brook’s history suggests this isn’t likely to be the case but if they’re patient enough, a spot in the top four is an option and I mention that even knowing the year he just had.
2018-19 Stats: 59 GP, 16 goals, 59 assists, 75 points, +24 rating, 89 PIMS, 192 shots, 6/18 faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 5th
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – Forget about Brook for another year. Give him a full 2020-21 season in Laval with a bigger role and then 2021-22 in a top role. That’s what it’s going to take to get him enough of a defensive foothold in place to succeed at the NHL level while allowing his offensive game enough time to develop to the point where it’s an asset with the Habs. Fleury will get there faster but Brook has the chance to be more of an impact player.