We’re now at the midway point in our Prospect Rankings series. Included in this group are some players who were rated fairly high not long ago but have seen their stock slip with weaker performances and additions to the system.
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.
25) Cedrick Guindon
Left Wing/Centre, Owen Sound (OHL)
4th round pick (127th overall) in 2022
Guindon was a first-round pick in the OHL but COVID wiped out his first year so last season was his rookie year. After a slow start, he produced at a point-per-game level which is pretty good for a draft-eligible player. However, there were enough question marks to drop him to the bottom half of the draft.
At 5’10, Guindon isn’t the biggest player nor the strongest. His skating is decent but certainly not high-end. In essence, he’s not necessarily the most athletic player so there are some projectability questions. Is he a true NHL prospect or someone that’s just going to look good in junior?
That said, the skill set is intriguing. He’s a two-way offensive threat (shooting and playmaking), there are enough good defensive plays to suggest there’s room to improve on that front, and he became a lot more aggressive over the second half of the season. This is all encouraging for any prospect.
That type of improvement would typically come earlier than this point in a normal development cycle but with the pandemic, his cohort of players is hardly part of a normal development cycle. Guindon showed early in the season that he was able to build on how he finished last year but I still went a bit cautious with this ranking. He’s someone that should push for a ranking closer to the top 20 next season as a potential diamond in the rough candidate.
2021-22 Stats: 68 GP, 30-29-59, +11 rating, 16 PIMS, 198 shots
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2027-28 – Assuming Guindon gets an entry-level deal, I could see his development in the AHL moving somewhat slowly. Part of that will be overcoming the lost development year in 2020-21 and part of that will be that it might take a little while for him to work himself into a top-six role with Laval.
24) Oliver Kapanen
Centre, KalPa (SM-liiga)
2nd round pick (64th overall) in 2021
There was the good and the bad with Kapanen last season. At the junior level, he was a quality offensive player which is good. But in his first taste at Finland’s top level, he was pretty quiet (and an injury didn’t help). Yes, expectations can’t be too high for a teenager playing at the pro level but I was hoping to see a bit more.
I also have to admit his play at the 2022 World Juniors skewed this pick to an extent. I didn’t like his performance in two games in the event that was cancelled and in the summer tourney, I really didn’t like Kapanen’s performance. He was supposed to be an important player on that team and instead played a supporting role and didn’t even thrive in it.
The good news is that Kapanen has been considerably better this year so he’s another player whose ranking should go up next year. I’m still a bit skeptical that he’s going to be a big point producer in the NHL (there are complementary skills but nothing that stands out as high-end) but the defensive skills are definitely there, giving him a pretty stable floor. Right now, he profiles as a checker but he’ll have at least one more year in Finland to try to shore up things at the offensive end.
2021-22 Stats: 18 GP, 1-3-4, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 32 shots, 42.1% faceoffs, 10:03 TOI
Previous HW Ranking: 15th
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – Kapanen is signed through 2023-24 in Finland and that’s when I think he’ll be brought over. From there, while some players can make the jump straight to the NHL, I think he’s going to need some time in Laval before getting himself in a position to be recalled for more than a cup of coffee.
23) Adam Engstrom
Defenceman, Djurgarden (SWE Jr.)
3rd round pick (92nd overall) in 2022
On draft day, this pick had me puzzled somewhat as this felt like a reach. However, he definitely fits the archetype of what this management group wants from their back end, mobility and a willingness to join the rush and play in transition. (Just look at the current roster, a lot of their offence comes off the rush.)
Engstrom was somewhat of a late-bloomer last season and that seemed to keep him out of a lot of rankings entirely. His offensive numbers were decent but there are questions about how they’ll translate against tougher competition. Defensively, he’s still a work in progress but took several strides in the second half of last season compared to the start.
This season, he dominated the junior level and earned a full-time promotion to the SHL while earning a spot on Sweden’s World Junior squad. There’s good and bad in the promotion though. Now that he’s at the top level, he’s back to trying to play a simpler game which isn’t necessarily the greatest for skill development. However, long-term, exposure to higher-end competition usually helps.
I’m not as high on him as some are as I want to see another standout skill aside from skating before really moving him up in the rankings as others have. But so far, he’s certainly an encouraging mid-round selection and will safely be in the top 20 next season. This also feels like a good spot to remind readers that these rankings were set a few months ago and it’s just taking me longer than usual to get these columns written.
2021-22 Stats: 45 GP, 8-20-28, +28 rating, 20 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – Engstrom is signed through next season in Sweden but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stay another year or two after that, especially with it being harder to get Swedish prospects to the AHL now as part of the new transfer agreement.
22) Luke Tuch
Left Wing, Boston University (NCAA)
2nd round pick (47th overall) in 2020
This was a pick I liked more than most at the draft. At some point, the Habs need to get some extra size into their organization in the hopes that one or two hit to help balance out a roster that has some small players (and is hoping to add a few more in the near future). At the time, Tuch had a high enough floor to make him a reasonable bet to make the NHL.
Tuch’s sophomore year wasn’t great as he took a step back. His skating isn’t a strong point and even his in-zone awareness isn’t as good as it should be at this point. His shot is better than his goal totals would suggest if you’re looking for some optimism on the skill side.
He can grind it out and play physically, elements that this organization doesn’t have a lot of. Frankly, they’re elements the Habs can certainly use. But he profiles as a player that was built for the NHL a few years ago, not necessarily the current one, especially on a roster that’s looking to play more up-tempo. That puts him in the trajectory of being more of a fourth liner. The fact he’s not lower shows that I still think he can get to the NHL but I’m not as confident in that assertion now as I was originally.
2021-22 Stats: 26 GP, 6-4-10, +10 rating, 16 PIMS, 59 shots, 15 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 14th
NHL ETA: 2024-25/2025-26 – Physically, Tuch is ready enough to turn pro now and forego his senior season. However, if that happens, he’s going to need at least a full season in Laval if not longer before he’s ready to push for a spot on a fourth line that should look a bit different at that time compared to what it has been for most of this season.
21) Mattias Norlinder
Defenceman, Frolunda (SHL)
3rd round pick (62nd overall) in 2019
I have to admit, I was one that bought into the hype from his 2020-21 season. With regular minutes, he showed some improvement defensively and with the offensive upside he had shown in flashes, big things were ahead. Or not.
Last season was a rough one for Norlinder who was injured in training camp. He got a handful of games in with the Habs and with Laval before the team rightly decided to send him back to Sweden. However, he never really found his footing and was used more sparingly in a depth role in the second half. Norlinder returned to Laval for the playoffs and promptly was injured again. Basically, nothing went right, hardly the start to the entry-level deal the Habs wanted.
Norlinder hasn’t changed much from when he was drafted. He has the willingness to join the rush but aside from that willingness to play in transition, there’s no ‘wow’ offensive factor. Defensively, he’s not the type of player that can be relied on, nor is he the most physical. Being a strong skater is one thing but it needs to be paired with another important element to realistically get him in the NHL mix. Until he develops that, he’s going to be a secondary prospect, not a core one.
2021-22 Stats: 21 GP, 0-2-2, -7 rating, 2 PIMS, 29 shots, 10 blocks, 18 hits, 15:02 TOI
Previous HW Ranking: 6th
NHL ETA: 2024-25 – He’s already seen spot NHL duty but this timeline lines up with when Norlinder will be waiver-eligible. He needs to play heavy minutes in Laval to see if there’s something that can still be developed to help him stand out in the crowded left side of Montreal’s prospect pool.