With the 2019-20 season now underway, it’s once again time to begin our annual prospect rankings series. As always, we start at the bottom with the prospects rated from 31st to 38th.
As we’ve done the last few years, the top-10 have been voted on by members of HabsWorld’s writing staff at the beginning of the regular season while I ranked the players from 11 through 38. 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, 2019
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 (previous ranking in parentheses):
Graduated: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (1), Charlie Lindgren (6)
Released: Jarret Tyszka (21), Michal Moravcik (22), Brett Lernout (24), Scott Walford (25), Jeremiah Addison (28), Hunter Shinkaruk (31), Daniel Audette (34), Nikolas Koberstein (37)
Traded: Nikita Scherbak (15 – lost via waivers last season)
Included with each ranking is an estimate of the NHL readiness date for each prospect. For some players, the estimate is a specific season while others whose projected development paths are harder to determine will be in a range.
38) Arvid Henrikson
Defenceman, Austin (NAHL)
7th round pick (187th overall) in 2016
Since staying in Sweden wasn’t doing anything for his development, Henrikson decided to cross the pond to play in North America for a year before beginning his college career. That led him to the USHL, a reasonable development league. Unfortunately, he struggled mightily at that level and had to drop down to a lower tier. For a player in his third year after being drafted, this is not good.
Things haven’t gotten much better for him this season with Lake Superior State. He has already been scratched several times and he has been a seventh defender at times when he has played. He’s got a long way to go to merely get back to relevancy as a prospect, let alone one with any sort of upside.
2018-19 Stats: (USHL) 29 GP, 0-1-1, +3 rating, 28 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 38th
NHL ETA: 2025-26 – At this point, it’s hard to imagine him having any NHL upside but he’d need four years of college plus a couple in the minors no matter what before even being considered. He is three seasons past his draft year and he’s even more of a long-term project now than he was back then.
37) Kieran Ruscheinski
Defenceman, Calgary Northstars (AMHL)
7th round pick (207th overall) in 2019
The Habs actually traded their 2020 seventh rounder to select Ruscheinski in what turned out to be a tribute to former scout Elmer Benning who passed away in late December. While his size makes him a slightly intriguing selection, the likelier scenario is that this basically was a throwaway pick. Ruscheinski has at least moved up to the BCHL level this season but will need to have a meteoric rise to ultimately land a contract from the Canadiens.
2018-19 Stats: 33 GP, 7-4-11, 28 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – Assuming Ruscheinski lands an NCAA scholarship, he’ll likely need to play that out in its entirety and have a couple of seasons in the minors before having a shot at being ready. It’s unlikely that he gets that far and is still in the organization.
36) Antoine Waked
Right Wing, Laval (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2017
His first year in the pros was 2017-18 was one to forget. Waked’s second season was even more of a disappointment.
When he was with Laval, he continued to play a very minor role and spent considerable time as a healthy scratch (and also dealt with some injury trouble along the way as well). He was a little better in limited action with Maine of the ECHL but that’s pretty faint praise all things considered.
Waked is back in the ECHL again this season although Laval had to find a different team to assign him to which is somewhat telling. He’s a prime candidate to be traded to match contracts if the Habs try to add someone but unless he has a massive bounce back season, he’s all but guaranteed to be non-tendered in June.
2018-19 Stats: 27 GP, 2-3-5, even rating, 28 PIMS, 20 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 36th
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – Waked’s ceiling at the NHL level is a low one so if he was to find another level to his game, it’s possible that he’d get a look before too long. He needs to show he can be productive at the AHL level first for that to happen though and the early returns this season suggest that’s unlikely.
35) Hayden Verbeek
Centre, Laval (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2018
Verbeek was unable to translate his scoring prowess from his final season in junior to the pros. He was in and out of the lineup with the Rocket and also dealt with some injury issues. His speed is top-notch, even among the fastest of AHL players. However, that alone wasn’t enough to make him more than a minor role player in his rookie season.
Verbeek needs to be deployed in a larger role to really see if there’s much in the way of upside. The good news is that the Habs are doing what they should have done a year ago and they’ve sent him to play top-six minutes in the ECHL to start this season. How he fares there will determine whether or not he gets more than spot duty with the Rocket in 2019-20 when he’s inevitably recalled and will go a long way towards determining whether he’s still a prospect, or someone merely playing out his contract.
2018-19 Stats: 48 GP, 4-3-7, -5 rating, 17 PIMS, 51 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 32nd
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – Verbeek won’t be NHL-ready by the end of his contract. That’s pretty much a given. If he can develop enough of an offensive game over the next few years though, he might be able to hold his own on a speedy fourth line in the NHL over time.
