While there are several prospects who still haven’t played for the better part of a year, it’s time for another instalment of our annual prospect rankings. We start with players ranked 31st through 38th.
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, 2020
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: Nick Suzuki (2)
Released: Allan McShane (20), Cole Fonstad (21), Alexandre Alain (29), Samuel Houde (32), David Sklenicka (34), Antoine Waked (36)
Lost via Waivers: Noah Juulsen (9)
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.
I also want to take a second to address the delay in running these this year. Given the uncertainty surrounding this season all the way through December, these were saved in case the schedule was further delayed. The hope was also that by now, the junior leagues would be up and running, providing an opportunity for some fresher analysis which hasn’t quite happened for some prospects. Because some players have played though, players from the 2020 draft class aren’t slotted in the order they were picked as they often are as some have bolstered their value already.
38) Arvid Henrikson
Defenceman, Lake Superior State (NCAA)
7th round pick (187th overall) in 2016
At least we can now say that Henrikson has managed to lock down a regular spot in a lineup in college hockey, although his team isn’t the strongest and his role isn’t the biggest. In his fourth season since being drafted, that’s faint praise at best.
Henrikson had some tools when he was drafted and those coupled with his size made for an understandable late-round swing. But it hasn’t panned out and it’s hard to imagine it ever will. They’ll still hold his rights for a couple more years though in case something happens to change.
2019-20 Stats: 37 GP, 1-1-2, +2 rating, 48 PIMS, 17 shots, 35 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 38th
NHL ETA: 2025-26 – I’m not letting myself put N/A in this category which is really the answer when it comes to Henrikson’s NHL potential. If all went well, he’d need to play a much bigger role in the second half of his college career and then spend a year or two in the minors. He’ll be 26 or 27 by that time which shows how unlikely it is he’ll get there.
37) Kieran Ruscheinski
Defenceman, Salmon Arm (BCHL)
7th round pick (207th overall) in 2019
It was a quiet introduction to the BCHL for Ruscheinski who had a limited role when he was in the lineup. This pick was more of a throwaway in that it was used as a tribute to former scout Elmer Benning than an idea that he’s a legitimate NHL prospect. If he can find a college commitment by June, the Habs will be able to hold onto his rights a little longer in the hopes that he can pan out but if not, they’ll have until June to sign him (and they won’t be doing so at that time).
2019-20 Stats: 36 GP, 0-6-6, 29 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 37th
NHL ETA: 2027-28 – If he can get to college and play out his eligibility, Ruscheinski will still need a year or two of development in either Laval or Trois-Rivieres before having a shot at being NHL-ready. There’s a long way to go before then.
36) Hayden Verbeek
Centre/Left Wing, Adirondack (ECHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2018
Verbeek is further proof that adding someone solely for their skating ability isn’t a great idea from a player development standpoint. He can really fly – he’s one of the fastest players in the organization – but the rest of his game simply isn’t good enough.
After failing to crack Laval’s roster most nights early on, he was sent down to the ECHL for some playing time and to his credit, he did well. But two years into an entry-level contract, the bar is higher than being decent in the ECHL. At this point, he’s probably on the outside looking in when it comes to a roster spot with the Rocket this season and he’s a safe bet to not be qualified in June.
2019-20 Stats: 21 GP, 5-14-19, +4 rating, 4 PIMS, 43 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 35th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – If Verbeek was to establish himself as a regular with Laval in this short season, it may be enough to earn an AHL deal somewhere for 2021-22 but he’d need to work his way into a top-six role before having any shot at seeing NHL action. He’ll need a lot more AHL time to have a shot at that happening.
35) Michael Pezzetta
Left Wing, Laval (AHL)
6th round pick (160th overall) in 2016
There’s no denying that Pezzetta brings some physicality to Laval’s lineup and it’s an element the team is definitely lacking in general. The thought behind drafting him was that if he could stay down the middle, he could be a potential 12th or 13th forward in the NHL that plays a high-energy style.
With that said, I don’t think he’s really on that path anymore. For starters, most of his time has been spent on the wing which takes the ability to play centre out of his toolkit. Now, Pezzetta is basically just a minor league tough guy. With what Montreal is transitioning their fourth line into, it’s hard to see him fitting into their plans for that trio.
2019-20 Stats: 32 GP, 2-2-4, -2 rating, 63 PIMS, 34 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 33rd
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – The window is narrowing quickly for Pezzetta to make it. He needs to establish himself as someone that’s capable of producing a little bit and show some top-six flashes in the AHL to have a chance at getting on the recall radar. That process would need to start this season and with a limited schedule, that’s going to be tough to accomplish.
