Part three of our 2014 rankings is highlighted by a trio of newcomers to the organization. What’s particularly interesting about this group is some of the drastic differences in their physical play. Two of the organizations’ hardest hitters are featured here while on the flip side, there are others who are unwilling or unable to play much of a physical style.
As we’ve done the last couple of years, 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, 2014
2) The player must have no greater than 50 games of NHL experience (including regular season and playoffs)
3) The player has to be signed on an NHL contract
Here are the departures from last year’s list (in alphabetical order):
Graduated: Michael Bournival (NHL GP), Dustin Tokarski (age)
Released: Michael Cichy, Peter Delmas, Robert Mayer, Erik Nystrom, Brady Vail
Traded: Sebastian Collberg, Louis Leblanc, Steve Quailer
New this year is an estimate of each prospects’ NHL readiness date. For some players, the estimate is a specific season while others whose projected development paths are harder to determine will be in a range.
#25) Patrick Holland
Right Wing, Hamilton, AHL
Acquired from Calgary in 2012
Holland was hit hard by the dreaded sophomore slump last season although he didn’t get off to the worst of starts. He had a brief five game stint with Montreal where he was decent but almost immediately after getting sent back, his year went down the tubes. In the final five months of the season, he had a total of three goals which was simply unacceptable for a player who before the season was being counted on as a likely top six forward. Needless to say, he found himself as a healthy scratch too many times as well, in large part due to an unwillingness to get to the dirty areas on top of his offensive woes. A major bounce back season is required for him to stay in the discussion of being a future NHL’er.
2013-14 Stats: 57 GP, 6-11-17, 2 PIMS, -5 rating, 81 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 18th
NHL ETA: 2015-16/2016-17 – If Holland gets back to doing the little things and becomes a reliable two-way forward for Hamilton this year, it’s not crazy to think that he’ll get another stint with the Habs in the near future. But, given that significant improvements are needed both offensively and defensively, it may be a stretch to suggest that he can put it all together in one year.
#24) Josiah Didier
Defenceman, Denver, NCAA
4th round pick (97th overall) in 2011
There are some players where it takes a while to see what their ideal NHL role would be. This is not the case with Didier. His offensive game is all but non-existent but he brings some intriguing value to the table defensively. He’s a smart player in his own end and he is a punishing physical player. Didier is the type of player who I think profiles better at the pro level than he does in college because of his toughness. He’s a stay-at-home player at best and probably won’t be more than a third pairing player down the road but the Habs don’t have many like him in the organization, making him an intriguing one to follow as he enters his senior season.
2013-14 Stats: 36 GP, 1-7-8, 61 PIMS, +2 rating, 38 shots, 55 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 22nd
NHL ETA: 2016-17 – Didier should suit up with Hamilton at the end of the year when his college campaign finishes which should help give us a sense of how quickly he can adjust. Because his offensive skill set is limited, he shouldn’t need a whole lot of time to grow into his ideal role which means he could be heard from sooner than you might think if all goes well.
#23) Daniel Audette
Centre, Sherbrooke, QMJHL
5th round pick (147th overall) in 2014
It’s safe to say that the Habs deviated from their plan to bring in size via the draft when they selected Audette in June but at that spot (late 5th round), his offensive upside and skills were too tantalizing to pass on. He’s a strong skater while being a dual-threat in the offensive zone. Audette also improved his defensive game compared to his first QMJHL season although that area still needs some work. The biggest concern with him will be his size. He’s easy to knock off the puck and shies away from playing physically, making him a one-dimensional scorer at this stage. If he can overcome that, he could be another late round steal down the road.
2013-14 Stats: 68 GP, 21-55-76, 79 PIMS, -37 rating, 224 shots, 613/1545 faceoffs (39.7%)
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Audette will spend the next two years in junior and will likely need a couple of years in the minors before being ready. Smaller skill players generally don’t light up the minor leagues when they first get there and as a player who will be a top six or bust guy, they won’t want to rush his offensive development.
#22) Daniel Carr
Left Wing, Union, NCAA
Undrafted free agent signing in 2014
Carr’s signing went well under the radar given that it came in the middle of the postseason but with him, the Habs have added an intriguing two-way forward to the system. He had offensive success at the college level immediately, finishing third in scoring in his freshman campaign (and his sophomore one, and his junior one) before finding another level in his senior year to lead his team. Carr also is a strong defensive player and his two-way game should translate well as he transitions to the AHL. I don’t think his overall upside is all that high but he fits the profile of what Montreal’s third line is now and should be down the road, a player that can contribute at both ends of the rink.
2013-14 Stats: 39 GP, 22-28-50, 28 PIMS, +26 rating, 141 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2015-16/2016-17 – I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carr play his way into a call-up as early as the end of this season and he’s someone that should be able to contribute in the AHL right away. If he gets a chance to play a top six role down there, it’s not crazy to think that he could be NHL ready within a year although two seasons is the more likely outcome.
#21) Brett Lernout
Defenceman, Swift Current, WHL
3rd round pick (73rd overall) in 2014
For the second straight year, the Habs used a third round pick on adding some toughness to their system in Lernout. His strengths at this time are similar to Didier’s, he’s a stay-at-home type of player who hits anything that moves with a mean streak to boot. In particular, he’s a strong fighter and there aren’t many Montreal prospects that can say that. His offensive game is raw but the tools are there for him to be decent in that regard eventually as well. He should be a second pairing defenceman with the Broncos this season and start to see some more powerplay time. He’s a project but one that could give Montreal a tough blueliner with size and some skill down the road.
2013-14 Stats: 72 GP, 8-14-22, 103 PIMS, +7 rating
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – He’ll be 20 next season which will get him to the minors a year earlier than most other blueliners from this draft class. I think his offensive game is going to take a long time to develop as once he hits the AHL, he’ll be back starting off as a third pairing player so he’ll be someone who likely needs most of the full three years of his entry-level deal before he’s NHL ready.
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