We’re one step away from the top-10 in our 2015 rankings. This group is headlined by a trio of players who stepped up their play last season to really vault their way up the organizational depth chart.
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.
#15) Lukas Vejdemo
Centre, Djurgarden J20 (SWE Super Elit)
3rd round pick (87th overall) in 2015
Vejdemo was a selection this past draft that pretty much no one saw coming with the exception of Trevor Timmins. After going unselected in his first year of eligibility – one mired by injury – he got back on the radar with a big offensive outburst, leading the Swedish junior league in points per game among all full-time players. He also has grown in that span which certainly helped garner some attention as well.
Vejdemo profiles as a two-way third line player moving forward in the NHL. Despite his scoring touch last year, there are questions about his overall offensive upside. Meanwhile, he’s a solid checker and should be able to handle the defensive responsibilities at a higher level. With the Habs seemingly preferring a third line capable of playing at both ends of the rink, Vejdemo fits in well with what they’d be looking for.
This season, he’ll be aiming to make the jump full-time to the SHL. However, as is often the case with young players in that league, ice time will be somewhat limited. Vejdemo should still have a decent chance of making Sweden’s World Junior team though.
2014-15 Stats: 34 GP, 23-25-48, +28 rating, 51 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2018-19/2019-20 – Vejdemo is likely to spend the next two seasons in Sweden where he’s already under contract. After that, spending some time in the AHL to get acclimated to playing on the smaller ice surface would be ideal but it wouldn’t be shocking for him to play his way into roster consideration if his offensive game continues to improve in the next few seasons.
#14) Tim Bozon
Left Wing, Kootenay (WHL)
3rd round pick (64th overall) in 2012
Bozon attempted to earn a spot in Hamilton last year but the Habs wisely sent him back to junior to provide him with a more relaxed pace for his return from meningitis. And while his numbers weren’t as impressive as his draft class, it’s hard not to call his season a success. He was predominantly a front liner and his scoring touch didn’t fade while he was out as he finished 13th in goals league-wide, a ranking that would have been higher had he been there from day one.
Bozon is now ready to tackle the professional level and should start with the IceCaps, Montreal’s new AHL affiliate. As he’s joining a team that typically has difficulties scoring regardless of their personnel, it’s not crazy to think that he could make an impact right away. He’ll also be a year older than most rookies having spent his overage season in junior.
Earlier in the summer, I took a closer look at Bozon’s situation heading into the season. Click here for that article.
2014-15 Stats: 57 GP, 35-28-63, +4 rating, 19 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 14th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – Regardless of his bounce back season, Bozon’s meningitis really slowed his development timeline. He’s going to probably start in a lower line, lower pressure role in the minors and work his way into an ideally front line role with St. John’s. He won’t be ready for a recall until that happens and him becoming a front liner is a good year and half away at least.
#13) Brett Lernout
Defenceman, Swift Current (WHL)
3rd round pick (73rd overall) in 2014
A year ago, Lernout’s selection was a bit puzzling. Today, it makes a whole lot more sense. In 2013-14, he made some strides in his offensive game, becoming more than just a physical blueliner. That trend continued last year as Lernout led all Swift Current blueliners in goals and points. He also wanted to play more disciplined and as a result, had fewer fights and less time in the penalty box. At the end of the year, he spent a couple of weeks with the Bulldogs. After starting as a healthy scratch, he found himself in the top four more often than not.
This season, Lernout is the rookie that’s going to have the biggest impact on St. John’s blueline. (And given the potential state of that defence corps, he may have one of the biggest impacts of any of the newcomers.) It shouldn’t be long before he’s a regular inside the IceCaps’ top four and he should see regular special teams time. Lernout took a big step forward last year. He may have another one in him.
2014-15 Stats: 72 GP, 14-28-42, -12 rating, 68 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 21st
NHL ETA: 2017-18/2018-19 – Normally I like to pencil in a full three years for a development timeline but Lernout is the type of player who could move a bit faster because of his size and toughness, elements that are always welcomed on an NHL roster. He became an all-around threat in junior last year; if and when that happens in the AHL (and it should take some time), it won’t take long after that before he’ll be worthy of an NHL look.
#12) Daniel Carr
Left Wing, Hamilton (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2014
While Carr was a big point getter in his senior season in college, that part of his game wasn’t expected to translate to immediate success in the minors. It took a few months but by the end of the year, Carr led all AHL rookies in goals and had become a staple on the front line for the Bulldogs. It was quite a feat for someone who started the year on the fourth line receiving minimal ice time and caught many by surprise.
Carr comes into this season as a top six winger once again while playing both the PP and the PK. There are some who are going to be hoping for big improvements on his rookie numbers but with what should be an improved supporting cast, even maintaining his goal total from last year would be a successful season. Carr should be near the top of the depth chart for recalls when injuries arrive with the big club as well.
2014-15 Stats: 76 GP, 24-15-39, +8 rating, 21 PIMS, 177 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 22nd
NHL ETA: 2015-16/2016-17 – Since Carr is waiver-eligible after this coming season, it’s probable that he’ll get a decent look from the Canadiens at some point. If he acquits himself well, he could do like Jacob de la Rose and force them to keep him. If not, barring a subpar sophomore year, he should be in the mix for a bottom six NHL spot come next training camp.
#11) Jeremy Gregoire
Centre/Right Wing, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
6th round pick (176th overall) in 2013
Gregoire’s final junior season didn’t get off to the best of starts as a wrist injury kept him out of action until late December which cost him a shot at making Canada’s World Junior team. Upon his return, he made up for lost time as Gregoire was one of the Drakkar’s top scoring threats in the second half of the season before finding another gear in the playoffs, averaging close to two points per game in a pair of postseason rounds.
The 20 year old is one of many forwards who will be playing their first full pro season in 2015-16. He may be in tough for ice time early on though if Montreal’s last few cuts in camp are who we think they will be. As a result, he’s likely to spend a good chunk of the season in a bottom six role so don’t be disappointed if his offensive numbers aren’t anything to write home about. He started off that way in junior and it all worked out really well in the end.
2014-15 Stats: 32 GP, 20-21-41, +9 rating, 59 PIMS, 159 shots, 34/63 faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 16th
NHL ETA: 2018-19 – My guess is that it’s going to take a couple of seasons before Gregoire really takes off offensively at the AHL level. He projects to be a high end third line forward so it’s in Montreal’s best interest to develop his overall game as much as possible in the minors and resist the temptation to have him come up earlier as a fourth line energy player, a role he could also handle.
Before we reveal our top-10 prospects, we’d like to hear who you believe Montreal’s top prospects are. Click here to fill out your ballot.