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The third instalment of our 2015 rankings features several newcomers to the organization. The focus is primarily on defence as three blueliners appear here who are at vastly different stages of their development including a recent second round selection.


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, 2015
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 (in alphabetical order):

Graduated: Nathan Beaulieu (NHL GP), Mike Condon (age), Magnus Nygren (age), Greg Pateryn (age), Maxim Trunev (age)
Released: Josiah Didier – he signed an AHL deal but Montreal has relinquished his NHL rights
Traded: Patrick Holland, Jack Nevins, Jiri Sekac

Included with each ranking 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) Michael McNiven

Goaltender, Owen Sound (OHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2015

Although McNiven didn’t play a whole lot in his rookie OHL season, he made the most of the time he did get, posting the OHL’s best GAA and being named to the All-Rookie team.  That got him on the radar of the Habs who invited him to development camp after he went undrafted in June.  After a strong effort there and at the rookie tourney, the team signed him late in September.

McNiven isn’t a typical ‘technical’ goalie that we’re seeing more and more of nowadays as he uses his athleticism more than positioning to make stops.  Not surprisingly, consistency is a concern, especially since he’s a late bloomer for a goalie.  This season, he’ll vie for more playing time with the Attack; standing in his way is Jack Flinn, the leagues’ tallest goalie at 6’8.

2014-15 Stats: 24 GP, 15-8-0 record, 2.79 GAA, .914 SV%, 2 SO
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2020-21/2021-22 – McNiven is a long-term project signing.  He’ll spend the next two years in junior and with the likes of Carey Price and Zach Fucale ahead of him in the system, he’ll likely spend three or four seasons at the minor league level.

#24) Simon Bourque

Defenceman, Rimouski (QMJHL)
6th round pick (177th overall) in 2015

Bourque’s second season in junior saw him take some big leaps forward. He found himself in a top four role as the season went on and logged considerable minutes down the stretch. After playing sparingly on special teams in his rookie year, he saw regular minutes on both the PP and PK throughout the season, playoffs, and the Memorial Cup.

Bourque is a ‘jack of all trades’ type of player although he doesn’t particularly excel in any aspect of the game either. He’s a bit undersized which likely had a factor in him sliding all the way to the back of the sixth round. Bourque wore an ‘A’ as a 17 year old for the Oceanic last season and is a strong candidate to wear the ‘C’ before too long.

2014-15 Stats: 68 GP, 10-38-5, +27 rating, 69 PIMS, 98 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2020-21 – Blueliners that are decent in most areas but not overly strong in any tend to take longer to develop at the AHL level as they are often eased into handling every role. He may be one of those players who tops out as a top-four AHL’er (which still is decent value late in the 6th round) but he has a bit of upside.

#23) Ryan Johnston

Defenceman, Colgate (NCAA)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2015

It’s rare that collegiate players will sign a contract after development camp and it’s also rare that the Habs sign anyone after that camp. However, the team thought highly enough of Johnston to sign him back in July, convincing him to forego his senior NCAA season.

Unlike Bourque, Johnston has some significant strengths but also some glaring weaknesses as well. Johnston is a strong skater and is very comfortable with the puck on his stick. However, his lack of size and strength makes him a liability at times in his own end as he can be pushed around by bigger attackers. He should start the season near the bottom of St. John’s blueline but is a candidate to move up the lineup if he adjusts well to the professional game.

2014-15 Stats: 38 GP, 1-14-15, +12 rating, 26 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2017-18 – He’s already 23 and will be 25 by the end of the contract. If he’s not NHL ready by the end of his two year deal, it’s highly unlikely he’ll get another look. If he’s going to rise up in the system, it’s probably going to happen somewhat quickly.

#22) Dalton Thrower

Defenceman, Brampton (ECHL)
2nd round pick (51st overall) in 2012

Last year was a disaster for Thrower. After a strong overage junior season, there were hopes that he’d be able to step in and contribute in Hamilton. Instead, he was injured until late December. After being cleared to play, he was sent to the ECHL and left the bench to fight in his seventh game, resulting in a lengthy suspension. In the end, he played just 37 games with the Beast and didn’t fare particularly well.

There is still some upside with Thrower’s game though which is why he hasn’t completely tumbled down the rankings. He has decent offensive skills, is more than willing to get involved physically, and while he’s a bit undersized, he holds his own against bigger players. Putting it all together consistently is what has held him back so far. A strong camp could see him start in St. John’s but if he struggles, he could spend a big chunk of the year in Brampton once again.

Personally, I think a position change might help him out. His style of play lends itself well to being a crash and bang energy forward where his aggression may help more than hurt. Plus, it’s always nice to have a forward who can drop back to defence in a pinch.

2014-15 Stats: 37 GP, 3-3-6, -19 rating, 107 PIMS, 29 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 18th
NHL ETA: 2017-18/2018-19 – If he stays on the blueline, it could very well be a few more years before he’s really ready; it all depends if he can play more consistently. If he were to be moved up front, however, his timetable could accelerate somewhat.

#21) Matthew Bradley

Centre, Medicine Hat (WHL)
5th round pick (131st overall) in 2015

A late bloomer, Bradley played his rookie junior season in 2014-15. The year before, he played in 17 playoff games despite not suiting up for a regular season contest. Predictably, there were some highs and lows in terms of his production but his play without the puck was strong which helped bump him into a top six role by the end of the year and really helped get him on the radar.

Bradley’s top skills come away from the puck – he’s strong on the draw, is a quick skater and is responsible defensively. Those players seem to have a tendency to do well in Montreal’s system even though his overall upside may be limited. With several key players not expected to return, he should be in line to put up some strong numbers this coming campaign.

His start to the season will be a bit delayed though as he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumour from his nasal cavity earlier in September.  It’s expected he’ll need a few weeks to recover.

2014-15 Stats: 71 GP, 17-23-40, -2 rating, 24 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2019-20 – Assuming his offensive game develops as expected, Bradley should be one of those two-way players that Montreal’s coaching staff will be tempted to use somewhat quickly. He could be a useful two-way bottom six forward for the Canadiens down the road.

Previous Rankings


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