We’ve reached the top ten in our annual Prospect Rankings series. This group features quite a few players that have gone the college route in recent years but are at various stages in their development.
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.
10) Alex Tuch
Left Wing, US NTDP (USHL)
2nd round pick (47th overall) in 2020
As far as mid-second-round picks can go, Tuch’s selection was rather polarizing. There are those who believe he can be an effective power forward and others who think he’s the next version of Michael McCarron or Connor Crisp, players drafted for their size but never really lived up to their potential.
I’m sort of in the middle of the two groups. I see a definite NHL-calibre player in Tuch but my question is his offensive upside. No, he’s not a fourth line at best plug that you hope for eight minutes a night from. He’s definitely more talented than that. But I also don’t really see top-six upside either. And that seems to be where the polarization comes from. The Habs draft a lot of bottom-six role forwards in the second round and with the exception of Artturi Lehkonen, who was more of a skill guy at the time, they haven’t hit on a lot of them. (With defencemen, however, they’ve been much better.)
Tuch’s skating isn’t terrible but he isn’t going to be a speed burner either. He has enough offensive upside to produce in the NHL but he isn’t going to be a guy you count on for key goals. His defensive game is decent, certainly good enough when combined with everything else to make him an intriguing prospect, especially given his size.
If he was to put up 25-30 points a year playing 13-15 minutes a night, I think the Habs would be quite pleased with that outcome. That’s a reasonable goal for Tuch, someone who profiles as more likely than not to make it. There’s a reason that the Habs had calls on this pick and not for the one they had right after; clearly, they weren’t the only team that thinks he can be a useful NHL power forward.
2019-20 Stats: 47 GP, 15-15-30, 30 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – Plenty of Montreal’s college prospects profile as players that will need the full four years. I don’t have Tuch in that group; the short season this year hurts but I could see him turning pro after his junior year in 22-23 and pushing for a spot fairly quickly with the Habs, especially if they’re looking to add extra size by then.
9) Jan Mysak
Centre, Hamilton (OHL)
2nd round pick (48th overall) in 2020
This was the more popular pick by the fans from the back-to-back selections but from a scouting perspective, he’s more polarizing than Tuch. He was rated as a first-rounder by some agencies while others had him below where Montreal took him.
Part of the reason for the volatility was Mysak’s exposure or lack thereof. He was playing a regular role with Litvinov in the Czech Republic but wasn’t on the radar as much until a strong showing at the World Juniors. That was enough to get him to stay in North America for the second half of the season where he joined the Bulldogs. It’s fair to wonder that had he played in Hamilton all season where teams could have viewed him more, would his stock have been higher?
Mysak plays a solid two-way game but the questions arise when it comes to his offensive upside. Some think he’s a top-six guy down the road and when you see him against his peers, it’s understandable why. But from his time in the Czech Republic, he looks like more of a strong complementary piece. Yes, he’s not in his age group in that league (or in Laval this season where he has held his own in a very limited role) which makes it harder to forecast.
I flip-flopped on this ranking a few times with Tuch sometimes being in this spot. At the end of the day, I think both of them are third liners and it comes down to Tuch’s physicality or Mysak’s two-way game and ability to play centre. Knowing Montreal’s never-ending search for help down the middle, he gets the very slight edge.
2019-20 Stats: 22 GP, 15-10-25, -12 rating, 10 PIMS, 67 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2024-25/2025-26 – Mysak will have another year of junior hockey next season before he can head to Laval. While his time with the Rocket this season will help in terms of adapting to the level, he’ll need at least two full years there in a significant role before being ready to make the jump.
8) Ryan Poehling
Centre, Laval (AHL)
1st round pick (25th overall) in 2017
I think back to his NHL debut with fond memories as many Montreal fans surely do. However, while it will go down as a great night for him, I can’t help but wonder if it has done more harm than good in terms of creating inflated expectations, both from the fanbase and Poehling himself.
Poehling has never been a top-end offensive threat for any sort of consistent basis. There are flashes – look no further than that debut against Toronto and his performance at the World Juniors – but they’ve never been sustained. Expecting his production to increase in the pros wasn’t realistic. It can happen but certainly not very often.
Last season was certainly a disappointment for Poehling who admitted to being flustered when he was cut from the team. Considering that was the likeliest outcome all along, that was a bit of a red flag. So too was the fact he struggled mightily in Laval and was even worse in Montreal.
So why is he still in the top ten? There is still a lot to like with Poehling. His defensive game is coming along and it’s not hard to see an NHL profile even coming off the year he had. At the very least, he can play eight to ten minutes on the fourth line. Keep in mind this ranking was done before Laval’s season got underway but it’s heartening to see some turnaround at the offensive end while his skating has also improved as well.
