The depth of Montreal’s prospect pool really starts to show in this group. There’s a strong case to make for most of these players to be in the top 20 but because of the volume of prospects currently in the organization, they come up a little short.
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, 2021
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
Note that players acquired after January 1st, 2022 (which is when these were set) will not be included in the rankings.
Here are the departures from last year’s list (previous ranking in parentheses):
Graduated – NHL GP: Alexander Romanov (2), Jake Evans (11)
Graduated – Age: Lukas Vejdemo (23)
Traded – Hayden Verbeek (36)
Lost in Expansion – Cale Fleury (12)
Released – Jacob LeGuerrier (20), Joni Ikonen (31), Arsen Khisamutdinov (33), Kieran Ruscheinski (37)
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. Players are assessed on a combination of upside, likelihood of making it to the NHL, and overall value to the organization.
The plan heading into the season was for these to run during the Olympic break which was going to give us some coverage when the Habs were off for four weeks but obviously, that’s not happening now. Early-season performances were taken into consideration but as they were small sample sizes, they only moved a player up or down a few slots.
25) Daniil Sobolev
Defenceman, Windsor (OHL)
5th round pick (142nd overall) in 2021
Sobolev was one of the players that were hit the hardest by the pandemic as instead of playing with Windsor, he sat the entire season. That certainly didn’t help his draft stock as instead of being seen more regularly than he was back in the MHL, he wasn’t seen at all.
Nonetheless, the Habs liked what they saw from Sobolev from his time in Russia to take a flyer on him. He isn’t a particularly flashy player but there’s some aggression in both the offensive and defensive zone that stands out while, like many of Montreal’s recent defensive picks, he’s a good skater. That’s at least a decent foundation to try and work from.
Instead of going through the ups and downs of transitioning to a new league and smaller ice surface last season, Sobolev went through it at the start of this season and he struggled considerably early on. He has been better at times in recent weeks, however. That said, he will need to find another level (or two) to really be on the radar in terms of having a chance to sign. It’s a lot to ask of someone who’s in this situation by no fault of his own but that lost year of development really accelerates how much he needs to progress between now and the end of next season. If Sobolev can do that, he’ll be an intriguing prospect, especially as a right-shot defender in a pool that doesn’t have a lot of those.
2020-21 Stats: N/A – DNP
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – Most defencemen need at least a couple of years in the minors and it wouldn’t surprise me if Sobolev needed all three from his entry-level deal before being ready. There will be another adaptation period once he gets to the pros and another long learning curve after that.
24) Brett Stapley
Centre, Denver (NCAA)
7th round pick (190th overall) in 2018
A year ago, I thought Stapley was going to be poised to take a step forward and perhaps even push for an entry-level contract if everything went well. It didn’t. He missed 11 games due to injury (nearly half of the pandemic-shortened season) and when he did play, he wasn’t the impactful player he was in his first two seasons.
Now in his senior year, Stapley has been a little better although he has piled up the points against some weaker competition. In his role at his age, I’d like to see him be more dominant. However, that’s just not his style.
Instead, Stapley is a complementary player. He’s a strong playmaker and I think he has another level he can get to in terms of a defensive game. Beyond that, there aren’t really any big strengths or weaknesses. There’s some value in that but while there’s a parallel to Jake Evans in terms of both being collegiate seventh-round centres, Stapley isn’t another Evans. I’d still like to see what he can do in Laval and think he’s worth signing but I don’t think it’s the certainty I felt it was going to be a year ago either.
2020-21 Stats: 13 GP, 4-3-7, +2 rating, 2 PIMS, 29 shots, 71/150 faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 19th
NHL ETA: 2024-25 – I don’t think Stapley is the type of player that is going to jump from college to the NHL right away. Two years of AHL development are probably needed before they can assess whether his offensive game will be good enough to move to the top level.
23) Samuel Montembeault
Goaltender, Syracuse (AHL)
Claimed off waivers in 2021
Montembeault narrowly qualified for this list as he turned 25 at the end of October, just past the age cutoff point. This was one of the harder players to rank as let’s face it, he’s in the NHL right now and quite a few of the 22 players ahead of him won’t get there. On the other hand, his upside is rather limited so this is somewhat of a ‘meet in the middle’ ranking.
We’ve seen some good moments from Montembeault this season which is why he was a relatively high draft pick and why Montreal picked him up. He has, at times, put the Habs on his back and kept them in games and those are the moments where you look at him and think that if he played like that more often, he could be a legitimate NHL backup goalie.
