In our next group of prospects, we have a collection that is relatively untested at the professional level. However, some of these players shouldn’t be too far away from potentially contributing in Montreal.
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, 2022
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 – NHL GP: Cole Caufield (1), Samuel Montembeault (23), Michael Pezzetta (29)
Graduated – Age: Otto Leskinen (35)
Traded – Ryan Poehling (9), Cam Hillis (32), Michael McNiven (40)
Released – Kale Clague (16), Josh Brook (19), Brett Stapley (24), Jacob Olofsson (36)
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 rankings were set in November (the write-ups take a while) so early-season performances have been taken into consideration but as they are small sample sizes, they only move a player up or down a few slots.
15) Jakub Dobes
Goaltender, Ohio State (NCAA)
5th round pick (136th overall) in 2020
Talk about making a strong first impression. Last season, Dobes was expected to battle returning backup Ryan Snowden for playing time early on and eventually make a push for the starting role. That plan lasted all of about a week. Dobes hit the ground running, took the number one spot quickly, and never looked back.
There are two things that intrigue me with Dobes. The first is that he was a standout performer on a team that, quite frankly, wasn’t all that good on paper. It’s one thing to put up good numbers on a strong team but another to do so behind a team that was fairly mediocre. He faced more than 31 shots per game on average while playing almost every night. That’s impressive for a rookie.
The second intriguing element is his puckhandling. Some goalies shy away from playing the puck. Some handle it to the point of reckless aggression. Dobes is in the latter category. While he gets himself into trouble sometimes, the net benefit from going out and playing the puck is quite substantial. In an organization that is big on transition play, this is something that will be particularly appealing to the Habs.
Projecting goalies is always tough and college goalies are even harder. Remember when Yann Danis was a promising prospect? How about Hayden Hawkey? Even Cayden Primeau had standout numbers in college. Good, even great, performances there rarely mean anything when it comes to projectability. But with Dobes’ size (6’4) and puck skills, this is a goalie that is a very interesting under-the-radar project.
2021-22 Stats: 35 GP, 21-12-2 record, 2.26 GAA, .934 SV%, 3 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 17th
NHL ETA: 2026-27 – I could see Dobes turning pro early (even after this season wouldn’t entirely shock me) which could bump up his timeline by a year or two. Once he signs, however, he’ll need at least two years in the minors before being ready to potentially push for a backup role.
14) Jayden Struble
Defenceman, Northeastern (NCAA)
2nd round pick (46th overall) in 2019
Struble is a player that I seem to be a bit more bullish on than others. I know the numbers with the Huskies aren’t exactly the prettiest and I know the deficiencies that were there before are still there now, at least to an extent. But I just can’t shake the feeling that he is a player that probably will fit in better at the professional level than at the college ranks.
The raw skills are definitely there. He’s a good skater, has decent offensive instincts, and can defend well when he isn’t overcommitting (this is one of the deficiencies that still needs work). He’s capable of playing in transition and plays with plenty of physicality. If you’re looking at a checklist of characteristics that you want a defender to have, Struble checks a lot of the boxes.
So, why do I think he’ll fare better in the pros? Professional hockey is a heavier style than the college level and Struble’s natural physicality will serve him well in board battles and in front of the net where he might be able to get away with more than he has been accustomed to with the Huskies. On a team like Montreal where they’re trying to play a little more on their toes, so to speak, I think that helps him.
In the grand scheme of things, Struble is starting to profile more as a prospect that fits in best on a third pairing than someone in the top four and there are higher-ceiling players ranked behind him on this list. However, I think that Struble should become a capable NHL defender in the next couple of years so he still slots in relatively high here.
2021-22 Stats: 34 GP, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, +15 rating, 65 PIMS, 51 shots, 23 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 7th
NHL ETA: 2025-26 – Struble recently signed his entry-level deal and will need some time in the minors to adapt to the pro game but as a college senior, it shouldn’t take as long as other prospects to get up to speed.
13) Emil Heineman
Left Wing, Leksands (SHL)
Acquired in trade with Calgary in 2022
While the first-round pick was the key part of last year’s Tyler Toffoli trade, Heineman was an important part of it as well. He fits the profile of what the Habs are trying to do off the ice in terms of bringing in drafted prospects that are closer to being NHL-ready (the goal of a quicker turnaround) while the way he plays fits how Montreal wants to play on the ice.
