Caption: Nikita Scherbak
Although there is no one that stands out as a can't miss, blue-chip prospect, the Habs have several young players in their system who are likely to become quality NHL'ers in the not-too-distant future.
One of those is winger Nikita Scherbak, who Montreal selected 26th overall in the 2014 draft. The Canadiens feel that they've benefited from several teams shying away from Russian-born prospects and that Scherbak could be a much-needed top six winger in the not-too-distant future. As a result of only having two picks in the first four rounds of that draft, the prospect cupboards weren't stocked too much back in June although Brett Lernout profiles as an intriguing physical defenceman down the road.
The talent in the junior ranks has thinned somewhat with many of Montreal's CHL-based prospects turning pro. That list is headed up by Charles Hudon, a two-way winger who has exceeded expectations wherever he goes. As a player with strong hockey sense, he should adapt well to the pro game and endear himself to his coaches quickly.
There are still some quality prospects at the junior level, however. Michael McCarron, Montreal's top pick in 2013, is looking to rebound after what can only be classified as a disappointing rookie season. With his size and strength, he is still a prospect to watch. Zach Fucale is the top goalie in the system and this season, he'll try to take aim at the all-time QMJHL wins record. Tim Bozon also returns to the WHL after missing most of last year with a life threatening illness.
As a result of Mac Bennett turning pro, the talent level at the NCAA level is quite weak. The list of Montreal's prospects at that level is headed up by a pair of college seniors, defenceman Josiah Didier and forward Mark MacMillan. Both have skill sets that make them interesting prospects to follow but will need to continue their progression in order to earn entry-level deals with the Canadiens.
Internationally, there are a pair of promising offensive wingers to keep tabs on. Martin Reway, who spent last season in the QMJHL, has moved onto the Czech League to play at a men's league level and will have a chance to be an impact player right away. Artturi Lehkonen, one of three second round selections in 2013, has moved from Finland to Sweden to play in the SHL. After leading his Finnish team in scoring last year, he'll likely play more of a secondary role this season but at a better level of competition.
In Hamilton, the Bulldogs will look to turn things around after a pair of rough seasons under head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. Last year's breakout prospect, Sven Andrighetto, returns while the team has added some veteran depth up front in Drayson Bowman, Jake Dowell, T.J. Hensick, and Eric Tangradi. Young veterans in Christian Thomas and Gabriel Dumont return with a decent crop of rookie forwards, headed up by Hudon and Jacob de la Rose. As a result, this team should have an easier time scoring than its predecessor.
The back end is where there are questions. With Dustin Tokarski in Montreal full-time and Robert Mayer getting released, the goaltending reins have been turned over to veteran Joey MacDonald and rookie Mike Condon who has been promoted after a fantastic rookie ECHL campaign. Neither of those are expected to be as good as Tokarski was though, putting more pressure on the defence. If Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, voted as HW's top two prospects once again, are with the Bulldogs, the blueline should be strong. If they're not there, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren will have to shoulder the load while battling to earn a call-up to the Canadiens.
There may not be a superstar in the making as 2012 top pick Alex Galchenyuk is expected to be but this is still a deep group of prospects that the Habs have. It won't be long until the big club starts to reap the benefits of some strong drafting from Trevor Timmins and his team of scouts.
Intro written by Brian La Rose - November 2014
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