We’re all excited for the Montreal Canadiens to become relevant again, but some patience is required as older roster players are moved on in a timely manner while their younger replacements grow into their future roles.
Up front, the biggest concern of the rebuild revolves around finding young players with enough offensive potential to give the team two balanced scoring lines sometime in the not-too-distant future, a prerequisite for bottom feeders to become contenders.
While the prospect pool has more NHL-ready players on defence than at forward, the NHL roster already has two budding young stars in centreman Nick Suzuki and right-winger Cole Caufield, who should make up two-thirds of the Habs’ top line for the next decade or so.
Then there are the two latest candidates to one day fill nets at the Bell Centre with pucks — a talented pair of Slovaks taken in the first round of this year’s entry draft in first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky and 26th pick Filip Mesar.
But even though the Canadiens will likely attempt to add top-six talent through free agency when their cap situation is in a better place, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see three other young forward prospects competing for scoring line roles within a season or two:
Joshua Roy — The most intriguing of the three is a 6’, 190-lb. Quebec native who turned 19 on Aug. 6 and is still eligible to play junior hockey this upcoming season; Laval is not an option for him. After lighting up the QMJHL with a league-leading 119 points in just 66 games last season, the Sherbrooke Phoenix star had a solid World Junior Championship in Edmonton, spending some time on the left wing on Team Canada’s top line with Mason McTavish and Connor Bedard early in the tournament. With McTavish expected to stick with the Anaheim Ducks out of training camp, Roy should have a big role once again when the next WJC comes to Halifax in December.
A fifth-round steal in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the former first-overall pick in the QMJHL midget draft had a rough start to his junior career with the Saint John Sea Dogs before a trade to the Phoenix during the 2020-21 season and a renewed commitment to physical fitness in the following offseason turned things around. Roy is a strong offensive player with a hard and accurate shot that complements a good passing game, but he needs to work on his skating and physical play. With 23 points in 11 QMJHL playoff games to cap an outstanding junior season, expect Roy to dominate the ‘Q’ once again before turning pro for the 2023-24 season. He may need a season in Laval before challenging for an NHL job.
Sean Farrell — Taken in the fourth round in 2020, the 5’9’, 175-lb. left winger’s best attributes are his strong passing game and a very good shot that, combined with elite hockey sense, allow the 20-year-old Massachusetts native to be a dominant player in the offensive zone. Though undersized, the Harvard forward is solid in his own end as well, with strong skating making up for a lack of size.
When Montreal drafted Farrell, he was coming off a modest season of 56 points in 44 games with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Committed to Harvard University, he had to return to the USHL and play the 2020-21 season with the Steel after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled Harvard’s hockey season. Farrell made lemonade out of lemons by winning the USHL scoring title with eye-popping totals of 29-72-101 in just 53 games. His 2021-22 season turned out to be arguably even better, with Farrell finally suiting up for Harvard and collecting 10 goals and 18 assists in 24 games before being invited to play for his country in two major international tournaments. At the Beijing Olympics, Farrell led the American team in scoring with three goals and three assists in four games and then added two goals and four assists at the world championship tournament in Finland. If and when Farrell leaves university and signs a pro contract with the Canadiens, he could bypass the AHL and Laval entirely. He’s close to being NHL-ready right now.
Jesse Ylonen – A very good skater with a hard and accurate shot, the 22-year-old American-born Finn is considerably further along the development path than Roy or Farrell and might be the first Laval forward to become a Montreal regular, once established Canadiens forwards start moving off the roster. Ylonen, taken 35th overall in 2018, is arguably as far along as any signed Canadiens forward prospect in the system.
At 6’, 167 lbs., the right-shooting winger relies on very good edgework to stay with his check in the defensive zone but he’ll have to put on some weight if he hopes to maximize his effectiveness as a defensive player at a higher level of play. His second season with Laval was an encouraging one, as he picked up 14 goals and 22 assists in 52 games with the Rocket in 2021-22 to go along with three goals and three assists in 14 games during Laval’s run the to AHL semifinal. Ylonen was quietly impressive in a 14-game run with the Habs last season, scoring two goals and three assists and spending some time on the power play. Ylonen will get a long look in training camp but might have to wait until bodies are cleared at the trade deadline before he can stake his claim to a full-time NHL job.
Of course, these aren’t the only forwards in a deep Montreal Canadiens prospect pool with clear NHL upside. Players like Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Jan Mysak, and Riley Kidney are all promising young forwards who could have decent NHL careers, but Roy, Farrell, and Ylonen are the three Habs prospects who appear to have the most realistic top-six futures.