Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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 (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
The Montreal Canadiens followed up on a rebound year in 2012-13, by continuing to take steps forward under Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien in 2013-14. The team put together a 100 point regular season, and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Once there, an injury to superstar goaltender Carey Price in game one of the series was a major blow, and despite the solid effort of Dustin Tokarski as a replacement, the Canadiens were not quite the same team without Price. As a result they fell to the Rangers in 6 hard fought games.
The off-season has brought change in Montreal as trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek has left for Minnesota, while team Captain Brian Gionta, and the rumored heir apparent Josh Gorges have gone to Buffalo. Ryan White has gone to Philadelphia, while Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillion are looking for contracts and unlikely to return to Montreal. Also gone is Daniel Briere who was traded to Colorado in exchange for P.A. Parenteau and a draft pick. Free agent acquisitions include Tom Gilbert, Jiri Sekac, Manny Malholtra, and Joey MacDonald (who is likely headed for the AHL). One situation that has yet to be resolved is the backup goaltending position. While Peter Budaj held the spot all of last year, the coaches opted for Tokarski when Price was hurt. Since Tokarski needs waivers to go to the AHL, the battle for the backup spot is one to watch in training camp. Even with all the changes, the club will continue to build around its four key core pieces in Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. Habs fans hope the 2012 third overall pick, Galchenyuk, takes a big step forward this year, moving from a solid top 6 guy into a franchise player. He is still just 20 years old.
Top Montreal Canadiens Prospects
Top Prospect: Nathan Beaulieu, Defence
Born Dec 5 1992 — Strathroy, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 194 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #17 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
It was an interesting season for Nathan Beaulieu, who had a few stints with the big club. One in particular that stood out was some time he spent with the Habs just prior to the Olympic break. Beaulieu’s play was particularly strong during that stretch and it seemed that he was ready to be an NHL regular. He went down to Hamilton during the break, and most assumed that this was just to keep him playing hockey while the NHL was on hiatus. However, he struggled in the AHL, and when the NHL resumed the Habs did not bring him back to Montreal. He finally re-earned the trust of the coaching staff in the playoffs when he was inserted into the lineup for game 6 of the Habs/Bruins series. Beaulieu made an impact and showed his skills in that series, and continued to be utilized in 5 of the 6 games against the Rangers. While he’s young (still just 21) and sometimes makes mistakes, the puck moving ability he brings to the Habs lineup is extremely valuable if he can put it all together.
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 in junior though, 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 his first pro season, but seemed to progress as the season went on, becoming one of Hamilton’s better defencemen by the end of 2012-13. 2013-14 was a bit strange, as it seemed that he took a step back at the AHL level, sometimes struggling with his positioning, though it should be noted that the Dogs often played him on right defence, his off-side. At the same time, Beaulieu’s defensive game took a step forward in his various stints in the NHL. In fact he not only seemed to be a better defensive player in Montreal, than he was in 2012-13, but even seemed to be better in Montreal than he was with Hamilton. This brings into question his focus when playing in the AHL.
When he is playing at his best, 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, especially when playing in his more natural left defense position. He is not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots. When focusing on the defensive end of the ice, it is important to note Beaulieu’s ability to move the puck. With strong, crisp passes in the breakout, and the ability to skate the puck out of danger when facing a heavy forecheck he can really help the Habs play a more puck-possession based style than departed veterans Murray and Bouillion. As a result he spends less time defending his own end of the ice than they do, and this really helps the team despite the fact he is young and may not be fully polished as a defender. Beaulieu clearly has all the defensive tools necessary to succeed and its a matter of putting them together on a consistent basis as he can 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 in training camp.
With the Canadiens currently having five veteran defencemen under contract, and Marc Bergevin making it clear that it is time for the young blood to start making an impact at the NHL level, the door is clearly wide open for Beaulieu in Habs training camp. While he will face stiff competition for the sixth and seventh spots on the blueline from Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren; Beaulieu appears one of the favorites to grab a job in Montreal this season.
#2 Prospect: Jacob de la Rose, Centre/Left Wing
Born May 20 1995 — Arvika, Sweden
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2nd round, 34th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft
Drafted in the second round of the 2013 Draft, de la Rose was everything the Canadiens could have hoped for, and more, in his first post-draft season, helping Sweden to a silver medal at the World Juniors, and displaying improvements in league play in the SHL.
Jacob De la Rose is a dynamic skater. He has great speed, and excellent acceleration. He is very explosive and his ability to change speeds, and that extra gear he has allows him to beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. He’s also quick at getting in on the forecheck, and de la Rose takes advantage of this as he just loves to hit. He has good agility and edgework allowing him to navigate his way through traffic, and his great balance allows him to fight through checks.
There are a lot of tools in de la Rose’s toolbox in the offensive zone. He has great stickhandling and very soft hands. He goes to the net and can score goals in tight on rebounds and tip ins. He also has a good wrist soft, and his release is decent. He’s an absolute beast on the boards and just loves physical contact, often being the initiator. De la Rose has shown good vision and passing skills on occasion as well. Prior to last season, de la Rose was showing the skills, but wasn’t showing the numbers that said he could be an offensive contributor. However a very good World Junior Tournament (6 points in 7 games), and a solid season in the SHL (13 points in 49 games is decent production for an 18 year old in Sweden’s top men’s league).
De la Rose’s defensive game is excellent, especially for a player his age. He is an extremely responsible forward, who has great gap control and understands how to always keep himself between his man and the net. He backchecks hard, and comes down low to help his defencemen against the cycle game. De la Rose is a willing shot blocker and cuts down the passing lanes, anticipating plays well and creating turnovers. He continues to play his rough and tumble game in the defensive end and again loves to take the body. His defensive game is elite given the stage he is at in his development.
