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We’ve reached the top five in our 2014 Prospect Rankings series.  This
group contains a pair of newcomers to the top five while it also has a pair of
defencemen who have been on this list for several years now.  Earlier on in
our series, Nathan Beaulieu was voted as the top prospect by our readers. 
Will he earn the top spot from our writers this year or will someone else ascend
to the top?


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
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.

Note: Balloting by our writers occurred before training camp.


#5) Zach Fucale
Goaltender, Halifax, QMJHL
2nd round pick (36th overall) in 2013

Statistically, Fucale had a very similar season to that of his draft year so
it’s little surprise that he retained his spot in our top five this time around. 
He also earned a spot on Canada’s World Junior team where he wound up as the
starter by the end of the tournament.  Although Canada failed to medal, it
wasn’t because of Fucale.  Towards the end of the postseason, he struggled
considerably; although he didn’t come out and admit it, I think fatigue may have
been a factor after playing over 70 games for the third straight year (including
the WJC’s and preseason).  Now, the Mooseheads aren’t as strong a team as
they were previously so Fucale is going to be challenged to put up similar
numbers as he’ll be facing a lot more rubber.  Development wise, that’s not
a bad thing, even if his numbers suffer as a result.

2013-14 Stats: 50 GP, 36-12 record, 2.26 GAA, .907 SV%, 6 SO,
.808 shootout SV%
Previous HW Ranking:
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 7th
NHL ETA: 2017-18/2018-19 – The Habs appear to be set in goal for the next
little while between Price and Tokarski (while Condon could play his way into
the discussion with a good year or two in the AHL) so they’ll take their time
with Fucale.  Young goalies don’t typically play as backups in the NHL
until their waiver exemption expires so don’t expect to see him in a Montreal
uniform for a few years at least.

#4) Nikita Scherbak
Right Wing, Saskatoon, WHL
1st round pick (26th overall) in 2014

Opinion on Scherbak varied greatly between our writers.  He received a
vote as high as first overall while another didn’t feel he was worthy of a
top-10 spot.  He is, however, a legitimate top six prospect and that can’t
be said for too many other Montreal prospects up front.  Scherbak literally
came out of nowhere last year to lead a terrible Saskatoon team in every
offensive category and was the WHL’s top rookie scorer.  He’s now on an
Everett team that is a lot more competitive so it will be interesting to see how
he performs on a better team and with a likely playoff run.  So far, the
early results are promising.

2013-14 Stats: 65 GP, 28-50-78, 46 PIMS, -6 rating
Previous HW Ranking:
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 2nd
NHL ETA: 2016-17/2017-18 – He’s eligible to play in the AHL next season
which should expedite his development.  However, he’s likely not going to
be NHL ready coming out of junior so it’s unrealistic to expect him to make the
Habs out of training camp next September.  That said, Scherbak seems to be
a prospect that will move somewhat quickly through the system so being an AHL
‘one-and-done’ isn’t out of the question. 

#3) Jacob de la Rose
Left Wing/Centre, Leksand, SHL
2nd round pick (64th overall) in 2013

Although there was some disappointment early on when it was announced that de
la Rose wouldn’t be going the major junior route, that was tempered quickly when
he started playing a regular role as an 18 year old in Sweden’s top league. 
Offensively, he didn’t bring a whole lot to the table – as expected – but he
played well in his own end which kept him on the third line for most of the
year.  He also played an important role for Sweden at the WJC’s, a role he
could reprise this season if the Habs loan him from Hamilton.  It will be
interesting to see what role he plays with the Bulldogs; he’s a player who
should see his role and responsibilities as the season progresses.

2013-14 Stats: 49 GP, 7-6-13, 18 PIMS, -5 rating, 45 shots, 50
hits, 25 blocks, 14:22 ATOI
Previous HW Ranking:
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 5th
NHL ETA: 2015-16/2016-17 – He’s going to be another quick mover through
the system.  If the Habs determine that they want him as soon as possible
as a bottom six forward, there’s a good chance that he’s in the NHL next season. 
If they want him to develop his offensive game more (in a top-6 role with
Hamilton), they’ll need to keep him down a little longer.

#2) Jarred Tinordi
Defenceman, Hamilton, AHL
1st round pick (22nd overall) in 2010

Expectations were that Tinordi would take a big step forward in his sophomore
AHL season.  It didn’t happen although he improved a little bit,
particularly in the physical side of his game.  He also was a key cog on
the penalty kill which hovered around the league average all year. 
(Considering how bad the team was, league average in any category was an
accomplishment.)  The hope was that he’d improve in the offensive zone as
well but that didn’t materialize.  The big test for him this year will be
staying in the NHL full-time.  As the seventh defenceman with waiver
exemption, he’ll have to play well enough to play once every two or three games
to avoid getting sent down to get some playing time.

2013-14 Stats: 47 GP, 3-6-19, 71 PIMS, -4 rating, 70 shots
Previous HW Ranking:
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 4th
NHL ETA: 2014-15 – He’s with the big club to start the season but in that
7th defenceman role.  I wouldn’t expect him to play a regular role for a
while (unless injuries strike) but when he’s in, he should be around the 12-15
minutes per game mark with some penalty kill time.  If he can handle
playing his off-side, he should get more chances to play as the season

#1) Nathan Beaulieu
Defenceman, Hamilton, AHL
1st round pick (17th overall) in 2011

There weren’t many positives to Beaulieu’s 2013-14 campaign aside from
suiting up with Montreal as the postseason progressed.  He didn’t
accomplish much during the regular season and his play with the Bulldogs was
arguably worse than it was in his rookie year while questions about his attitude
surfaced.  That all said, despite the struggles the upside is still there
as a top four mobile blueliner with offensive potential.  His play in his
own end is still a work in progress but it’s expected that he’ll improve on that
as well.  The key for Beaulieu this season will be to not play himself out
of the lineup.  Right now he has a spot but if he struggles, Tinordi will
get a chance to take it and run with it.  So far so good though as he has
held his own in the early going. 

2013-14 Stats: 57 GP, 7-20-27, 33 PIMS, -19 rating, 150 shots
Previous HW Ranking:
HW Fan Vote Ranking: 1st
NHL ETA: 2014-15 – He secured a spot in the everyday lineup in training
camp but is seeing limited minutes in the early going.  He’s likely to be
around the 15 minute mark for a while but if he holds his own (or someone gets
hurt), he’ll likely earn a longer leash and a few more minutes a night from the