In this next group of our prospect rankings, we look at several newcomers to the organization, including one that has some NHL experience but doesn’t appear likely to get much of a look with the Habs.
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, 2022
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 – NHL GP: Cole Caufield (1), Samuel Montembeault (23), Michael Pezzetta (29)
Graduated – Age: Otto Leskinen (35)
Traded – Ryan Poehling (9), Cam Hillis (32), Michael McNiven (40)
Released – Kale Clague (16), Josh Brook (19), Brett Stapley (24), Jacob Olofsson (36)
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 rankings were set in November (the write-ups take a while) so early-season performances have been taken into consideration but as they are small sample sizes, they only move a player up or down a few slots.
40) Joe Vrbetic
Goaltender, North Bay (OHL)
7th round pick (214th overall) in 2021
One of Montreal’s picks from the 2021 draft that didn’t play at all that season, Vrbetic got off to a great start in the OHL, earning Goalie of the Month honours early and it looked like he could be a steal. So why is he this low, you ask?
There are a few reasons. The first is that by the end of the playoffs, he had lost the number one job. That’s not good. Next, there weren’t any OHL teams interested in trading for him which is why he signed a two-way minor league deal. That’s not all on Vrbetic – some teams just won’t carry an overage goalie – but it would have been way better from a development standpoint had he stayed in major junior. The third is that Frederik Dichow also needs to be signed by June and odds being odds, they’re not handing out two entry-level deals to goalies for next season. This ranking signals who I think is getting signed out of the two.
I’m not much of a goalie scout so I’m not going to sit here and break down the finer points of his game. But he has been mediocre with Trois-Rivieres this season and with the contract crunch that’s coming as several of their prospects turn pro, some prospects are going to feel the squeeze. I think Vrbetic will be one of them. If he’s not, he should be a bit higher on this list next year.
2021-22 Stats: 45 GP, 29-10-6 record, 2.87 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 26th
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – Goalies generally need a lot of time to develop. Large goalies (he’s 6’6) often need more time to develop. Vrbetic will probably need at least three full AHL seasons under his belt before he’ll be realistically ready for an NHL shot.
39) Lucas Condotta
Left Wing, U-Mass (NCAA)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2022
When I first saw Condotta, I couldn’t figure out what the Habs saw in him. Sure, he’s big and plays a fundamentally sound game but there’s nothing that really popped, so to speak. Throughout his stretch and playoff runs with Laval though, it dawned on me. There still wasn’t anything that popped but Condotta just plays an effective and efficient game. The highs aren’t the highest but he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes either.
There’s a profile of an effective fourth liner if it all comes together. Condotta has decent size and speed, can kill penalties, plays physically without getting into too much penalty trouble, and can even play down the middle in a pinch. His ceiling is a Michael Pezzetta without penalty problems. Those are some characteristics of a serviceable role player.
But Condotta narrowly met the criteria for this ranking as he turned 25 back in November. That’s pretty old for a prospect with NHL upside. Granted, he’s starting out late after a four-year college career so there’s a bit of development runway in theory but again, with the contract crunch looming, how much of a window does he have? If things don’t go well this season, he’s a non-tender candidate. I hope they’re able to keep him around a little longer as I think he could turn into a serviceable depth NHL player but he’s going to need to show a lot of improvement in a short period of time to get there.
2021-22 Stats: 33 GP, 10-13-23, +4 rating, 25 PIMS, 86 shots, 22 blocks, 56.2% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2024-25 – Condotta needs one more full year in the minors to see if he’s going to be ready for an NHL opportunity. He’ll be hard-pressed to get an extra full season down there after that, at least while being viewed as a viable NHL prospect.
38) Miguel Tourigny
Defenceman, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
7th round pick (216th overall) in 2022
The latest pick in Montreal’s recent trend of drafting older QMJHL players to avoid getting into a battle for their rights down the road (a great idea, by the way), Tourigny simply was dominant from the back end last season. A lot of blueliners don’t get 31 points in a season; that’s not a bad number in general. He had that many goals.
