Into the top twenty we go in our annual rankings. In this group, we have a trio of players that have had a small taste of NHL action and are hoping to secure a regular role with the Canadiens in the near future.
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.
20) Jan Mysak
Centre, Hamilton (OHL)
2nd round pick (48th overall) in 2020
Mysak is a prospect I keep flip-flopping on when it comes to his upside. There are times that he looks like a legitimate middle-six prospect which, for a second-round pick, would be a pretty good outcome. However, there are others where I’m not sure he’ll be a middle-six forward in Laval. Over the past year, both thoughts have come to mind.
With Hamilton last season, Mysak was decent. On a team that was admittedly deep, he ranged from the top line to the third line, with the latter coming down the stretch and into the playoffs (and Memorial Cup). But generally speaking, NHL-drafted prospects in their second year after being picked should be more than decent at the junior level. On the other hand, he was dominant at the summer World Juniors. With his age at the time, he should have been but he showed some of the offensive creativity that wasn’t always there last season.
There is a lot to like with Mysak if you like a safer prospect profile. He’s perfectly capable of playing down the middle and there isn’t a big difference when he’s on the wing. There’s a stable level of defensive ability and effort. Nothing special but the floor is relatively sound for a youngster. But there is no consistent ‘wow’ factor in his offensive profile that suggests he can produce on a regular basis in the NHL. The defensive game is good enough to give him a long leash in the minors to try to get there but he’s a bit of a project at this point.
2021-22 Stats: 61 GP, 34-30-64, +18 rating, 6 PIMS, 175 shots, 58.5% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 10th
NHL ETA: 2025-26 – This season has been a write-off due to early struggles and a long-term injury so Mysak certainly isn’t fast-tracking things. This is the year he’ll be waiver-eligible and frankly, he still might need time in the minors after that although getting back to Laval at that point isn’t a guarantee.
19) Jesse Ylonen
Right Wing, Laval (AHL)
2nd round pick (35th overall) in 2018
This is a ranking I struggled with. I think he has the complementary skill set to play in the middle six in the NHL. With strong speed, a deceptively strong shot, and a knack for getting into shooting lanes, he’s the type of player that should be able to do well with good NHL linemates.
On the other hand, for the offensive abilities he has, I was expecting him to be more of a consistent threat in Laval last season. His numbers were decent but for someone with a couple of AHL years under his belt after three in the pros in Finland, my expectations were higher. In the minors, Ylonen should be more of a play driver than a complementary piece but that wasn’t the case often enough. And when the playoffs came around, he struggled considerably with the higher level of physicality.
There is definitely an NHL profile with Ylonen. But the range of options isn’t the highest as he doesn’t really fit on the fourth line. We’ve been seeing that in recent weeks. He needs to be with talented players for his complementary skills to make an impact but it’s also quite possible that he doesn’t play well enough to put himself in that situation. I mentioned this last year, I don’t think he’s in the long-term plans anymore for this team, especially with a new management group so he could be someone that’s moved at some point.
2021-22 Stats: 52 GP, 14-22-36, -16 rating, 12 PIMS, 121 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 11th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – I have a hard time seeing the Habs risking losing him for nothing by putting him on waivers in the fall so if he’s still around by then, there’s a good chance he’s a regular on the roster. He just might not be a regular in the lineup.
18) Cayden Primeau
Goaltender, Laval (AHL)
7th round pick (199th overall) in 2017
When it comes to goaltenders, their year-to-year performance can really affect their perceived value in the organization. A year ago, it looked like Primeau was on his way to becoming a future NHL netminder. Then came last season where he struggled mightily during the regular season with both Laval and Montreal where he was lit up in limited action.
Things got so bad that when Laval’s playoffs came around, Primeau was the backup goalie at the start. However, that changed quickly and when got the net, he never looked back as he carried the Rocket to a highly improbable appearance in the Conference Finals. Along the way, he looked like a high-end netminder, stealing quite a few games while facing plenty of shots.
I’ve praised Primeau in the past for his ability to make the difficult stop and how he rarely gives up on plays. However, the tendency to allow some tough goals is still there while when he’s off his game, things can snowball quickly. Neither of these traits is uncommon for young goalies but they go a long way toward determining whether a player makes it to the NHL or not. He’s running out of time to swing those elements in his favour.
2021-22 Stats: 33 GP, 16-12-3 record, 2.94 GAA, .909 SV%, 2 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 4th
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – This is simply because of his waiver situation as next season is when Primeau will be waiver-eligible. I’m not sure he’s going to be ready but with a cheap contract through 2024-25, it will be a risk if they try to send him through waivers.
17) Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Left Wing, Laval (AHL)
7th round pick (201st overall) in 2019
I’m a bit on the lower end here (which isn’t looking too sharp with how he has played since being recalled) but there’s a balancing act I view prospects through – the likelihood of making the NHL versus upside when they get there. I don’t think there’s any question that Harvey-Pinard will see some regular action with the Canadiens (he already has now) but I question if he’s much more than a fourth liner on a good team down the road. It’s hard to put a fourth liner a whole lot higher than this.
By now, most of you are already familiar with Harvey-Pinard’s game – lots of energy and hustle with a decent defensive game. Offensively is where my questions come in. Think back to Mysak and the lack of a ‘wow’ element, it applies here too. He certainly isn’t going to hurt you offensively but he’s not going to be much of a play-creator either. That isn’t to say he won’t play in the top six at times, he’s the type of player that can be shuffled up short-term, not unlike Paul Byron who was a great fit on the fourth line but played everywhere in the lineup.
What will go a long way toward making or breaking Harvey-Pinard’s NHL upside will be his ability to kill penalties. Typically, players in his type of energy role are expected to play shorthanded and he took on a regular role on the penalty kill last season. If that carries over to the NHL level, he has a chance to be a quality role player for a while which would be a terrific outcome on a late-round dart throw.
2021-22 Stats: 61 GP, 21-35-56, +29 rating, 20 PIMS, 128 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 22nd
NHL ETA: 2023-24 – Harvey-Pinard has shown slow and steady progress since being drafted and as the Canadiens look to shuffle out some of their underperforming veterans on the wing, Harvey-Pinard is likely to be one of the beneficiaries. He’ll still be waiver-exempt next season which could work against him at the start but there’s a good chance he’ll see regular NHL action.
16) Vincenz Rohrer
Right Wing/Centre, Ottawa (OHL)
3rd round pick (75th overall) in 2022
There is a lot of projectability in Rohrer’s game which certainly played an important role in where he was selected as without that context, it would seem like a bit of a reach. He only made the cut for this draft by less than a week and he’s on the slender side so there’s also the matter of projecting how he’ll fill out and how it will affect his game.
Rohrer is willing to get involved physically despite his smaller stature and isn’t afraid of playing in high-traffic areas. There are enough offensive skills (good shot and a decent playmaker) that, with some projection, could be pro-level in time. I also like the fact he can play centre although I suspect he’ll be on the wing in the pros. But the positional versatility is nice.
Like Harvey-Pinard, Rohrer is someone that profiles toward the bottom of the lineup. But he seems like the type of role player that this management is coveting, a high-effort, high-intensity player that just finds a way to make an impact. It’s going to take a while – last year was his rookie major junior year – but I think Rohrer will find a way to be an NHL player at some point.
2021-22 Stats: 64 GP, 25-23-48, +20 rating, 16 PIMS, 155 shots, 42.1% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2027-28 – With Rohrer being a bit behind in his development and one of the youngest players in his draft class, there’s a longer development runway awaiting him. After he finishes in the OHL, he might need three full seasons in Laval to truly become NHL-ready.