Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top 10 Habs Prospects Yet to Play in NHL

[Top 10s Archive]

With the draft well behind us and the summer's development camps complete, it seems like a good time to take inventory of the Habs' prospect system to see what kinds of players are in the pipeline coming up. For many drafted 2-4 years ago, it will be a pivotal season in establishing their potential future ceiling and role.

While it is debatable which players should be considered for this list, we will include only players who haven't played a game in the NHL and are 23 years of age or younger. By this classification, then, all of the following players who otherwise would have cracked the list are excluded: Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist, Brendon Nash, Rafael Diaz, and Alexei Yemelin.

10) Alain Berger, RW
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) and/or Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

We covered the undrafted signee Swiss-born Berger in a Player Spotlight not long ago, so we'll suffice it to say that we look forward to seeing what he can do at the pro level this year. His combination of frame and hands make him an intriguing potential power forward in the future if his offense can translate at a higher level.

9) Greg Pateryn, D
2011-12: University of Michigan (NCAA)

While most of the organization's young blueliners tend to be focused on developing their offensive games, Pateryn is a nice compliment in that he is a defense-first player. Still, the 6'3", 214 lbs American acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Mikhail Grabovsky trade vastly improved his offensive production last season as a 20 year old with a high of 17 points, smashing the prior season's total of 6. He seems committed to another season in Michigan alongside fellow prospect Mac Bennett, but should be signed to join the Bulldogs at year's end.

8) Michael Bournival, C
2011-12: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Bournival is a two-way forward who had a strong enough season in the QMJHL that he was the final cut from Team Canada's World Junior Championship roster. The 19 year old acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O'Byrne should be a shoe-in to make the squad this season, his final before turning pro. It remains to be seen if the Quebec native will be able to produce at a higher level, but even if not, he seems like a safe bet as a future third line contributor who can play a checking role.

7) Brendan Gallagher, RW
2011-12: Vancouver Giants (WHL)

The biggest knock on Gallagher is definitely his size at 5'8" and 170 lbs, but he's doing all he can to follow in the footsteps of the David Desharnais and Brian Giontas of this world. Another player likely to play for Canada at this year's WJC, Gallagher had a great season interrupted with a minor injury, but still managed to return for 4 of his team's playoff games. Many thought his offensive production would go south when linemate Craig Cunningham was traded away from the Giants, but he maintained his pace and finished a full 40 points ahead of his closest teammate with 91 on the season (including 44 goals).

6) Alexander Avtsin, RW
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
(pictured above)

Many were excited to see Avtsin perform in the American Hockey League last year, but as the league's youngest player, he saw little ice time, often sitting as a healthy scratch. Avtsin remains an interesting young player with slick offensive instincts and a 6'3", 188 lbs frame. It will be a pivotal season for the young Russian as he'll need to establish himself as a top 6 forward with the Bulldogs or will likely return to the KHL at the termination of his contract.

5) Mac Bennett, D
2011-12: University of Michigan (NCAA)

When drafted in 2009, Bennett's game was compared to that of P.K. Subban, and he has drawn rave reviews for his skating and composure at every Habs development camp he has attended since. Though it is unlikely he'll develop the explosiveness of a Subban and he has unfortunately seen his growth stunt at 5'11" since the age of 18, Bennett should be a can't miss NHL blueliner with top 4 potential. He'll likely be best paired with a bigger defensive d-man, like when playing with Pateryn at the college level.

4) Jarred Tinordi, D
2011-12: London Knights (OHL)

Tinordi is a big, tough blueliner, standing a towering 6'7" and 212 lbs. In his rookie season in the OHL last year, he racked up 140 PIM in 63 games, and after a slow start was seen as one of the most improved players on his team. By year's end, he was playing close to 30 minutes on a regular basis for the Knights, and though his offensive game is likely to resemble Hal Gill's more than Zdeno Chara, he does posses a big shot which he may someday grow into as he adapts to his frame. A project player who might need time and/or handholding, Tinordi does have top pairing or at least top 4 potential.

3) Danny Kristo, RW
2011-12: University of North Dakota (NCAA)

Despite a disappointing season offensively (28 points in 34 games, down from 36 in 41), Kristo worked this year to round out his game and as such now seems like a safer prospect with a solid two-way game. He is likely to return to college given that he missed a chunk of games with frostbite last year, but should join the Bulldogs for 2012-13 to continue his development. Average-sized at just under 6'0", Kristo played a full season with Louis Leblanc in Omaha in 2008-09, and the pair should be reunited in Hamilton.

2) Louis Leblanc, C
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

Montreal's first round selection in 2009, Leblanc left Harvard after 1 season to join the Junior in the QMJHL. Now 20 years old and with a contract in his back pocket, he is ready to turn pro, and shouldn't have a tough time cracking the Bulldogs given their lack of offensive depth at the center position. Leblanc battled injury throughout the season which hampered his production and required surgery once the Junior were eliminated from the post-season. He still managed to produce at over a point-per-game clip, though his poor numbers in the face-off circle mean he may someday have to convert to the wing. Average-sized at 6'0" and 180 lbs, Leblanc likely projects as a 2nd line center, but his tenacious backchecking abilities mean that he will slot in on a third line in the worst case scenario.

1) Nathan Beaulieu, D
2011-12: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Many knowledgeable hockey "experts" had Beaulieu in the top 10 or at least top 15 of the 2011 NHL draft, so when he fell to #17, the Canadiens couldn't help but snatch him up. Despite his family name, Beaulieu doesn't speak French (though he has been taking lessons over the summer), but Habs fans will be quick to overlook this fact if he continues to develop as he projects. At 6'3", 191 lbs, he will be a big body on the back end who is a firstly a mobile puck-mover. Producing 45 points each of the last 2 seasons on stacked Saint John rosters, Beaulieu should be a candidate to give Montreal a third member of Team Canada over the Christmas holidays. Perhaps the best news is that according to many reports, Beaulieu matured a lot in his game over the course of the season, making better decisions on when and how to jump into the rush, and improving his defensive play.

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