August 32-In-32: Montreal Canadiens

Aaron Itovitch

2023-08-17

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Welcome to the August 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.

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Just over two years ago, the Canadiens were three games away from bringing Lord Stanley back to Montreal (and to Canada) for the first time in nearly 30 years.

A new head coach, new front office, a last place finish, a first overall pick, and another rough season later, more questions surround the Canadiens than ever.

The team with arguably the deepest prospect pool in the league still lacks the elite talent necessary for non-fluke playoff success, and as the team moves closer to competitiveness, that is the main worry.

In an Atlantic division where the Buffalo Sabres looks poised to be contenders for the better part of a generation, and where the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings are both entering their prime, there isn’t much room for the Canadiens to ‘squeak in’ to the playoffs.

 

Off-Season Moves

The Canadiens haven’t had the busiest off-season, but they have made some interesting moves.

Alex Newhook Acquisition

Alex Newhook was acquired the day before the draft for the 31st overall pick (Mikhail Gulyayev), the 37th overall pick (Ethan Gauthier), and prospect Gianna Fairbrother.

This was a big price to pay, as Newhook’s stock has taken a hit over the past two seasons, but in the right situation he could be a great piece. He’s an intelligent forechecker with high-end speed. He’s the type of player that matches Martin St-Louis’ all-offense philosophy, and will either be a great complementary top-six piece or a truly fantastic third-line centre.

I personally believe that he best route would be to continue to develop him as a centre in hopes he exceeds expectations at his native position, but it is entirely possible that the team chooses to find his fit with one of our two defined top-six centres in Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki.

 

Erik Karlsson Trade

This headline of course is very misleading, as the Canadiens clearly didn’t acquire Erik Karlsson, but they were an integral piece in making the deal happen between the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Acquiring former Hab Jeff Petry, goaltender Casey DeSmith, prospect Nathan Légaré, and a 2nd round pick, this deal was already a win on net value alone. Getting rid of Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick in the deal made it an absolute slam dunk from Kent Hughes and Habs management.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Canadiens, the third team in this deal, came out as the big winners.

DeSmith isn’t going to be an impact piece in Montreal, and will likely be moved for a late round pick before the start of the season.

Légaré was reportedly highly coveted by Canadiens management in 2019, but that must be taken with a grain of salt considering the way the Canadiens drafted under Marc Bergevin. He’s a depth winger who can hit effectively; and has above average intelligence. He lacks quite a bit of a pace and needs to seriously improve his skating if he ever hopes to make the NHL. With the Laval Rocket ready to be top contenders in the AHL, the move certainly can’t hurt.

A second round pick is great value, especially considering we essentially got it in direct exchange for Mike Hoffman.

Finally, Jeff Petry, who was traded on Monday to the Detroit Red Wings was about as controversial in his week long reunion with the Canadiens as he was near the end of his first tenure.

 

Jeff Petry Trade

It’s no secret that Jeff Petry had no intention of playing another game for the Canadiens. Whatever went down between the two parties prior to his trade clearly severed the ties, and his short stint in Montreal actually lasted longer than anybody anticipated.

His trade to Detroit brought the Canadiens defenseman Gustav Lindstrom, and a fourth round pick in 2025.

This is an underwhelming return, considering the team is retaining for two years, but it became very clear in the post-trade press conference that the team just wanted to do right by Petry. Petry will get the chance to play for his hometown team, in the city where his father played professional baseball.

Petry’s value would have been much higher at the deadline, but it wouldn’t have been right to bring Petry back to the city he so dramatically left just a year ago.

Lindstrom is an interesting player, who has been filling NHL minutes since he was 23. The Canadiens seem bullish on his potential, with Hughes citing that his pro scouts believe that he is only at 70% of his potential.

He has struggled both in the eye-test and analytically in his small sample size, so it will be interesting to see how he grows in the organization.

 

Projected Opening Night Lineup:

Monahan-Suzuki-Caufield

Anderson-Dach-Harvey-Pinard

Slafkovsky-Newhook-Ylonen

Evans-Dvorak-Gallagher

Armia-Pezzetta

 

Guhle-Savard

Matheson-Barron

Harris-Kovacevic

Xhekaj

 

Montembault

Allen

Primeau

 

While the Canadiens made tidy work in getting rid of Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick, there are still too many people fighting for roster spots.

Sean Monahan is arguably the teams’ best trade chip – a top-six calibre player making just under two-million dollars this year. Playing him on the top line could raise his stock and bring the team a kings’ ransom come deadline time.

While I don’t find them to be a particularly perfect duo (that award goes to Kirby Dach and Cole Caufield), I believe the organization will keep Nick Suzuki and Caufield together.

While analytically they haven’t been great, hopefully Nick Suzuki can gain back some of the defensive game that made his such a highly-touted prospect and that earned him his $63-million contract back in 2021. He’s more valuable to the team as a Selke-candidate 60-point player than a guy pushing a point-per-game who gets crushed at 5v5 consistently.

Graduates

Graduates From Junior:

 

Joshua Roy

Joshua Roy’s story of perseverance and self-improvement is a great one. Now five years removed from being the first overall pick in the QMJHL, he will be making his jump to professional hockey. His time in junior saw him gain a reputation to be lazy and to lack passion, but he rebounded following his draft in 2021.

One of Marc Bergevin’s best picks in his tenure with Montreal, Roy looks like he’ll be a steady middle-six NHLer. He seldom steals the spotlight, but every line needs a complementary piece. Expect him to play top-six minutes with the Laval Rocket this season.

