Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
Coming off a season that saw the Montreal Canadiens finish 15th in the East and 28th in the NHL, there were numerous changes for the team last offseason. Gone were General Manager Pierre Gauthier and interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth and in were new GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien. Helped by free agent additions to the lineup in Brandon Prust and Francois Bouillon along with two super rookies in Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, the Canadiens turned things around in 2012-13. However perhaps the biggest addition to the team wasn’t a new player but the return of an old one as the Habs finally got a full season out of Andrei Markov. His work helped the team greatly on the powerplay and he was a steadying presence for the club. While Markov seemed to run out of steam late in the year, just having him back helped turn the powerplay from a weakness into a strength. Also, his off-ice presence seemed to have a big effect on inexperienced NHL defencemen like Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz. Whether it was help from Markov, tough love from Therrien, working to show he was worth more than the bridge contract he signed for or just the natural process of maturing, it was PK Subban who took the biggest step forward, surpassing Markov as the best defenceman on the team and even winning the Norris Trophy. The team would take this and go from last place to a Northeast Division title and being second in the Conference. However in the playoffs the team struggled and was bounced in five games by the Ottawa Senators. Overall, it was a good first year at the helm for Bergevin, but it also showed that he had more work to do.
On draft day the Canadiens owned a bevy of picks, allowing head scout Trevor Timmins to work his magic. Grabbing 5 of our top 76 ranked prospects, it was a second straight successful draft day for the Canadiens who took down the number five ranking amongst our draft winners and losers.
Top Prospect: Nathan Beaulieu, Defence
Born Dec 5 1992 — Strathroy, ONT
Height 6.03 — Weight 191 — Shoots L
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #17 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Things started out slowly for Nathan Beaulieu, who scored just two points in his first 16 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. However in watching him you could see that the talent was there and it was just a matter of time before he started piling up the points. Beaulieu would put up 29 points in his next 51 games and would tie for the Bulldogs team lead in scoring at the end of the season. Along the way his play was good enough to earn him a 6 game NHL stint, where he scored his first two NHL assists.
However things weren’t all roses for Beaulieu, who was arrested following the season on assault charges, along with his father former Sarnia Sting head coach and general manager Jacques Beaulieu. The pair would recently plead guilty and were given conditional discharges. The sentence means that as long as Beaulieu completes his probation, he will not have a criminal record from the incident and travel to the United States will not be affected.
On the ice, Beaulieu’s game is built around his outstanding skating abilities. He has a smooth and graceful stride leading to very good top end speed which he reaches quickly with excellent acceleration. The speed and acceleration is visible in both Beaulieu’s forward and backwards skating. He also shows excellent agility and uses his edges superbly. His pivots are crisp and this makes him extremely mobile. This really helps all aspects of his game. He is willing and able to rush the puck end to end any time he gets the opportunity. His mobility allows him to create in the offensive end, and helps him to recover even when things go badly.
As stated, Beaulieu is certainly not afraid to rush the puck, and does so often. He has had to tone that aspect of his game down and pick his spots better than he used to with the move from the QMJHL to pro hockey, but is seeming to cope with the change pretty well. Even with Beaulieu’s outstanding skating and recovery, he can get caught now that he’s facing faster opponents. Beaulieu also has excellent stickhandling and good playmaking abilities and uses these skills to create offence for teammates when doing so. He also has a good wrist shot and a quick release which helps him to put the puck in the back of the net. On the powerplay Beaulieu is a creative quarterback with very good vision and passing skills. He also has a hard slap shot, and an excellent one-timer. The offensive side of Beaulieu’s game is pretty close to NHL ready.
Beaulieu’s defensive game has come a long way over the last few years. He was once a defensive liability in junior hockey, but had greatly improved by the time he was done with the Sea Dogs. Beaulieu had some trouble with the size and speed of AHLers early in the season, but seemed to progress as the season went on, becoming one of Hamilton’s better defencemen. Beaulieu uses his great mobility and skating ability to almost always keep his body between his opponent and the net and making him difficult to beat off the rush. His ability to quickly close space helps him in throwing his body around, and making devastating hits if a forward miscalculates in an attempt to get by Beaulieu. Beaulieu also battles well on the boards, and in front of the net. He generally has good positioning and reads the play well. He clearly has all the defensive tools necessary to succeed.