Heineman showed an intriguing scoring touch in Sweden’s top league last season despite playing a fairly limited role in Leksands’ lineup. His shot is particularly heavy which stands out in this group of Montreal prospects. He plays with a high motor and is a strong skater, elements that will fit in nicely with the direction that the Canadiens are taking with their bottom six forwards. I wouldn’t put him as a high-end defensive forward but he’s more than serviceable enough at that end.
If this sounds like the profile of a complementary player, that’s because Heineman is a complementary piece. In an ideal world, his role is likely no higher than that of a third liner, one that can play a two-way game and hold his own in a variety of different deployments. Those types don’t typically put up big numbers but the versatility could make him a valuable role player that coaches place a lot of trust in. Considering he has already been traded in deals for Toffoli and Sam Bennett, it’s clear that general managers feel the same way.
2021-22 Stats: 38 GP, 11 goals, 5 assists, 16 points, -8 rating, 20 PIMS, 58 shots, 28 hits, 11:34 TOI
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2023-24/2024-25 – I think there’s a possibility that Heineman pushes for a spot on the fourth line with Montreal at some point next season. As someone that doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling, there’s less risk in moving him up right away. Otherwise, he should see some time in Laval in their top six and try to make a push for a roster spot from there.
12) Riley Kidney
Centre, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
2nd round pick (63rd overall) in 2021
After a string playoff showing in 2021, Kidney basically picked up where he left off last season, becoming one of the top playmakers in the QMJHL while potting some highlight-reel goals that show he’s not just a one-trick pony offensively. However, there are still some questions I have, even as he has taken his production to new heights this season.
The first is his size. At 6’0, he’s not small but he’s frail. Kidney should fill out over the next couple of seasons but will that take away some of the shiftiness that he has in his game? The other is his tendency to stay on the perimeter. That works in junior but can he adapt his way to get to the scoring zones against bigger and stronger competition?
Right now, Kidney is one of only a handful of Montreal forward prospects that have legitimate top-six offensive upside. But, as is often a question with high-scoring juniors, can he translate that to the pros or will he be another player that fizzles out? I think Kidney can be a successful pro that finds his way onto an NHL roster (I like him as a third centre than a second in a perfect world if he’s able to stay down the middle) but there is a bit of bust potential here as well.
2021-22 Stats: 66 GP, 30 goals, 70 assists, 100 points, +13 rating, 56 PIMS, 231 shots, 49.2% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 12th
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – Some junior players can make the jump quickly but I expect Kidney to be a bit more of a project and take a couple of years before he’s established as a legitimate top-six piece in Laval. He’s someone I think could benefit from three full years in the minors to grow to become a focal point of their attack which would best prepare him for an impact offensive role with the Canadiens.
11) Joshua Roy
Right Wing, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
5th round pick (150th overall) in 2021
Roy made a high debut on this list a year ago after getting off to a blistering start last season. Suffice it to say, he didn’t let up throughout the campaign, eventually leading the QMJHL in scoring. Not too shabby of a post-draft year, that’s for sure.
We’ve seen in junior that he has a strong scoring touch and a good ability to read plays to get to the right spots for scoring chances. That’s a good base to work from. What I also like is that Roy’s skating has improved from before he was drafted and he is showing a willingness to be more involved at times defensively. Those are elements that will go a long in determining the type of success he has in the pros as his offence alone isn’t strong enough to make him a can’t-miss prospect.
Looking back at the World Juniors (the summer version as the rankings were done before the most recent tourney), we saw Roy fit in better in a secondary role against top competition. I think that’s the role that works best for him in the pros. To me, Roy profiles best as a middle-six winger that could push for 40-45 points as things stand which is why he’s a bit lower here than you might see in other rankings (that should change with the number of graduates from this year’s top ten). But even after saying that, for a late-round pick, that’s a pretty nice pickup and he has come a long way in less than two years since being drafted so it’s quite possible he still has another gear to get to.
2021-22 Stats: 66 GP, 51 goals, 68 assists, 119 points, +43 rating, 22 PIMS, 311 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 13th
NHL ETA: 2024-25/2025-26 – If Roy is able to lock down a key role with Laval fairly quickly next season, he’s someone that could rise quickly and have a faster development curve than someone like Kidney. Spot NHL duty in 2023-24 might not be out of the question although his ETA here is more for when he’ll be ready to push for a regular role.