 

Riley Kidney

A second-round pick in 2021, Kidney has grown significantly as a player. I personally wasn’t a big fan of him for a long time, as his sheltered perimeter play brought up red flags more often than not. This season, however, he turned things around, and entirely changes his NHL projection. Playing almost the entire season at centre, Kidney exploded production-wise, and also became much more middle-driven.

Kidney could very well play with the AHL’s Rocket, but could see himself start the season in the ECHL due to the abundance of players who need playing time.

 

Logan Mailloux

While Gary Bettman and the NHL’s decision on whether Mailloux will be eligible to play in the league is still unknown, Mailloux is likely to start the season with the Laval Rocket.

The toolsy right-shot defenseman looked great in the OHL this year, and it will be incredibly interesting to see how he adapts his game to pro hockey.

 

Jared Davidson

Davidson is a divisive prospect due to his high-end junior production. He plays a slower game than most, but there is clearly IQ in his game. Due to his pacing and the lack of roster space, I expect him to spend the bulk of this season in the ECHL.

 

Vincenz Rohrer

While still eligible to play in junior, Rohrer signed a two-year deal in the NL and will play pro hockey this upcoming season. On a strong Ottawa 67s team, he didn’t have the opportunity to shine. Hopefully this move will give him the chance to show the type of player he is.

 

Risers:

 

Rafael Harvey-Pinard

Harvey-Pinard grew a lot this season, and locked himself in as an NHLer. The 2019 7th round pick is exceeding all expectations, and could very well start the season in the Habs’ top-six.

 

Kaiden Guhle

After a phenomenal rookie season (where he should have gotten some Calder love!), Guhle will spend the entire season in the Canadiens’ top-four. The 2020 16th overall pick proved a lot of people wrong last season, and will continue to this year.

 

Jonathan Kovacevic

While far from a young player at this point, at 26 years old, Kovacevic’s rookie NHL season was a joy to watch. His instant and high-end chemistry with Jordan Harris made the two one of the best analytical pairings imaginable on a rebuilding team, and Kovacevic proved himself as a consistent and capable NHL defenseman.

Signed just above league minimum for two more years, Kovacevic will either stay an important piece of the organization, or be traded to a contender looking for cheap help. Either way, the waiver claim is looking very good.

 

Fallers:

 

Filip Mesar

As much as I love Filip Mesar, it’s no secret that his D+1 campaign was disappointing. His first and only season in the OHL saw him put up under a point-per-game, and unfortunate defensive metrics.

He will begin next season with the Laval Rocket, where he will hopefully find his footing. It is WAY too soon to discount him as a prospect, as he exudes potential still.

 

Cayden Primeau

If there needed to be any other indication that Cayden Primeau had fallen out of favour with the organization, drafting three goaltenders was it.

Primeau was once thought of as the next star Canadiens goaltender, but has been unsteady in every NHL stint he’s had thus far. His most likely outcome is to hit the waiver wire out of training camp, where he may or may not be claimed.

Barring an exceptional training camp, he truly is the odd-man out, especially with Jakub Dobes ready to take the reins in Laval.

 

Jesse Ylonen

I love Jesse Ylonen due to his high-end skating and intelligence, but he seems to have fallen a bit in terms of his standing in the organization. While Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Lucas Condotta both earned two-year deals, Ylonen got one-year. While he should be an NHL mainstay this season, it will be interesting to see what the organization actually believes he can be.

No longer waiver-exempt, Ylonen could find himself in the hands of another team. Smart teams like Tampa and Seattle could see Ylonen as a perfect fit — I doubt he would clear all 32 teams.

 

Organizational Depth Chart:

LW:

Caufield

Harvey-Pinard

Pezzetta

Farrell

Condotta

Heineman

Tuch

F. Xhekaj

Pitlick

Harris

C:

Suzuki

Dach

Monahan

Newhook

Dvorak

Evans

Beck

Maillet

Stephens

Mysak

Kidney

Simoneau

Kapanen

Smilanic

Smith

Biondi

Guindon

Davidson

Eriksson

Gordin

RW:

Anderson

Gallagher

Armia

Ylonen

Mesar

Roy

Légaré

Rohrer

LD:

Matheson

Guhle

Harris

Xhekaj

Struble

Norlinder

Trudeau

Beaudin

Hutson

Engstrom

Nurmi

Mittelstadt

RD:

Savard

Kovacevic

Barron

Lindstrom

Wideman

Reinbacher

Keeper

Mailloux

Kostenko

Konyushkov

Sobolev

Tourigny

G:

Montembault

Allen

DeSmith

Primeau

Dobes

Vrbetic

Fowler

Miller

Volokhin

Croteau

 

This just highlights how incredibly deep the organization is. There are so many players who could be worthy of NHL contracts and roster spots, but the needed star talent clearly lacks.

 

Top-20 Prospects

  1. Hutson
  2. Reinbacher
  3. Beck
  4. Engstrom
  5. Mesar
  6. Roy
  7. Kidney
  8. Fowler
  9. Struble
  10. Trudeau
  11. Heineman
  12. Dobes
  13. Rohrer
  14. Simoneau
  15. Mailloux
  16. Konyushkov
  17. Guindon
  18. Miller
  19. Tourigny
  20. Mittelstadt

Thank you for reading!

You can follow me on X @itovitch

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