After a run on defencemen in our last group of prospects, this collection of prospects that just missed out on a spot in the top ten is solely a group of forwards who have shown some intriguing upside.
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, 2021
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
Note that players acquired after January 1st, 2022 will not be included in the rankings.
Here are the departures from last year’s list (previous ranking in parentheses):
Graduated – NHL GP: Alexander Romanov (2), Jake Evans (11)
Graduated – Age: Lukas Vejdemo (23)
Traded – Hayden Verbeek (36)
Lost in Expansion – Cale Fleury (12)
Released – Jacob LeGuerrier (20), Joni Ikonen (31), Arsen Khisamutdinov (33), Kieran Ruscheinski (37)
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. Players are assessed on a combination of upside, likelihood of making it to the NHL, and overall value to the organization.
The plan heading into the season was for these to run during the Olympic break which was going to give us some coverage when the Habs were off for four weeks but obviously, that’s not happening now. Early-season performances were taken into consideration but as they were small sample sizes, they only moved a player up or down a few slots.
15) Oliver Kapanen
Centre, KalPa (FIN U20)
2nd round pick (64th overall) in 2021
Kapanen profiles as a two-way centre which is an extremely useful piece on any team and would be a great return on the final pick of the second round. Whether or not he can get to that level (and stay down the middle) is still quite questionable, however.
At the junior level, Kapanen has shown an ability to score and is someone that plays with a high motor. That’s an element the Habs have tried to add a bit more in recent years and even the new regime seems to value the up-tempo energy that he provides. Skating is an area of concern but there is still time to improve that.
But I have to admit, I’m a bit concerned by what I’ve seen this season. The jump to the professional ranks hasn’t gone well from an offensive standpoint and while his defensive play has still been good, that’s only a small silver lining; in his post-draft year, I want to see improvements in all areas and that just hasn’t been the case. Even at the abbreviated World Juniors, he had a shot to play on the second line and simply didn’t stand out.
Kapanen is in the final year of his deal in Finland but it’s safe to say that his time will be extended out there. Montreal still has three seasons before they need to sign him and it may take that long for him to really establish himself in the Liiga, their top level. He’s a bit of a project which isn’t what we usually see from international prospects.
2020-21 Stats: 37 GP, 25-16-41, -1 rating, 26 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – At this point, he needs at least two more seasons overseas if not all three. Unless things go really well, he’s going to need AHL time as well so the Habs are going to have to be patient with him.
14) Luke Tuch
Left Wing, Boston University (NCAA)
2nd round pick (47th overall) in 2020
Tuch is one of those prospects that is somewhat polarizing. As a physical winger, there’s definitely a clear path to a role in the NHL for him. The issue is his ceiling. His floor is a fourth liner and his overall upside may not be a whole lot higher. Personally, I think he can be a third liner down the road but there are some who believe his ceiling is the same as his floor.
There isn’t a lot to really break down with Tuch’s game. He’s decent physically and has a good, albeit inconsistent, scoring touch. His size and strength make him good in board battles and in tight corners which, as we saw in the playoffs, can be useful in the cycle game. However, his skating is weak and that’s an element that stands out in direct contrast to how Montreal’s new management wants to play. Speculatively, he feels like a possible trade candidate as a result.
Tuch didn’t get off to a great start to his season but I didn’t penalize him too much for that. With last year being a weird shortened year, his slow start to his college career is a little concerning and it’s not as if ice time is an issue; he had been playing fairly high up their lineup. Power forwards often take a bit of extra time to develop but Tuch is turning into a bit more of a project than I think anyone really expected.
2020-21 Stats: 16 GP, 6-5-11, even rating, 12 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 10th
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – With how the first two years went, it’s hard to imagine Tuch leaving college early and while he’ll have the physical frame to play in the NHL right away, at least one year in Laval would make sense for him to do some fine-tuning.
13) Joshua Roy
Left Wing, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
5th round pick (150th overall) in 2021
This feels like a good spot to post a reminder for anyone who skips the intro that these rankings were finalized in January. Yes, based on the second half he’s having, this is too low of a ranking. He’ll be higher next year.
