Our fourth group of prospects in this year’s rankings includes a 2021 draft pick that is starting to boost his stock in the organization plus one of Montreal’s more intriguing goalie prospects.
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.
30) William Trudeau
Defenceman, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
4th round pick (113th overall) in 2021
We’re now at the point of the rankings where the sheer volume of additions to the organization is starting to contribute to players falling down the rankings. That’s what happened with Trudeau who winds up with one of the bigger drops compared to a year ago despite not really doing much to deserve it.
Last season, Trudeau didn’t take a big jump forward offensively. However, he was able to maintain the pace of his surge in production from the pandemic-shortened year, a jump that not many were expecting. Simply holding that level of scoring was pretty good for a defender. He followed that up with a strong playoff performance and basically proved to the Habs that he was too good to go back for his overage year.
But where I get hung up a bit with Trudeau is the translatability of his offensive skills to the pros. With Charlottetown, he was a legitimate two-way player but there’s no ‘wow’ element that stands out as well above average. He’s an okay skater with a good shot and while he isn’t an elite defender, he’s dependable enough.
However, a player that’s more or less decent across the board in junior doesn’t typically go on to have a whole lot of success in the pros. They’re players that can carve out a respectable minor pro career but to really get himself in the conversation with Montreal, one or two parts of his game are going to have to take a big step forward. He has his entry-level deal now so he’ll have some time to try to make that happen and the early returns show that he should jump back up again in the rankings next season.
2021-22 Stats: 68 GP, 8-36-44, +30 rating, 51 PIMS, 153 shots
Previous HW Ranking: 21st
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – At a minimum, Trudeau will need to play out his entry-level deal before being considered for an NHL opportunity. By then, he should have been able to elevate a few parts of his game but one more year (if he can clear waivers to get there) could place him in that top role, one that would prepare him for a serious look at the top level.
29) Frederik Dichow
Goaltender, Kristianstads (Allsvenskan)
5th round pick (138th overall) in 2019
One of my biggest concerns with Dichow is that he had hardly played in his first two post-draft seasons. That’s hard for any player but goaltenders especially as they need reps. Bouncing around as a third-string option in Denmark was the best he could do during the pandemic but that wasn’t great for development.
That’s what made last season at least a little bit encouraging as he at least landed in a spot where he was in a timeshare. It still wasn’t starter minutes but Sweden’s second tier is a decent league for a young goalie and, to Dichow’s credit, he was much better than his teammate, a Rangers prospect. Unfortunately, that’s where the encouraging part ends.
Dichow opted to move up to the SHL this season which, in itself, is understandable. But he opted to join a strong Frolunda program that already had an established starter. Now, he’s back to seeing limited minutes. It’s possible that he’ll have played in less than 100 games in four years since being drafted. To make matters worse, he has another year left on his deal in Sweden. That doesn’t preclude an NHL contract but he’d have to go back overseas for the first year of it.
Could that be enough to deter the Habs from signing him? It could be and that’s why he’s here on the list and not higher as his play from last season would have otherwise warranted.
2021-22 Stats: 28 GP, 18-9-0 record, 2.27 GAA, .930 SV%, 4 SO
Previous HW Ranking: 29th
NHL ETA: 2025-26 – This is still a fairly long timeline for someone that’s already in his fourth year after being drafted but Dichow simply needs to get more game reps in. With the way things are going, that’s going to take a while.
28) Ty Smilanic
Centre, Quinnipiac (NCAA)
Acquired in trade with Florida in 2022
Smilanic is someone whose stock was relatively high a couple of years ago but has slipped since then. Viewed by many as a second-round talent, he slipped to the third due to injuries and it looked like Florida had a steal on their hands after a strong rookie season. That got him on the World Junior radar (he made the pre-pandemic squad) and things were looking up.
But since then? Yikes. He struggled in the second half despite being on a strong team and then somewhat surprisingly entered the transfer portal (landing at Wisconsin for this year). He wasn’t on the long list of invitees for the do-over World Juniors as well and while some potential returnees opted out, I’m not sure he was even invited. That’s a pretty sharp drop in a matter of months.
