TSP: Montreal Canadiens Prospects

Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects.  As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.

Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.

For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

The Montreal Canadiens rode their star goaltender, Carey Price, all the way to a first place finish in the Atlantic Division last year.  Price would end up taking home the Hart Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, the Jennings Trophy, and the Vezina Trophy for his stellar play.  On the blue line P.K. Subban got another Norris nomination.  Up front Max Pacioretty was the team’s leading scorer.  The Habs would defeat the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, but the scoring dried up in the second round of the playoffs, and they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Marc Bergevin went into the off-season with the clear goals of improving the team’s goal production, and power play.  To start, he re-signed defenceman Jeff Petry, a smart puck mover who can also play the powerplay.  He then traded Brandon Prust for Zach Kassian, and while no one believes Kassian is a solution for the team’s offensive woes, he is quite clearly an upgrade. He then took a chance on Alexander Semin, signing the sniper on a low-risk, possible high reward deal.  To top it off he hired Craig Ramsey, a power play specialist, as a coaching consultant.  These may not be the big moves that the Habs fan base had in mind at the start of the off-season, but they could add up to provide the spark the team needs.  Internally, there has been a lot of talk about Alex Galchenyuk moving to centre.  Seeing him take on that role and break out would be a huge boost to the team, but Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien seem in no hurry to rush him to the spot.  One must remember that Galchenyuk is still only 21-years-old.

2015 Draft Picks: Noah Juulsen, Lukas Vejdemo, Matthew Bradley, Simon Bourque, Jeremiah Addison
Graduations: Dustin Tokarski, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn (25 years old)

Montreal Canadiens Prospects

Top Prospect: Nikita Scherbak, Right Wing/Left Wing
Born Dec 30 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.02 — Weight 204  — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round, 26th overall at the 2014 NHL Draft

After an impressive training camp in Montreal, Scherbak was sent back to the WHL. He was part of a pre-season trade from the rebuilding Saskatoon Blades to the Everett Silvertips. Scherbak would have a solid second WHL season, scoring 27 goals and 55 points for 82 points in 65 games.

Nikita Scherbak is an excellent skater.  His stride may not be textbook, but he has great speed and acceleration despite this.  His first step is particularly fast and allows him to be first on many loose pucks.  Scherbak also has very good edge work and agility.  The acceleration and the edge work makes him very elusive off the rush with his quick cuts, and his ability to generate speed quickly to take advantage of any opening those cuts can create.  He has added lower body strength which helped him to have even better balance and has gotten stronger on the puck and in the cycle game.

Scherbak is a very good stick handler who is able to make a wide variety of moves at top speed.  He also has outstanding vision and great passing skills.  Scherbak is also able to utilize these passing skills in the cycle game and works well down low.  Scherbak is not afraid to battle in the corners or in front of the net, and plays a gritty style.  He also has an excellent wrist shot and release which helps him to score goals.  Add to this high end hockey IQ and ability to read the game, and you have a potentially dynamic offensive player.

In training camp and NHL pre-season games Scherbak looked lost in the defensive end of the ice.  He does look better at the WHL level though, as he reads the play well, and his hockey sense, anticipation, and that quick first step make him very good at closing down passing lanes and causing turnovers.  When he does this he is able to smartly transition towards the offense.  He has shown more commitment to the back check and takes that increased physicality and grit into all three zones of the ice.  He likely will need to continue to work on his defensive game at the pro level though.

Scherbak could make the Habs lineup out of training camp, but would need an outstanding camp to do so, as the competition for roster spots will be fierce.  Its more likely that he starts the season in St. John’s but could be recalled when the inevitable injuries hit the Canadiens main roster.


#2 Prospect: Jacob de la Rose, Centre/Left Wing
Born May 20 1995 — Arvika, Sweden
Height 6.02 — Weight 207 — 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 this year.  He came to North America, nearly made the team out of training camp, went to the AHL, played for Sweden at the World Juniors, then played in the Habs final 33 games of the regular season and 12 playoff games. It was quite the year for the 19-year-old

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 edge work 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, though we have not seen a lot of them at the NHL level just yet. He has good stick handling and soft hands. He goes to the net and has shown some ability to score goals in tight on rebounds and tip ins at lower levels. He also has a good wrist shot, and decent release. At lower levels De la Rose was a beast on the boards and just loves physical contact, often being the initiator. This part of his game should show big improvements at the NHL levle as he gains strength. 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.

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 and was the main reason he got so much NHL team so early. The Canadiens would even trust him on the ice in the late stages of close games.

While nothing is guaranteed, it would be a surprise if de la Rose does not make the Habs main roster out of training camp this year.  The number of minutes he played, and the strong results he got give him a real leg up going into camp.


#3 Prospect: Charles Hudon, Centre/Left Wing
Born Jun 23 1994 — