While there are still several questions surrounding the Habs this offseason, there are also plenty of queries regarding their prospect pool. I tackle some of those in our prospect mailbag.
Will the Habs get Will Bitten traded to a better OHL team?
A bit of background here, Bitten’s father stated in February that the Montreal 3rd rounder wouldn’t return to the Firebirds if Rolf Nilsen still owned the team. While Nilsen still is the owner, the league has pretty much taken over control of the team so there shouldn’t be anything close to the fiasco that happened last year. It’s a new coaching staff with a long-time OHL executive as their GM (George Burnett).
Some NHL teams have relationships with junior squads where they could maybe nudge a team to trade a player but I doubt the Canadiens have that type of sway with Flint – a team that they have no background with in terms of previous picks – so I don’t think they could force a trade.
To be honest, I don’t think they should try to either. There aren’t many teams where Bitten would be an automatic top line forward or even their top player period. From a development perspective, I’d much rather see Bitten get all the ice time he can handle against top competition in all roles. Assuming the shenanigans are over now, that’s the best case scenario. (That said, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he does get moved, the 67’s in particular seem to be a potential destination.)
Is Jacob de la Rose still part of the future plans?
Last year was a tough one for de la Rose who didn’t really progress at the AHL level and arguably regressed with the Canadiens. I don’t think they’ve soured on him entirely but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve reassessed his overall potential.
After his rookie season, de la Rose was looking like the third line centre of the future. I don’t think anyone can really be as bullish on his ceiling now after the year he just had though. That said, he still brings enough attributes to the table to still be useful to the Habs. A big centre that can also play the wing and kill penalties has value, even if it’s more as a fourth liner than a third.
I can see de la Rose sliding into Brian Flynn’s spot on the roster in 2017-18 as someone in a 12th/13th forward role and easing into regular minutes over time. That would mean there’s still a spot for him in Montreal’s plans, even more so when you consider that someone coming off the type of year he just had has very limited trade value so there’s little incentive to deal him at this time.
For this coming season, I’d like to see him take some steps forward with his offensive game in St. John’s as that will be what ultimately defines him as an NHL player – is de la Rose just another run of the mill big-bodied fourth line checker or someone that can also produce above average relative to others in that role? The latter is a much more valuable piece to have.
Which prospect is primed for a breakout season?
Last year, Jake Evans – a college player – really made some noise and garnered a lot of attention accordingly. I think another NCAA prospect could really take a step or two forward this coming season.
Goalie Hayden Hawkey was a 6th rounder of the Canadiens back in 2014. In the two years since then, he has played all of 20 games due to injuries and the fact that Providence ran one goalie (Nick Ellis) for pretty much all of last season. Fortunately for Montreal, Edmonton convinced Ellis to turn pro a year early, opening up the starting job with the Friars.
If Hawkey can get that job (and right now he’d be the favourite), he could turn some heads in a hurry. Many forget that in his draft season he was the USHL’s top netminder; the potential is there and he’s fully healthy as well. Hawkey is completely under the radar right now since he has hardly played since being drafted but I can see him getting a lot more attention as next season progresses.
Will this year’s college rookie Tom Parisi have more of an impact than last year’s college rookie Ryan Johnston?
I suspect he will. Johnston never really had much of a positive impact for most of last season thanks to injuries and struggles in his own end (aside from that three assist, +6 contest after the Habs sent him back down, that one was a really good game). Part of the reason Johnston didn’t get to make much of an impact was that he was behind several right shot defencemen on the depth chart (Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Brett Lernout, and even Josiah Didier).
That won’t be the case with Parisi as the depth on the left side for the IceCaps is downright lousy. Newcomer Philip Samuelsson should have the top spot if he clears waivers but after that there isn’t much competition. Parisi could conceivably battle with Joel Hanley for the second pairing role right away, an opportunity that was never really afforded to Johnston.
I don’t expect Parisi to come out and wow everyone as he’s not that type of player. However, he’s someone that should earn more minutes and responsibilities as the season progresses so as long as he can stay healthy, he should be more of a factor than Johnston was last year.
Will Nikita Scherbak have a much better second pro year?
I know many are down on Scherbak after what could only be classified as a disappointing rookie season with St. John’s. However, most players from his draft class were still finishing their junior careers; Scherbak was one of the youngest forwards to play full-time in the AHL last season. The expectations for him to come in and be a key player right away were unrealistic.
There’s little reason to think he won’t take a step forward in 2016-17. He has a much better understanding of the rigours of the pro level and should be physically stronger. Scherbak should also have a better understanding of what offensive moves do and don’t work, something that was a problem especially early on last season. I’m also hopeful that those elements will make him better in his own end after he really struggled in that area.
In 2015-16, Scherbak quietly played at a 36 point pace over a full year. He should be able to push that into the 40+ point pace range without much difficulty though I’m more interested in his consistency over the course of the year. If his game-to-game play isn’t quite so volatile, that will go a long way towards him being more successful next year. I don’t think he’ll do enough to be thought of as NHL ready but that’s okay as he’s only starting the first year of his entry level deal. Slow and steady improvement is what I’m looking for and I think we’ll see it from Scherbak next year.