34) Alexander Gordin
Right Wing, St. Petersburg (MHL)
6th round pick (171st overall) in 2020
This is another situation where the Habs focused on one particular skill with the rest of his game ranging from relatively quiet to underwhelming. The difference between Gordin and Verbeek is that the former’s skill is goal scoring, an element that’s a lot harder to come by than speed. If you’re going to draft a player that’s a one-trick pony so to speak, that’s the skill to target.
Having said that, it’s telling that he hasn’t been able to really establish himself past Russia’s junior league, even as a player that went in his second year of eligibility. Gordin hasn’t moved up much this year either aside from a handful of games. He’s not also dominating as much as he was last season which isn’t necessarily cause for immediate concern but it is still notable.
I liked the pick then and I still do now but it’s clear that Gordin is more of a long-term project than someone that should be counted on to make a mark in North America sooner than later. He has another year left on his deal in Russia after this one and it’s quite possible that he’ll need more time after that.
2019-20 Stats: 59 GP, 39-29-68, +26 rating, 59 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – Gordin will need a couple more years in Russia by the looks of it before being ready to make the jump to North America and at this point, it’s hard to imagine he’ll go straight to the NHL. A year or two in Laval adapting to the smaller rinks and higher pace would be beneficial.
33) Arsen Khisamutdinov
Left Wing, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
6th round pick (190th overall) in 2019
There were two surprises from Khisamutdinov’s post-draft season. The first is that he struggled in the KHL after more than holding his own in limited action there the year before. He was able to score at their lower level but it certainly didn’t translate in much, if any, success.
The second is that he signed with the Habs soon after. Clearly, this was in the cards going back to them drafting him which likely resulted in less playing time (similar to Alexander Romanov’s case) but even still, with the year Khisamutdinov had, it was odd to see him get a spot out of their 50 contracts.
The intrigue is certainly still there. He brings some size and strength to a prospect pool that isn’t exactly the biggest or the strongest although it remains to be seen if his skating, which remains a concern, will be able to improve enough for him to play in more than a limited role. Despite the poor season, there’s still some upside offensively but with his ELC now beginning, he’s going to have a limited window to show he can take that next step.
2019-20 Stats: 31 GP, 1-2-3, -4 rating, 14 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 30th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – At 22, Khisamutdinov’s window to make it is shorter than most and having what is going to amount to a half-season at best in the AHL isn’t going to help. At this point, I think his goal should simply be to show enough progress before his ELC is up to warrant another contract and then hope to prove there’s some NHL potential from there.
32) Frederik Dichow
Goalie, Malmo J20 (SuperElit)
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2019
Dichow was clearly drafted as a project goaltender which is fine but those players typically need playing time to actually develop and that is becoming a challenge. While he was the starter with Malmo last year, it was basically a 1A/1B platoon so his playing time was still limited. He has been in Denmark since October this season on a loan and has played all of four times. He’s going to Sudbury if and when the OHL campaign starts but that’s going to be so short that it won’t make much of a difference. In the end, his attempt to come to North America to get more playing time is ultimately going to result in him somehow playing less, not more.
He’s not a technically refined goalie and really, the most intriguing element here is his size as Dichow stands 6’5. In order to get better though, he needs to play and until that happens, his timeline is just going to get pushed farther and farther away.
2019-20 Stats: 24 GP, 12-12-0 record, 2.84 GAA, .891 SV%, 1 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – The hope was that playing major junior could actually accelerate his timeline but that clearly isn’t happening. He’s going to need a couple more years before heading to Laval and once Dichow gets there, he’ll need another year or two. Fortunately, the Habs have the opportunity to be extra patient if he’s worthy of keeping around.
31) Joni Ikonen
Centre/Right Wing, KalPa (SM-lliga)
2nd round pick (58th overall) in 2017
Last year, I didn’t penalize Ikonen’s ranking after he missed the majority of 2018-19 due to injury. One season lost to injury shouldn’t entirely derail someone’s development. But two seasons missed absolutely does which is why he finds himself down here behind players that he is clearly more talented then.
It’s hard to provide an updated scouting report on Ikonen given how long he has missed. He was once a good skater but now he has had knee and leg surgery which puts that into question. He showed some offensive upside in Sweden’s junior system but since he was drafted, he has scored a grand total of nine goals in Finland’s top division.
Montreal has to decide on whether or not they’re signing him by June. At this point, with others that will need contracts at that time and not a lot of slots available, I suspect they’re leaning towards letting him go. If he can show some promise in the second half this season (he finally played a game last week), there may be a bit of hope for him yet but with how much time he has missed, that’s a big if.
2019-20 Stats: DNP
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – Normally, when players stay overseas a little longer, the hope is they can jump straight to the NHL like Artturi Lehkonen did. Ikonen appeared to be on that same path before all of these injuries which means some AHL time will be needed to make up for lost development…if he makes it that far. Believe me, I’m really hoping to be wrong on this ranking.