Welcome to the September 2022 edition of the DobberProspects 32-in-32 Series. This month, we are diving into the depth of each organization, looking at their recent graduates, risers, fallers and top-20 prospects.
The Canadiens are entering a new era, one built around youth and skill and led by creative and modern hockey minds. The next season or two will be the final steps towards accumulating the high-end young talent to form the core of the team, as despite picking first overall in 2022, the Habs still lack a franchise player and a defensive prospect who projects as a true #1.
The approach Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton are taking to achieve the goal of building a team that will sustainably contend for the Stanley Cup is to surround youth with skilled veterans with a high hockey IQ to help stimulate development. The ice time of the future core will also not be threatened due to poor results, which fosters an environment where players are not afraid – and are actually encouraged – to make mistakes and to learn from them.
While Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have graduated from the prospect pool, they are succeeded by a wide array of young players. While the pool may lack the high-end upside of the Rangers’ or Sabres’, it may boast the most impressive depth of any pool in the league. The bottom half of the Habs’ future lineup is already taken care of, as is at least half of the future top-six, which is already a great starting point.
The biggest question mark in the Habs’ system at this point in time is on defense, and the first pairing specifically. Kaiden Guhle and Lane Hutson are likely the only two players who could possibly reach first-pairing level, and even then, neither projects as a #1. This is unlikely to change in the 2023 draft, as it is a class heavy on forward talent and light on the defensive end, at the very least in the first round.
The Habs have time to figure this out, however. Suzuki and Caufield (and even Dach) will be the senior elements of the future core, and they are 23 and 21 years old respectively. The new Habs captain led the team with 61 points in 82 games last season and will look to build on that this year, while the undersized sniper who scored 22 goals and 35 points in 37 games under Martin St. Louis will aim to break the 30, or even 35, goal mark for the first time.
This season’s wild card will be Juraj Slafkovsky, the most recent first-overall pick, who will undoubtedly make his NH debut this year whether or not he spends the entire season in Montreal remains unknown. Fans should not expect him to shoot the lights out as a rookie; production along the lines of Kotkaniemi’s in his rookie campaign would be a fairer expectation to set for the Slovak (11 goals and 34 points) if he spends the whole year in the NHL.
Slafkovsky will likely play a decent amount of NHL minutes this season and look comfortable doing so. His physicality, puck protection ability, edgework, and one-touch game will really ease his transition to the NHL. He will likely be a middle-six player if he does stay in the big leagues and has added fantasy value in multi-cat leagues with emphasis on hits.
Harris is a good bet to play the full season in Montreal. The smooth-skating left-shot defenseman played almost his entire collegiate career on the right side, which will offer St. Louis added lineup flexibility on the back end. While Harris is not a high-end fantasy piece, as his game is built around his mobility and intelligence rather than high-octane offence or physicality, his steady presence and likelihood of playing around 17 minutes a night this season make him a decent depth option.