Of course, there are other factors to consider. This was Tourigny’s third trip through the draft and he barely got picked this time around. Why? He’s 5’8. That’s small for a defenceman and unlike the other 5’8 defender Montreal picked, there’s no runway for a late growth spurt either. Small blueliners rarely make it in the NHL and Tourigny definitely falls into the small category.
He checks a lot of boxes though. He’s a dynamic skater with plenty of puck skills, the type of modern blueliner that has the skills to play in the NHL. In terms of raw upside, Tourigny should be higher on this list. But again, the size factor looms large.
I liked the decision to test him in the pros this season although I’d have preferred Trois-Rivieres to Slovakia. He’ll get a chance to battle for a spot with Laval next year and a good showing there could land him an entry-level deal which would be a nice outcome from a dart throw at the end of the draft.
2021-22 Stats: 65 GP, 31-49-80, +16 rating, 96 PIMS, 281 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – Assuming Tourigny signs, it’ll be a two-year ELC starting in 2024-25. I can see him needing to fill those two seasons to hone his defensive game as he’ll need to elevate that high enough to be trusted with NHL minutes even with his offensive upside being strong.
37) Petteri Nurmi
Defenceman, HPK (SM-liiga)
7th round pick (194th overall) in 2022
Nurmi was another previously undrafted defenceman that the Habs snatched up late in the draft but that’s pretty much where the parallels end. Last season was more about where he played than how he produced as he jumped up to Finland’s top division on a full-time basis which is pretty good for a junior-eligible defender.
Of course, Nurmi’s role was limited as he was frequently on the third pairing which isn’t necessarily the greatest from a development standpoint. While the offensive numbers certainly don’t show it, he has some offensive upside and we did briefly see a bit of that at the World Juniors. The big question for him is if he’ll be able to play a bigger role with HPK and truly become a bit of a late bloomer.
From a sheer talent perspective, Nurmi should be behind Tourigny in these rankings. However, Nurmi is a little taller and is more of an NHL-sized player which gives him the small bump here. If Montreal ultimately has to pick between which of the two to sign, it’ll be a matter of the safer pick (Nurmi) versus upside (Tourigny).
2021-22 Stats: 58 GP, 1-3-4, +1 rating, 32 PIMS, 92 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – Nurmi’s path will be different than Tourigny’s as he’ll stay in Finland next season but their timetable is the same. After a two-year entry-level deal, there will be an expectation that he’ll either be ready for the NHL or it will be time to look elsewhere.
36) Nicolas Beaudin
Defenceman, Rockford (AHL)
Acquired from Chicago in 2022
It didn’t take too long to get to the first player with NHL experience on this list (Beaudin has 22 career NHL appearances). One thing worth clarifying – this ranking doesn’t mean I think the 35 players ahead of Beaudin are all going to be NHL players. That’s just not going to happen. His placement here simply reflects where I think his perceived value to the organization is.
If you’re not too familiar with Beaudin, he’s a 2018 first-round pick of Chicago who was a strong offensive blueliner in the QMJHL but that production hasn’t carried over to the pros. And when you’re a bit undersized and not much of a defender in your own end, that’s not a good thing. Eventually, several other defenders leapfrogged Beaudin on the depth chart with the Blackhawks and he cleared waivers earlier this season before being sent to Montreal for Cam Hillis who has been in the ECHL ever since. This is basically the equivalent of giving him away.
Following the swap, Beaudin couldn’t crack Laval’s lineup until injuries wiped out several rearguards and while he has been more productive with the Rocket, he’s certainly not banging down the door to be recalled (before being injured). It’s possible that he’s tendered a qualifying offer at the end of the season – depending on what happens with players like Otto Leskinen and Corey Schueneman, Beaudin could be kept as an alternative to one of them – but his role at this point is as an organizational depth piece, not a true prospect.
2021-22 Stats: 66 GP, 2-14-16, -4 rating, 68 PIMS, 97 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2024-25 – Technically, he has already reached the NHL but this is more of a projection of when he could become a regular. He’s not going to force Montreal’s hand with how things have gone this season and if they do re-sign him, it’ll be a last-chance situation; if he can’t make it after that, he’ll be let go.