Then there are the not-so-good moments, the poor goals, not fighting through a screen, and an inability to hold a team below three goals with regularity. Those are the hallmarks of an AHL goaltender and throughout his career (even going back to junior), a .900 SV% has been tough for him to attain. Allowing one goal on every ten shots isn’t going to be good enough.
Montembeault is who he is at this point. He’s a reasonable third-stringer and has played enough to be a restricted free agent instead of a Group VI UFA so if Montreal holds onto him for the rest of the season even as Jake Allen and maybe Carey Price return (not holding my breath on that one happening), he has done enough to earn another contract though they may envision him alongside Cayden Primeau in Laval. If he’s back on waivers before the end of the season, Florida will likely try to claim him back.
2020-21 Stats: 13 GP, 8-4-1 record, 2.86 GAA, .898 SV%, 1 SO
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2021-22 – He has been up with the Habs all season. It’d be pretty hard for me to suggest his ETA is any later than that point.
22) Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Left Wing, Laval (AHL)
7th round pick (201st overall) in 2019
Harvey-Pinard was as advertised in his rookie professional season, quickly becoming a reliable secondary scorer for Laval whose hustle endeared him to Joel Bouchard and the coaching staff which allowed him to get more opportunities as the season went on. He did well with those which made him one of the more impressive players in what was an impressive season for the Rocket.
But I think he’s also being a little overhyped. While I get the comparisons to Brendan Gallagher given their size and number, Harvey-Pinard is not the second coming of Gallagher, not even close. Gallagher, in his prime at least, had a pretty good scoring touch to go along with the high-intensity effort level. Harvey-Pinard isn’t in that range.
What he is, however, is someone that can play better defensively than Gallagher which raises his floor from a development perspective. It’s certainly possible for Harvey-Pinard to become a regular in Montreal’s lineup, probably on the fourth line with an ability to move up here and there when needed. But his future is as a supporting cast type of player, a tertiary scorer, not someone that’s going to score 15-20 goals in the NHL on a regular basis. That’s still quite a good piece to get from a seventh-round pick but while the odds of him making it are fairly high, his overall upside isn’t huge.
2020-21 Stats: 36 GP, 9-11-20, +10 rating, 2 PIMS, 59 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 30th
NHL ETA: 2022-23/2023-24 – I can see a scenario where he’s up on a somewhat regular basis next season, especially if Kent Hughes and company really blow things up. If not, he’s someone that could benefit from extra time in Laval to work on his offensive game over limited minutes with the Habs.
21) William Trudeau
Defenceman, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
4th round pick (113th overall) in 2021
Trudeau certainly didn’t hurt his draft stock last season in the limited action QMJHL players had but he also didn’t really help it much either. He was viewed as a mid-rounder for most of the year and that’s where he wound up.
For someone whose offensive numbers are pretty good, he doesn’t really profile as a big point producer in the NHL. He has a good point shot and moves the puck well and usually, that’s a decent combination to work with. However, I think the passing is more complementary than offence-driving; he can make the play to exit the zone but isn’t going to feather a perfect pass to spring someone for a high-end chance. He also isn’t a strong enough skater to really affect offensive opportunities that way either.
But from a defensive standpoint, Trudeau isn’t bad in that element either. He thinks the game well and makes the right reads most of the time. At 6’0, he’s not the biggest or the strongest but as he fills out, he shouldn’t be pushed around too much. Again, the skating isn’t the greatest though and that can get him into trouble.
Trudeau isn’t someone I’d classify as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ type of player but he’s not far from that either. My concern is that in terms of his skill set, can any get to a level that is NHL-calibre? The skating obviously needs improvement but if he can develop a lethal point shot, there’s a role for that. If his passing ticks up a few notches, there’s a role for that as a greater emphasis on transition play grows in the NHL. I could keep going on the defensive side but you get the idea.
If one of those elements can improve to that higher level, he becomes a viable NHL prospect that’s good enough in enough areas to not need to be sheltered and even if that’s only as a third-pairing player, that’s still a quality NHL player. But if that doesn’t happen, he becomes more of an organizational filler piece than a true prospect.
2020-21 Stats: 40 GP, 8-23-31, +34 rating, 29 PIMS, 80 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – There are some junior players that I could see jumping to the NHL before the end of their entry-level contracts but I don’t see Trudeau being one of them. He’s the type of prospect where I expect the improvement to be gradual; there isn’t going to be a moment where everything suddenly comes together. Most defencemen need longer leashes in the minors and he’ll be one of those.