However Beaulieu still needs more AHL time. He is certainly getting there, but still makes the mistakes that many young defencemen do, getting caught out of position trying to create offensively, or trying to throw a big hit. He can also occasionally make a bad giveaway trying to do too much with the puck. Reigning these aspects in, and continuing to improve on picking his spots will be Beaulieu’s focus in trying to crack the NHL roster.
Beaulieu will be looking for a spot on the Habs blueline this season but it is seems more likely that he’ll start the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He hasn’t even had his 21st birthday yet, and still needs to work on harnessing the great raw tools he possesses and combining them into the total package as an excellent young defender. Overall he’s very close though, and its more an aspect of fine tuning his game at this point than anything else. He could be a valuable Habs contributor by the new year, or if not then, he’ll surely be knocking at the door for 2014-15.
Top Prospect #2: Jarred Tinordi, Defence
Born Feb 20 1992 — Millersville, MD
Height 6.07 — Weight 212 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #22 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Jarred Tinordi is the son of former NHL defenceman Mark Tinordi. Another young prospect who proves the old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, this young defender has inherited many of his father’s best traits. One area where he’s already surpassed his father is in height. At 6’7″ Tinordi is an absolute giant and a beast in the defensive end of the ice. A natural leader, Tinordi has experience as captain of the US NTDP and the United States team that won the Gold Medal at the Under-18s in 2010. He was also the captain of the London Knights in 2011-12 leading the team to the OHL Championship and within a goal of the Memorial Cup.
This past season was the first pro campaign for Tinordi and he started the year with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He spent most of the year in the AHL and quickly adjusted to the speed of the professional game. Tinordi was impressive enough to earn a late season callup with the Montreal Canadiens playing in eight regular season games and picking up his first two NHL points. He was even used in all five of the Canadiens playoff games, and although he played on the third pair he didn’t look out of place.
Tinordi is a very good skater for someone his size but the caveat “for someone his size” is certainly necessary. He has decent top end speed and good mobility but he’s also not a speedster. His long stride does get him around the ice quick enough and despite the size comparisons, you won’t see the skating style comparisons between Tinordi and former Habs defenceman Hal Gill. Tinordi has decent agility, edgework and pivots and these also help with his mobility.
Despite his two assists in the regular season and one in the playoffs, Tinordi’s game is a purely defensive one. He is a big, rugged and at times nasty defensive defenceman. His positioning is outstanding and he uses his big body and long stick to cut down passing lanes and block shots. He clears the front of the net and battles hard along to the boards. In junior, Tinordi was a very physical player who was always looking for the big hit. We didn’t see that as much during his time with either Hamilton or Montreal, as it seemed he didn’t want to gamble and get himself out of position against the faster opponents he was facing. However, I would expect to see those big hits slowly come back into his game as he becomes more comfortable wit the speed of NHLers. Tinordi has also developed a reputation for never backing down from a fight, even if he did reduce the number of fighting majors he has taken over the last two years.
Tinordi’s offensive game is virtually non-existent. He has good velocity on his slapshot, but he doesn’t take the chances necessary to get a lot of opportunities. He also lacks the offensive zone instincts and the ability to walk the line and open up shooting lanes to make it truly effective. He has a good first pass out of his own zone, but in the offensive zone he really doesn’t get involved that often. He really doesn’t have the composure or take the time necessary to be effective as an offensive defenceman, often trying to move the puck as quickly as possible instead of patiently waiting for his opportunities.
After getting his feet wet at the NHL level last year, and playing in the playoffs, Tinordi will come to Habs training camp looking for more. With Alexei Emelin on the shelf until at least late November, there is potentially a spot for a player with Tinordi’s size and physicality on the Montreal blue line. This will give Tinordi a big edge in training camp. The recent signing of Douglas Murray, however, may indicate that Habs brass want to give Tinordi a little more time developing in Hamilton.