Roy’s draft season was one to forget. He underachieved with Saint John but still managed to command a significant return in a trade to get him to the Phoenix where his fortunes started to change. He was still more of a complementary piece but he started to impact the game a little more. Nevertheless, he left a bad taste in the eyes of scouts for Roy to make it to the back of the fifth round. Some of his criticism of his former team probably didn’t help either.
If you’re reading this, you probably know the story from there. His conditioning vastly improved and Roy quickly played himself onto the top line with Sherbrooke where his production has taken off. After being more of a shooter than a playmaker, Roy has certainly improved his passing this year which has made him a dangerous dual-threat and has him in the battle for the top scorer in the league despite missing some time to go to Canada’s World Junior camp where he was one of the last cuts.
The big question will be his skating. It’s better now than it was but it’s an area that will need further improvement, especially with Montreal shifting towards really becoming an up-tempo team. If Roy can do that, the Habs could have a true top-six prospect on their hands.
2020-21 Stats: 35 GP, 22-13-35, -16 rating, 4 PIMS, 71 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2024-25/2025-26 – I’m not buying the suggestion that he could push for a roster spot with Montreal next year. There’s no need to rush Roy – let him go back to junior and then spend some time in Laval.
12) Riley Kidney
Centre, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
2nd round pick (63rd overall) in 2021
Kidney really boosted his draft stock in the playoffs where he averaged nearly two points per game, showing a level of offensive upside he didn’t really show during the regular season. But even with that, he is a bit of a project player compared to others playing impact roles in major junior.
I like Kidney’s overall offensive game which doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses and he’s good enough defensively to not be a liability in that end (he won’t be a shutdown player but he’s not someone that needs to be sheltered either). There is second line upside if everything comes together and I’m more confident of his chances of getting there compared to Kapanen who went one spot later.
Again, skating is a concern both in terms of his stride and top speed. He’s also someone that needs to fill out and improve on his strength and that combination is what makes me think he’s a bit of a project. Skating doesn’t improve overnight and bulking up takes time if you’re trying to do it the right way.
Kidney got the opportunity to play top minutes early on in the season when Hendrix Lapierre broke camp with Washington, opening up a spot on the top line. He did quite well in that role and his production didn’t taper off much once Lapierre returned which is certainly cause for optimism. Kidney’s stock isn’t on the rise like Roy’s is but he’s holding strong after his draft year and there’s nothing wrong with that.
2020-21 Stats: 33 GP, 13-25-38, +9 rating, 16 PIMS, 87 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – I expect Kidney will need at least two full seasons in Laval before really getting onto the NHL radar. It’s unlikely he’ll jump into a big role in his first professional year so his progression will be a little slower than some other offensive players.
11) Jesse Ylonen
Right Wing, Laval (AHL)
2nd round pick (35th overall) in 2018
There was nothing wrong with Ylonen’s first season in North America (aside from the pandemic cutting it in half, basically). He held down a top-six spot with Laval for most of the year and didn’t look out of place in his NHL debut. Like Kidney, he didn’t really take a big step forward but he didn’t hurt his cause either which is fine.
Ylonen is someone who I’ve long felt will be more effective in the NHL than in the minors. He has a strong shot but he needs quality linemates to find him in the right spots. That happens from time to time in Laval but the offensive IQ is simply higher in the NHL he’ll have more opportunities to create with his shot there than he will with the Rocket.
As for the rest of his game, Ylonen is one of Montreal’s best skaters in their prospect pool which lines up great with the type of team they’re being transitioned into. (That’s another reason I think he’ll be more effective with the Canadiens down the road.) But his defensive game is a work in progress and there are nights where he goes very quiet; consistency on both fronts will be needed for him to prove that he’s ready to take the next step towards a full-time NHL job.
This season, Ylonen got off to a good start but for the most part, he has continued to be more of a play finisher than a play driver. That is who he is but I’d like to see him become more of a generator which I think would help from a consistency standpoint as well. Nevertheless, he’s trending towards becoming an NHL player in the fairly near future.
2020-21 Stats: 29 GP, 9-8-17, even rating, 6 PIMS, 57 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 14th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – We should see Ylonen more regularly in Montreal next year but unless they move several wingers out, he’d be in line for a limited role to start next season. In that case, more time in Laval in a top line spot would be preferable so it will likely take until he’s waiver-eligible to become an NHL regular.