There’s a lot to like about Smilanic who can play both centre and the wing, is a good skater, and has a decent scoring touch. Or, at least, had a decent scoring touch as the dip in production carried over to his new school. The raw tools are there for him to become a viable middle-six NHL prospect, especially since he can hold his own defensively. However, there’s no denying that his stock has dipped sharply. That’s not what the Habs were hoping for when they asked for him in the Ben Chiarot trade, that’s for sure.
2021-22 Stats: 41 GP, 13-10-23, +16 rating, 34 PIMS, 84 shots, 9 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: N/A
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026/27 – At this point, part of me thinks taking the bonus year might be his best course of action, giving him two cracks at trying to rebuild his value before needing a year in the minors. He wasn’t supposed to be a project but at this point, that’s exactly what Smilanic is.
27) Blake Biondi
Right Wing, Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
4th round pick (109th overall) in 2020
After getting his feet wet in a very limited role in his freshman year, Biondi moved up the lineup last season and was impressive, becoming an impactful power forward for the Bulldogs. While he didn’t get a spot, he was invited to USA’s mini-camp for the summer World Juniors, a nice reward for what was a solid season.
So, why is he down here? There are a couple of reasons. One is that I had some questions about whether the offensive output was repeatable or if he’d take a step back in that regard. The second is his skating. While it has improved since being drafted, it’s still below average at the college level. That translates to well below average in the pros. The NHL is transitioning towards more and more speed, even from their fourth liners which simply doesn’t bode well for Biondi.
While this didn’t factor in these rankings, it’s at least worth noting that Biondi’s season ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury which isn’t ideal for development. He’s likely to slip a bit in the rankings next year as a result. Montreal doesn’t have a lot of size up front in their system so there’s definitely room for a player like Biondi to fill a need but he has a bit of an uphill battle to go still.
2021-22 Stats: 42 GP, 17-11-28, +15 rating, 16 PIMS, 122 shots, 8 blocks
Previous HW Ranking: 31st
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – Unlike Smilanic, I don’t see a need for Biondi to opt for the bonus year but he’s going to need to spend some time in the minors adapting to the professional game. More importantly, he’ll need a few more years of gradual improvements to get his skating up to a level that will give him a chance in Montreal.
26) Xavier Simoneau
Centre/Left Wing, Charlottetown (WMJHL)
6th round pick (191st overall) in 2021
Expectations were high for Simoneau last season, going back to a high-scoring league in his overage year. It’s safe to say he met them. While he was 14th in league scoring, he was third in points per game behind only a first-round pick and a certain Montreal prospect who will appear later in this series. Pretty good company to be in.
The biggest knock on Simoneau is his size. Skill-wise, he’s a pretty talented offensive player but it’s hard to overcome being 5’7. That’s why he was passed up twice in the draft before the Habs picked him in his final year of eligibility as part of a recent trend of drafting older QMJHL players with late-round picks to avoid having to battle other teams to get them in free agency. (Put me down as a fan of that strategy, by the way.)
Simoneau got off to a good start with Laval this season which prompted me to bump him up a bit from where he was originally slotted. There is definitely a feistiness to his game that has helped him adapt to playing against bigger and stronger competition. Is that going to get him to the NHL? It’s too early to tell but he’s showing enough with the Rocket to be worthy of a longer look and the Habs felt the same way, handing him an entry-level deal earlier this week. Already, that’s a pretty good outcome for a late sixth-rounder on its own.
2021-22 Stats: 48 GP, 24-62-86, +43 rating, 55 PIMS, 119 shots, 55.8% faceoffs
Previous HW Ranking: 33rd
NHL ETA: 2025-26/2026-27 – If Simoneau follows the path of Rafael Harvey-Pinard, it’s likely that he’d see spot NHL action before this point. But it’s going to take a few years for him to play his way into consideration for a regular role, hence the longer timeline.