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We’re quickly approaching the top-10 in this, the sixth instalment of the
2011 Prospect Rankings.  This is a younger grouping than the other ones so
far as all these players were either drafted or signed by the organization
within the last two years.  One player in this range also saw NHL action
with Montreal last season.


This year, we changed things up a little.  The top-10 have been voted on
by members of our HW writing staff while the remainder of the rankings were done
by yours truly.  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, 2011
2) The player must have no greater than 40 games of NHL experience (including
regular season and playoffs)
3) The player has to be signed on an NHL contract

As the Habs brought several youngsters up last season, this year’s list will
look a lot different as many of the top prospects are no longer eligible. 
Here are the departures from last year’s list:

Graduated: David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Frederic St. Denis, P.K.
Subban, Yannick Weber, Ryan White, Alexei Yemelin
Released: Patrick Johnson, Petteri Simila, J.T. Wyman
Traded: Mathieu Carle, Ben Maxwell, Ryan Russell

Recently acquired Michael Blunden also does not qualify for prospect
status due to NHL experience while Raphael Diaz does not meet the age


#15) Joonas Nattinen
Centre, Blues, SM-liiga
3rd round pick (65th overall) in 2009

For the second straight season, the pivot played at least 20 games in
Finland’s top division but once again didn’t put up any sort of offensive
numbers.  The good news is that his defensive game improved while his
faceoff ability is still a key cog in his game.  He projects as a bottom-6
forward in the NHL as a result which is the same scouting report he had when he
was drafted.  He signed this offseason and will compete for a spot in
Hamilton although I suspect there is a chance he could be loaned back to Finland
much like Andreas Engqvist was in the first year of his contract if he finds
himself facing limited ice time with the Bulldogs.

2010-11 Stats (combined SM-liiga): 21 GP, 0-2-2, 12 PIMS, -8
Previous HW Ranking: 17th

#14) Josiah Didier
Defenceman, Cedar Rapids, USHL
4th round pick (97th overall) in 2011

I liken his situation to that of Mac Bennett’s a few years ago – if it
weren’t for the fact he was such a raw talent, he’d have gone higher than he
did.  Of course, Didier’s game is much different than Bennett’s; although
both are strong skaters, this blueliner’s strength comes from his defensive
game, especially the physical element.  Going the collegiate route should
allow him to become even stronger while allowing him to refine his all-around
game at a safer pace.  He will take a long time to develop but if he pans
out, the Habs could very well have a steal of a selection here.

2010-11 Stats: 58 GP, 8-13-21, 81 PIMS, +5
Previous HW Ranking: N/A

#13) Morgan Ellis
Defenceman, Cape Breton, QMJHL
4th round pick (117th overall) in 2010

Playing on a bad team really freed up the opportunity for Ellis to develop
his all-around game last season.  His offensive numbers improved and
although his plus/minus rating was ugly, it’s not as bad when you consider he
played heavy minutes against opponents’ top lines and didn’t have a lot of
support around him.  Well rounded defencemen are becoming harder and harder
to come by, Ellis could very well become one in due time which increases his
value in my books.  On an improved Screaming Eagles team, we should see
better stats from him this coming season.

2010-11 Stats: 65 GP, 8-28-36, 65 PIMS, -27
Previous HW Ranking: 27th

#12) Brendon Nash
Defenceman, Hamilton, AHL
Undrafted free agent signing in 2010

The winner of this year’s biggest riser award (largest jump in the rankings),
Nash was believed to be a spare piece for Hamilton heading into last season. 
By midseason, he had been called up to Montreal.  He struggled as he
fatigued down the stretch but all in all it was a strong rookie pro campaign. 
There’s nothing flashy to his game, he’s basically a prototypical stay-at-home
defenceman with decent skating.  He’ll be counted on to do a lot more with
the Bulldogs this season; if he does well, he could play his way into the
discussion for Montreal’s 2012-13 defence corps.

2010-11 Stats: 75 GP, 5-25-30, 58 PIMS, +22
Previous HW Ranking: 38th

#11) Brendan Gallagher
Right Wing, Vancouver, WHL
5th round pick (147th overall) in 2010

It’s hard not to get excited about the diminutive prospect given his
impressive statline and the edge that he brings to the table.  He became
one of the WHL’s top scorers last season despite missing time to try out for
Canada’s World Junior team, something he once again will do this year.  His
defensive game is a little suspect at times while his skating needs work but he
is no longer just a fringe prospect like most thought he was last season. 
There is legitimate upside to his game at the professional level.

2010-11 Stats: 66 GP, 44-47-91, 108 PIMS, +29
Previous HW Ranking: 25th