The Canadiens have inked de la Rose to an Entry Level Contract and he is crossing the pond to try and make the team at training camp. There appears to be a spot open on the third line, but he will face competition for it. Expect de la Rose to need a year of AHL time before he’s ready to make the jump to the pros.
#3 Prospect: Jarred Tinordi, Defence
Born Feb 20 1992 — Millersville, MD
Height 6.06 — Weight 227 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #22 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
It was an up and down season for Jarred Tinordi, as he made the Habs out of camp. However early season struggles, combined with the return of some injured defencemen meant he would be sent back to the AHL. He would receive a couple of call-ups during the year and while he wasn’t quite NHL ready, the 22 year old did show he was awfully close.
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 6’6″ Tinordi is an absolute giant and a beast in the defensive end of the ice.
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 defencemen Hal Gill and Douglas Murray. Tinordi has decent agility, edgework and pivots and these also help with his mobility.
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 Montreal, as it seemed he didn’t want to gamble and get himself out of position against the faster opponents he was facing. He did show more hitting in his second year in the AHL than he did in his first though, and 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 few 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 over the last two years, and even playing in the 2013 NHL playoffs, Tinordi will come to Habs training camp looking for more. There is potentially a spot for a player with Tinordi’s size and physicality on the Montreal blue line going forward, and he adds some elements the team lacks. As I mentionned in Beaulieu’s profile, there is room for at least two youngsters on the Habs blueline this year, so expect Tinordi to push for a spot in camp.
Super Sleeper: Jiri Sekac, Left Wing/Right Wing
Born Jun 10 1992 — Kladno, Czech Rep.
Height 6.02 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left
Signed by Montreal as a Free Agent, July 2014
When the 22-year-old Czech Republic native made it clear that he was ready to leave the KHL and try for the NHL, he became a highly sought after player, receiving as many as 15 offers from NHL teams according to Bob McKenzie. He was the second leading scorer on his KHL team last season. Sekac also scored two goals for the Czechs in the World Championships, and played very well almost scoring two more when he hit the post against Canada and Norway.
Sekac has an awkward skating stride, but he gets where he is going. His stride is extremely wide, but it does generate good speed and acceleration. With his wide skating stride, Sekac has excellent balance and is tough to knock off the puck. This helps him to protect the puck down low on the cycle and to power through checks and get to the front of the net.
Sekac shows a very quick wrist shot and release and Habs centre Tomas Plekanec recently compared him to Max Pacioretty, who scored 39 goals with his shot last year. While I don’t think he’s quite on Pacioretty’s level, it is a definite asset. He also shows good vision. Sekac has very good puck handling and puck protection skills. He can work the cycle and extend plays for a teammate to get open in front of the net, or drive the net himself. His ability to play strong possession hockey is a big asset to the Habs going forward.
Sekac also plays a decent two-way game, supporting his defence on the backcheck, and having the good defensive instincts to intercept passes and the skill to start the transition game. This defensive ability will help him crack an NHL lineup sooner, rather than later.
As mentionned above, there is an opening in the Canadiens forward group, and Sekac is a strong favorite to fight for that spot given his performance at the Canadiens development camp where he was the best of all the youngsters according to all reports. Sekac likely projects as a third liner in the NHL with an outside chance he could play on the second line in time.
The Montreal Canadiens have built a system with depth at all positions. This really is one of the deeper prospect pools in the NHL. In goal, there is Dustin Tokarski, as well as one of the best goalies in the CHL in Zach Fucale. On the blue line Greg Pateryn was the Hamilton Bulldogs best defenceman last year, and is knocking on the door of cracking the big club. There has also been potential shown in Mac Bennett, Darren Dietz, and Dalton Thrower. Josiah Didier is one of the best defensive defencemen in the WCHA Conference, while Magnus Nygren has been one of the best offensive defencemen in Sweden. He is expected at Habs training camp to push Beaulieu and Tinordi for a spot on the team. If he doesn’t make it though, it is unclear what is next for Nygren as he has made it pretty clear that he would not go to Hamilton.
Up front, the team saw Arturri Lehkonen have a bit of an injury plagued season, but he was brilliant at the World Juniors. Sven Andrighetto was a 20-year-old AHL rookie, and was often the Bulldogs best player. Charles Hudon has started the transition from left wing to centre, and will be someone to watch in Hamilton this season. Jeremie Gregoire was invited to Canada’s World Junior camp this summer and has a chance to join Fucale on the 2014 team. Greg Carr was a free agent pick up out of the NCAA who was one of the top scorers on a national championships team. Connor Crisp and Jack Nevins will transition from the junior ranks to the AHL and try to bring their brand of size and toughness to the Bulldogs, and eventually the Canadiens. 2013 first round pick Mike McCarron also has size and toughness, and returns to London to try and rebound from a difficult first season in the OHL. Christian Thomas will also look for a bounce back year after a tough first season in Hamilton. One of the most positive stories of the summer has been the recovery of Timothy Bozon, who went through a horrific battle with meningitis (and spent several days in a medically induced coma) in the spring. The good news is that Bozon appears to be fully recovered and is already back on the ice playing in an under 23 tournament for his native France. He should push for a spot in Hamilton after being a high scorer in the WHL. Speaking of the WHL, there are high hopes for 2014 first rounder Nikita Scherbak, who was the runaway leader in points for a rebuilding Saskatoon Blades club last year. The Habs have one of the best scouting departments in all of hockey, led by Trevor Timmins, and the results show in the depth of the club.
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