I still can see him on a third line in the NHL and he is doing well enough down the middle to potentially be able to stay there. With Phillip Danault’s long-term future in question plus Jake Evans’ ceiling not being high enough to be the 3C of the future, there’s definitely a position for him in the somewhat near future. Patience will still be required though and expectations need to be adjusted. There was a chance he could become a second-line player but at this point, that doesn’t seem realistic but a good third liner can still be a very important piece for the Habs.
2019-20 Stats: 36 GP, 5-8-13, -2 rating, 6 PIMS, 43 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 3rd
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – I can see there being a temptation to put him into the lineup next season and perhaps it happens if they have a lot of turnover up front. However, Poehling has another year of waiver exemption left and if he’s going to have the type of role that Evans has had this season, he’d be much better served with a more prominent role under Joel Bouchard in Laval, hopefully in a full campaign.
7) Jordan Harris
Defenceman, Northeastern (NCAA)
3rd round pick (71st overall) in 2018
Harris didn’t receive a significant jump in playing time last year as many sophomores often do but that’s simply because he had already spent a lot of time on the top pairing in his freshman campaign so he could only have so much more tacked on. As expected, he logged heavy minutes and was used in all situations which allowed his offensive numbers to improve.
When Harris’ name comes up, the first thing that comes to mind is his skating. And if that isn’t the first thing you think of when seeing his name, that needs to change. He is an elite skater and not just for a defenceman; he’s a high-end skater, period. That allows him to gracefully exit the zone with possession and join the rush when warranted which is an area that still needs some work. Even though he’s undersized at 5’11, he has strong enough defensive instincts to more than hold his own in his own end.
So why is he rated lower than several other blueliners on this list? I have some questions about his offensive upside. In particular, I don’t know if Harris is going to be able to produce enough to be a top-four player. His best fit may be as a fifth blueliner that can play some secondary minutes on special teams. That’s still a very useful player, especially on Montreal’s back end where it’s likely to undergo a fair bit of turnover in the next few years.
It’s also worth noting that he’s a safer bet to reach his ceiling compared to some rated ahead of him that have more upside but a lot more risk. From an organizational depth standpoint, it’s good to have that balance.
2019-20 Stats: 33 GP, 3-18-21, even rating, 20 PIMS, 46 shots, 44 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 11th
NHL ETA: 2022-23/2023-24 – Count me among those that were surprised to see him decline Montreal’s offer to turn pro and burn a year of his entry-level deal this season. Assuming he does sign a year from now and spurn free agency, I think he could benefit from a year in Laval but they could look to have him be a regular in his first full season. Unlike some college prospects, he’ll be pretty well polished when he turns pro.
6) Jayden Struble
Defenceman, Northeastern (NCAA)
2nd round pick (46th overall) in 2019
Last season was a bit of a mixed bag for Struble which really wasn’t that much of a surprise. Discipline was a concern, as was defensive positioning while a lower-body injury ended his year early. But in between all of that, he was a big part of Northeastern’s back end, often spending time in their top four.
Struble is a tough one to peg. From a raw skill set perspective, he has all of the tools needed to become a high-impact defenceman. He can skate, has some offensive upside, plays with some physicality and when he’s not taking himself out of the play to try to throw a big hit, he’s not bad in his own end either. For an 18-year-old, that’s a very intriguing toolbox to work with.
But for all of the potential positives, the questions are just as loud. They largely revolve around discipline as Struble has been prone to making some bad choices when he gets fired up which takes him out of the play from bad positioning or penalty trouble. It has been an issue going back to before he was drafted but there is still time for some improvement. Still, it has to be said that he was a do-not-draft player for some teams, presumably for this reason.
It’s that uncertainty that holds him out of the top five for this season in our rankings. In terms of raw upside, he’s very close to the top among Montreal’s defencemen. However, the odds of him reaching that ceiling are low unless those issues in his game get eradicated. But even if he winds up a step or two below his best-case scenario, he’s still an intriguing project with a lot of upside and that potential is enough to put him just ahead of his teammate in Harris.
2019-20 Stats: 21 GP, 3-7-10, -2 rating, 36 PIMS, 32 shots, 13 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 12th
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – Another short season this year doesn’t help in terms of making a case to leave school early as in a perfect world, I think the Habs would like to sign him after next season which is the safer play in terms of ensuring he signs. But if that happens, he’s going to need considerable time in the minors to wean out some more of the bad habits. A lot of patience with Struble is needed but if he pans out, he’ll be well worth the wait.