Friday, March 16, 2012

Habs Top 10 Prospects - March 2012

With the regular seasons of most Montreal Canadiens prospects either complete or nearly so, it's time to put together an updated ranking of where those in the system stand.

The Top 10 list below was created including only players who have yet to play a game in the NHL. That disqualifies some young players like Louis Leblanc, Blake Geoffrion, Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist, and Brendon Nash who may have otherwise made the list.

Something still missing from the list is bonafide starpower (at least at the forward position), which is re-emphasizes the need for a high selection this June to draft a big scorer.

To set the stage, here's the list last time I posted one back in July '11:

Trending downwards:
There was expectation that Alexander Avtsin would take a big step forward in his second season in North America, but unfortunately the opposite occurred, not even able to replicate last year's 20 AHL points. Avtsin remains under contract, but it wouldn't entirely surprise me to see him loaned to a KHL team for next year. Alain Berger was included on July's list as a wildcard, and his footspeed has meant a difficult adaptation to the AHL level despite a strong rookie camp back in September.

And now for the good news...

Top 10 Hab Prospects Yet to Play in the NHL

HM: Mac Bennett, D - Michigan Wolverines - NCAA
Bennett was number 5 on the previous version of this lost, but to be fair, his fall is really no fault of his own. The 5'11" American defender has set career highs in goals (4), assists (16), points (20), and games played (38), so nothing more could really be asked of him, but he falls in the depth chart because of some outstanding seasons by other members of this list. Bennett has completed two seasons in Michigan, so he is likely to return there taking on an even bigger role next season given the number of players already slated to turn pro and join the Hamilton Bulldogs this summer.

10) Steve Quailer, RW - Northeastern University - NCAA
After missing all of 2009-10 due to injury, Quailer had a disappointing 2010-11, unable to match the production of his rookie year. The 6'4", 200 lbs winger has turned it up a notch this season, flirting with the point-per-game mark throughout the year (currently at 25 points in 26 games). He is a good skater for such a big body, but isn't seen as a defensive forward, meaning he should be a boom-or-bust top 6 winger. Because of the missed season, despite the fact that he'll turn 23 this summer, he still has one year of NCAA eligibility, so the Canadiens might opt to leave him at the collegiate ranks to continue developing.

9) Greg Pateryn, D - Michigan Wolverines - NCAA
Pateryn holds steady at #9 on the list with a season that has regularly earned him his coach's praise. As a college senior, he has developed his all-around game, using his 6'3", 214 lbs frame to dish out big hits and shutdown opposing forwards on a pairing with the more offensive-oriented Mac Bennett. The Canadiens need to sign him once his season is up, but it seems like a no-brainer move and he should be an interesting player to watch as a 22-year old at the AHL level next year.

8) Patrick Holland, RW - Tri-City Americans - WHL
In a vacuum, Holland's numbers this season are certainly eye-catching. He has bested his production of last season by more than 50%, recording 24-goals and 83 assists for 107 points in 70 games. He became the first WHL player since Todd Robinson in 1996-97 to top the 80-assist mark in a single season. Are things too good to be true in the 6'0", 175 lbs winger's case? Unfortunately, there may be a catch. Though Holland is presently riding a ridiculous 18-game point streak over which he has collected 4 goals and 33 assists, he remains only third on his team in scoring, behind both of his linemates, Adam Hughesman and league leader Brendan Shinnimin. In his last two outings, for example, Holland finished a team worst -4 in a 5-4 loss despite recording 2 assists, and collected only one helper in a 5-3 win despite his linemates scoring 3 and 4 points respectively. Of course Holland's production is nothing to scoff at and he deserves congratulations on a great season, but let's wait to see how he handles himself with the Bulldogs next year before proclaiming him an up-and-coming star.

7) Darren Dietz, D - Saskatoon Blades - WHL
The 6'1", 195 lbs defender is looking like an absolute steal as a 5th round selection last June. Dietz was seen as a solid two-way d-man, able to drop the gloves and dish out some nice hits, while also never afraid to jump into the rush. He took his offensive game to another level this season, setting career highs in goals (15), assists (27), and points (42, compared to 27 last year). There is no rush with Dietz who will return for another season in Saskatoon next year (followed by at least one or more in Hamilton), but a strong rookie camp last Fall followed by a good season this year are encouraging signs.

6) Morgan Ellis, D - Shawinigan Cataractes - QJMHL
Ellis has been a revelation for many this year, stepping up in a big way in his final CHL season. Ellis was the captain of the QMJHL bottom-feeding Cape-Breton Screaming Eagles, but was dealt this season to the Memorial Cup hosting Shawinigan Cataractes. Since the deal, the 6'2", 200 lbs d-man has been a point-per-game player, improving to 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points in 59 games on the season. Ellis is a strong two-way player, with a big frame that he uses to play a physical shutdown role on a top pairing with top prospect Brandon Gormley. Ellis recently signed with the Canadiens and will be a Hamilton Bulldog in the Fall.