34) David Sklenicka
Defenceman, Laval (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2019
Personally, I’d like to rank him a bit higher than this as I think there’s a bit of upside with Sklenicka. However, the way the Habs used him last year tells me they’re not as intrigued as I am (and his early usage this season only cements that).
Sklenicka is undersized for a blueliner but he’s a strong skater and puck mover and it was those elements that got him signed in the first place. He made some strides in his own end but it’s still a weakness for him and that’s almost assuredly what had him drop down the depth chart last season. At 23, he’s getting to be a bit old for a prospect and accordingly, this could very well be his last shot.
2018-19 Stats: 68 GP, 3-6-9, +3 rating, 50 PIMS, 81 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 26th
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – If Sklenicka can work his way into a top-four spot by the end of the season, that could be enough to get him qualified to give him one more year in the minors. If he’s not ready by then, he won’t be at all.
33) Michael Pezzetta
Left Wing, Laval (AHL)
6th round pick (160th overall) in 2016
I was hopeful that he’d be able to carry over a bit of his production from his final year in the OHL but it didn’t come. He was arguably Laval’s most physical forward last season and was willing to drop the gloves. However, Pezzetta’s all-around game wasn’t particularly refined, at least to the point where they could be comfortable deploying him in more than minimal minutes.
While his overall ceiling is limited (he’s not getting past the fourth line if he was to make it to the NHL), they’re not doing him a lot of favours in his development by basically only using him in that role. Some extended time in a top-six spot in the ECHL where he can play on special teams and improve on elements beyond his physicality would be beneficial. However, for now at least, it appears he’s locked in on the fourth line with the Rocket for the games he’s in the lineup.
2018-19 Stats: 55 GP, 6-4-10, -13 rating, 77 PIMS, 48 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 33rd
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – Considering his ceiling is an eight minute per game physical winger, it’s possible that Pezzetta could be brought up for any game where the Habs think they need some extra toughness. If he can improve even enough in other areas aside from hitting, it’s not crazy to think he gets a second contract. But he has a lot of work to do to get to that level before garnering even minor NHL consideration.
32) Samuel Houde
Centre, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2018
I didn’t like this pick when it was first made as it seemed like the Habs were reaching on the upside. Yes, it was plausible to think that he’d improve with a full-time top-six role but even with that, I didn’t think it was enough to be drafted. The results weren’t too pretty as the improvements were incremental and that’s not what you want to see in a post-draft year.
Houde has some intriguing offensive tools but thus far has lacked the consistency on a shift-to-shift let alone a game-to-game basis. He can take over games at times and be a complete passenger in others. If he wants to get a contract from the Habs by the beginning of June, he needs to become a legitimate top-line threat this season and dominate regularly. To his credit, he’s off to a good start.
2018-19 Stats: 64 GP, 16-27-43, -9 rating, 32 PIMS, 129 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 29th
NHL ETA: 2024-25 – If Houde lands an entry-level deal, he’s going to be a bit of a project player that needs some time in the ECHL as his offensive game won’t be enough to earn a notable role in Laval early. Accordingly, it will take a while before he could even be considered for a potential recall let alone a full-time spot.
31) Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Left Wing, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
7th round pick (201st overall) in 2019
In terms of pure upside, there isn’t a lot here with Harvey-Pinard. He’s undersized and doesn’t excel in any one particular area. However, he’s someone that could be described as a player that’s greater than the sum of his individual skills. He’s someone that just feels like a winner and a fantastic showing in the QMJHL playoffs helped get him drafted even though he’s already 20.
He had a good showing at rookie camp but was surprisingly demoted without getting a sniff of AHL camp which was a bit of a surprise. Instead, the Habs believed that one more year in junior (with Chicoutimi after an offseason trade) would be best and then they’ll have another year to decide on whether or not to sign him. Having that flexibility is certainly useful; instead of scrambling to sign him as an undrafted player this season, they won’t have to bid against themselves if they believe he’s worthy of an entry-level deal.
2018-19 Stats: 66 GP, 40-45-85, +43 rating, 24 PIMS, 265 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Habs try to get Harvey-Pinard to take an AHL deal next season and then move it to an entry-level pact for 2021-22 as that would allow them to slow play his development a bit more which would be ideal. However, that will delay the ETA as well. He’s probably no more than a bottom-six option in the pros but despite his size, he’s someone that might just be able to make it.