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.
Barron is one of the only right-shot defensive prospects in the Habs’ system with real tangible upside. He may not play the entire season with the Habs (I for one believe that a year in Laval would benefit his development), but he flashed skill and physicality in his seven games with the Habs last season that could earn him a spot in the opening night lineup. His fantasy ceiling is decidedly higher than Harris’ due to his offensive toolkit, love of shooting the puck, and physicality.
Montembeault played a career-high 38 games last season and is likely to start around 30 again this year, with Carey Price out for at least the season (and likely his career). His .891 SV% looks awful, but considering the quality of defense he played behind, he probably should not even have saved that many pucks. Jake Allen also has a history of injuries, and if he goes down, Montembeault will take on the bulk of the starts, making him an underrated fantasy option.
On the Cusp
Ylonen deserves to be a full-time NHLer this season, and on any other rebuilding team he would be a top-nine guy, but the Canadiens have a strange abundance of bottom-six veteran wingers, which will likely keep the Finn primarily in the AHL for one final season. He is skilled, the best skater in the Habs’ organization, intelligent, defensively responsible, and has a canon of a shot, which makes him an easy projection to be a solid middle-six contributor for the Habs very soon and a highly underrated fantasy piece.
Guhle has a real chance of cracking the Habs’ opening night lineup, but finds himself on the cusp due to Justin Barron’s NHL experience, even though I believe Guhle’s game to be more refined and NHL-ready. If he is not in the NHL this year, he will be logging heavy minutes in Laval, growing his offensive game, and learning the in’s and out’s of pro hockey. He hits hard and he hits often and he loves to shoot the puck, so his fantasy value in dynasty leagues is significant.
Take what I said about Guhle’s physicality and put it on steroids. Xhekaj loves three things more than anything: hitting, inflicting pain, taking penalties. If your league gives a lot of value to players who hit, block shots, and take penalties, Xhekaj is the prospect for you. He is also surprisingly skilled with the puck, intelligent in his defensive positioning, and calculated in his transition defense, which will help him earn an NHL role at some point. He will likely need at least a year in the AHL to learn to be more disciplined, but a long-term third-pairing role is a real possibility for the Hamiltonian.
RHP is already a fan-favourite in Montreal, having earned the nickname “Lavallagher” for his tenacity in an undersized frame. He is a likely fourth liner in the NHL within two years and could fulfil that role for a very long time. He shoots the puck a lot and scores from the gritty areas, which gives him some fantasy value, but he is more than likely already been snapped up in your fantasy league by a Habs fan whose heart has already been won over by Lavallagher.
Roy is more than likely to return to the QMJHL this season, but there is an outside chance he cracks the Habs’ roster out of camp. He is smart enough to play in the NHL, with a refined understanding of space and timing. His performance in last year’s training camp was very impressive, displaying an unexpected tenacity and excellent off-puck positioning. While I am more skeptical than most on his actual NHL upside, I think that a third line role is the most likely outcome of his development, which is tremendous for a fifth-round pick.
Farrell was already a well-regarded prospect for the Habs, having put together arguably the most dominant USHL season of the past decade in his D+1 season, but proving his ability to translate his high-end playmaking and intelligence to the NCAA entrenched him as a prospect with genuine top-six upside. The diminutive winger plays with pace, attacks the slot, executes passes that few others in college would even see, and has a lethal one-timer.
Yeah I know I just wrote about him already, but he belongs in this category too, as he went from a slightly chubby kid picked in the fifth round to the QMJHL’s top scorer and a top-six contributor at the WJC in the span of one year.
Goalies are weird, and they always take a long time to develop. Dobes was an erratic overager in the USHL when the Habs drafted him in 2020, now he is coming off the back of an elite rookie season in the NCAA. His .934 SV% through 35 games was the third best in collegiate hockey among goaltenders who played at least 15 games, behind Devon Levi (who put up a historic campaign) and Yaniv Perets. While many goalies have wow’ed in college and failed to translate that ability to the NHL, this was a very encouraging season for the Czech netminder.
The younger Tuch scored at a decent pace as a freshman but his simplistic style of play – purely North-South and lacking planning, deception, and pace – really impacted his sophomore production, scoring just six goals and 10 points in 26 NCAA games. This regression in production was not unforeseeable but it does confirm some doubts around his NHL upside.
Norlinder’s stock has nosedived in the last year, going from one of the top three defensive prospects in the system to a virtually forgotten player. This is due to his struggle of bouncing back from an injury he suffered at training camp last season and he did not catch his footing until the SHL playoffs. He will play the full season in the Habs’ system this year and it is truly a make-or-break season for the Swede. One promising thing, however, is that in the first rookie tournament game of this season, he played big minutes alongside Justin Barron and demonstrated the high-end skill and creativity that had made him a fan favourite not so long ago, he will need to bring this level of play with far more consistency to regain his footing as a top prospect in the Habs’ system..
Organizational Depth Chart
(Combination of NHL readiness and upside)
Top 20 Fantasy Prospects
This section is intended to paint a picture of the Montreal Canadiens prospects whose current trajectory projects them making the most positive fantasy impact at the time that they reach the NHL. Arrival date and NHL certainty have been taken into consideration. However, a player’s potential upside is the most important factor in determining this list.
- Juraj Slafkovsky
- Lane Hutson
- Filip Mesar
- Kaiden Guhle
- Sean Farrell
- Owen Beck
- Jesse Ylonen
- Justin Barron
- Joshua Roy
- Jordan Harris
- Jayden Struble
- Emil Heineman
- Mattias Norlinder
- Jan Mysak
- Oliver Kapanen
- Riley Kidney
- Arber Xhekaj
- Logan Mailloux
- Miguël Tourigny
- Vinzenz Rohrer
Thanks for reading!
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