5) Danny Kristo, RW - University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux - NCAA
Is this the summer the Canadiens finally get the long-awaited
Danny Kristo under contract? We can only hope so, as a fourth season in university is not likely the best path for his development. Talk of off-ice distraction and a seriously scary bout with frostbite derailed the 5'11", 180 lbs winger's 2010-11 season, but he has rebounded in a nice way, topping the point-per-game plateau for the first time in his NCAA career, with 17 goals, 23 assists, and 40 points (each a career high) in 37 games. If the Habs manage to get him under contract once North Dakota's season is done, he may hit the AHL as one of the more NHL-ready prospects given he'll be 22, but fans should remain patient since he'll still need time to adjust to a longer, tougher schedule against bigger and more physical competition. Definitely has top 6 upside, though.

4) Michael Bournival, C - Shawinigan Cataractes - QMJHL
Bournival struggled a bit at this year's WJC due to bad timing with recovering from injury. Though March has been his most difficult month of the season, with just 2 goals and 1 assist in 5 games, the Cataractes' captain has put together an impressive year with 29 goals and 54 points in only 40 games (improving his PPG average from 1.14 last year to 1.35). Bournival is quite average-sized at 6'0", 187 lbs and there are questions about his offensive upside, but he is a very safe prospect, sound defensively and playing a strong cycle game, meaning that even if he doesn't pan out as a top 6 guy, he should have a long career on a third or fourth line.

3) Brendan Gallagher, RW - Vancouver Giants - WHL
Habs fans who don't follow prospects too closely were quickly introduced to Gallagher at last Fall's training camp, where he very nearly earned an audition with the big club, and then reacquainted with him at the World Juniors, where he was among Team Canada's best forwards. The knock on Gallagher, as all are aware, is his size, at 5'8" and 170 lbs. Can a team whose top 6
centers are David Desharnais (5'7", 177 lbs) and Tomas Plekanec (5'11", 198 lbs) plus already has Brian Gionta (5'7", 173 lbs) as a top 6 winger support another miniature-sized scorer? It isn't inconceivable that Gionta is dealt at some point to create a better spot for the young Gallagher, who is likely to start the season with the Bulldogs, unless he severely outplays Louis Leblanc for a third line job in camp and depending on what other moves are made this summer. Like Bournival, Gallagher is also having his slumpiest month of the season, with just 2 goals and 3 assists in 7 games, but he has put together a third consecutive 40-goal WHL campaign, while improving his PPG average from 1.38 to 1.43 (76 in 53 GP). Everyone will be watching closely to see if he can adapt his game to the American League level, with questions surrounding the fact that he plays a hard-nosed, physical, crash-the-net style. Normally this would be a big positive, but at a higher level, given his small frame, if he doesn't change, the punishment he will take may take a toll on his small body quickly.

2) Nathan Beaulieu, D - Saint John Sea Dogs - QMJHL
Though he has yet to be signed, the Canadiens' first round pick last June is eligible to make the leap to the AHL next year already as a late birthday (turning 20 in December). And it would seem that he has nothing left to prove at the junior level, one of only three blueliners at or near the point-per-game level (51 points in 52 games) and tied for fourth overall in Q d-man scoring despite having played far fewer games than everyone above him. Beaulieu showed off his high-risk high-reward game at the WJC, looking impressive in the offensive zone but not earning coach Don Hay's trust defensively. With Saint John, he has shown improvement in his all-around two-way game, and if he adds some muscle to his 6'3", 191 lbs frame, should have no problem handling bigger competition at the next level.

1) Jarred Tinordi, D - London Knights - OHL
There is no guarantee as to who between Tinordi and Beaulieu will end up having the better career, but for his physical readiness and 6'7", 212 lbs frame, I'll hand Tinordi the #1 spot for now. Fortunately, the Canadiens don't have to choose, with two promising youngsters who look like they can play in the team's top 4 on D for years to come. Tinordi modestly bested last season's offensive outputs, scoring 2 goals (up from 1) and 14 assists (up from 13) in 17 fewer games, but more importantly asserted himself as a true leader on and off the ice, being named captain of the OHL's prestigious London Knights. Tinordi plays close to 30 minutes on many nights and is a physical force, taking the body and dropping the gloves with some regularity. He may not bring Zdeno Chara's booming slapshot to the table, but he also brings many elements that a softer Hal Gill never has and thus after turning pro this coming Fall, it may not be long before Hab fans get their first peek at him in a CH jersey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All I can say about that Tinordi hit is OUCH!