Top Prospect #3, Sebastian Collberg, Right Wing
Born Feb 23 1994 — Mariestad, Sweden
Height 5.11 — Weight 176 — Shoots Right
Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in round 2, #33 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Collberg spent the season bouncing between his club team in what was then known as the Elitserien, Frolunda and on loan to the Allsvenskan club Orebro. Early in the year, with the NHL locked out and many NHLers playing in Sweden, he found it very difficult to get ice time on Frolunda. Often used as the thirteenth forward, there were nights where he just would not get much ice time, often less than three minutes. On some occasions he even dressed and didn’t see a single shift. This obviously wasn’t the right situation for developing an 18-year-old forward and so Collberg was lent to Orebro where he put up six goals and eight points as he was getting a lot more ice time. Once the lockout ended, he was brought back to Frolunda, where he got slightly more (though still limited) ice time and managed to put up six goals and nine points down the stretch. Along the way Collberg was a key figure on the Swedish Junior Squad playing in various international tournaments including the World Juniors. Facing other teenagers as opposed to men, he would show his dynamic offensive skills picking up 13 goals in 21 games in international play. He’d finish the year with a couple games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The first thing you notice about Collberg’s game is an incredible wrist shot and release. It’s a very heavy, accurate wrist shot and his quick and deceptive release often causes issues for opposing goaltenders. He also has a knack for finding the soft spot in the defence and once there, can unleash a wicked one-timer as he does this a lot for the Swedish Junior team on the powerplay. Collberg is a great stick handler and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. He’s great on breakaways and has shown that he can consistently beat goalies one-on-one in the shootout, as he is a go-to shooter even in games he doesn’t get a lot of ice time for Frolunda. In short Collberg is just a natural sniper who has that innate ability to put pucks in the back of the net in all situations. Add to this the fact that Collberg has also shown good vision and the ability to make passes through tight openings. He adds a playmaking dimension in addition which makes him an elite forward.
Collberg’s skating is a definite asset. He has strong top end speed and excellent first step quickness and acceleration. His agility and edgework makes him very shifty which gives defenders fits when facing him one on one. He is strong on the puck and tough to knock off it especially given the fact he is a slight bit undersized. Great lower body strength and outstanding balance are keys here.
Collberg is scheduled to return to Frolunda where he will play under new head coach Roger Rönnberg, who has been Collberg’s coach on the Swedish National Junior Teams. His familiarity and trust with Collberg should lead to more ice time and a better situation for Collberg to develop. He is expected to be a drastic change from Kent Johansson, who just didn’t give a lot of ice time to many young Swedish players.
Top Prospect #4, Christian Thomas, Right Wing
Born May 26 1992 — Toronto, ONT
Height 5.09 — Weight 162 — Shoots Right
Drafted by New York Rangers in round 2, #40 overall 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Montreal Canadiens July 2013
I typically don’t do a #4 prospect, but since Christian Thomas is my choice as Montreal’s #4 prospect and there was a review done of him at the time of the recent trade, I thought I would include it in a link if you just click here.
Super Sleeper, Darren Dietz, Defence
Born Jul 17 1993 — Medicine Hat, ALTA
Height 6.01 — Weight 205 — Shoots Right
Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in round 5, #138 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Darren Dietz has really taken off becoming Saskatoon’s most important defenceman at both ends of the ice. Many would even say he was better than 11th overall pick Duncan Siemens for the Blades this past year. That isn’t to say he’s the better prospect, but he did have the better season.
Dietz led the WHL in goals and finished third in points among defencemen this season. He showed off an absolute bomb from the point. He is able to unleash his shot as a regular slapper from the point but is even more effective with the one-timer. Dietz showed an ability to get open and the mobility to walk the line to create passing and shooting lanes. He also has good poise with he puck and strong passing. He utilizes this in starting the breakout as well as in quarterbacking the play from the point.
Dietz plays a strong defensive game. He is not afraid to be involved physically. Throwing hits, clearing the front of the net and fighting for pucks in the corners. He shows good coverage in the zone with strong positioning and good anticipation and he also is a willing shot blocker.
Dietz has signed his Entry Level Contract and is expected to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs this past season.
The Montreal Canadiens have really strengthened their farm system with great back to back drafts. Charles Hudon and Tim Bozon both had impressive seasons and give the Habs some depth on the wings going forward. Add to that a real focus on forwards in the 2013 draft and you have a deep group now (though they haven’t all reached the AHL level yet). Meanwhile the defence is deep with Magnus Nygren, Morgan Ellis and Greg Pateryn are all expected to be in the AHL in addition to the three defenders listed above. Last year the prospect depth in goaltending was considered weak but the addition of Dustin Tokarski helps at the AHL level while Zach Fucale was the best goalie in the draft. However it wasn’t all roses as two recent high draft picks in Louis Leblanc and Dalton Thrower had rough seasons but will look to bounce back in 2013-14.
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