Our second group of prospects in our 2019-20 rankings features a trio of players that were selected back in June including some intriguing long-term projects.
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.
30) Arsen Khisamutidinov
Left Wing, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk (VHL)
6th round pick (170th) in 2019
Many (myself included) have wanted to see the Habs take a bit of a big swing with a late-round pick or two. Khisamutdinov’s selection may not be a full home run swing but it was a big uppercut. (I’ll stop with the baseball lingo now.)
At 21 and only a handful of KHL games under his belt, it was an odd pick on the surface. However, those few KHL games came a year ago and he was relatively productive in them with five points in nine games. Is he just a late-bloomer? Similar to their logic behind the selection of Rafael Harvey-Pinard, they identified Khisamutdinov as someone that could be an undrafted free agent target and decided to jump the line.
Left wing is a particularly weak position from an organizational depth perspective and Khisamutdinov has shown a scoring touch, albeit mostly at the lower level in Russia. For him to progress from a long shot to a prospect, he’ll need to lock down a full-time KHL spot and improve his skating as his speed is well below how the Canadiens currently play.
2018-19 Stats: 41 GP, 26-29-55, +4 rating, 99 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2022-23/2023-24 – Considering he turns 22 in February, it should be a shorter time frame to work with in theory. However, given his limited exposure to higher-end competition, there’s still a longer-term development curve to work with. His current contract is up at the end of the season and it’s quite possible that they try to bring him over for next year. Physically, Khisamutidinov is already NHL-ready but how he adapts to AHL play is a big question.
29) Alexandre Alain
Right Wing, Laval (AHL)
Undrafted free agent signing in 2018
Alain’s rookie season was a bit of a mixed bag. Due to injuries and an overall lack of depth in Laval, he was pressed into an important role right away and spent a lot of time in the middle six. To his credit, he was able to keep up over the first couple of months.
However, his production dipped as the season progressed and his role was subsequently reduced to that of a depth piece even at a time where the Rocket were signing a bunch of players in order to ice a full squad. While it’s not fair to evaluate his entire year based on that (his overall numbers weren’t bad for an undrafted rookie at all), it’s still a telling final impression.
What makes Alain a useful AHL piece is also one that limits his overall NHL upside at this point. There are no real glaring weaknesses in his game which makes him serviceable in a variety of roles with Laval. However, there isn’t even one real above average element that he can hang his hat on either. He’s not a top-notch skater nor is he a strong enough checker to really be a candidate to be recalled anytime soon. That’s going to have to change if he wants to stick around with this organization long term.
2018-19 Stats: 72 GP, 8-20-28, -6 rating, 38 PIMS, 109 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 27th
NHL ETA: 2022-23 – I have a hard time thinking that Alain is going to play himself into NHL consideration by the end of his entry-level deal in 2021. If he can at least show some incremental improvement between now and then though, it may be enough to give him one last chance at playing his way into recall consideration.
28) Jack Gorniak
Left Wing, Wisconsin (NCAA)
4th round pick (123rd) in 2018
The transition from playing high school hockey to Division I college hockey was predictably up and down for Gorniak. He started off slow but progressed into more of an important role as the year progressed and some improvement in his assist total followed. However, he finished up with only four goals on the year which, even for a freshman, is a bit low.
Gorniak is fast. Really fast. He uses that speed well to generate scoring chances but that is only so valuable when you can’t finish them. (That’s how Paul Byron wound up becoming a Hab a few years ago.) Even if he doesn’t become the most refined overall player, developing something resembling a scoring touch would really go a long way towards boosting his stock.
Things aren’t going too well early on this season though. A strong freshman class has bumped Gorniak down the depth chart again and has reduced his scoring chances and playing time in the process. Barring some injuries, this season could wind up being somewhat of a write-off in the end.
2018-19 Stats: 37 GP, 4-11-15, -8 rating, 16 PIMS, 63 shots, 13 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 23rd
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – Especially with how the start of this season has gone, it’s hard to think that Gorniak won’t play out his entire college eligibility. It’s also safe to assume at this point that he won’t be ready to make the NHL jump after his senior year; he’s going to need at least one year in the minors if not two. That will put him in at 24/25 years old and if he isn’t ready then, he isn’t going to be.
27) Frederik Nissen Dichow
Goalie, Voyens (Den2)
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2019
I don’t have a whole lot to go off here which made this particular ranking a bit tricky. Dichow didn’t exactly play at a high level but got on the radar at the World U-18’s in the second division. At 6’5, he’s the prototypical tall goalie that many teams are coveting but he’s going to be a long-term project. The good news is that with Carey Price in the NHL and Cayden Primeau in the system, he’ll have all the time he needs to see if he can develop. The Habs have had a pretty good eye for goalie talent so he gets the benefit of the doubt and a relatively high starting rank for someone that hasn’t been tested at top levels yet.
2018-19 Stats: 15 GP, 9-5-1 record, 2.25 GAA, .907 SV% , 3 SO
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – Dichow has moved to Sweden and is starting in their junior level. It’s going to take some time for him to graduate to the SHL which is the league he’ll need to have some success in before the Habs consider him for an entry-level deal.
26) Rhett Pitlick
Left Wing, Chaska (USHS)
5th round pick (131st overall) in 2019
In a nutshell, Pitlick is this year’s Gorniak. He’s a speedster on the wing that lit up high school hockey but hasn’t really been tested at a better level (aside from a handful of USHL games last year). Unlike Gorniak though, Pitlick is tiny as he’s generously listed at 5’9.
The good news is that scouts project Pitlick’s scoring touch to carry over reasonably well which gives him a good chance at being more than someone who simply skates fast. While it delays his ETA, it’s also encouraging that he’s spending a full year in the USHL before making the jump to college. I’m not one to make projections based on NHL bloodlines but his father (Lance), brother (Rem), and cousin (Tyler) all have NHL ties which certainly can’t hurt.
Honestly, his pick was one of the ones I liked the most from the second day of the draft. He’s certainly a project but he’s one that I expect will jump up and push for a top-20 spot a year from now.
2018-19 Stats: 25 GP, 28-33-61, 8 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2024-25/2025-26 – At this point, I’d have to project Pitlick to spend at least three years in college (starting in 2020-21) plus likely a year or two in the minors before being NHL ready. It’s going to take a while but the wait might be worth it.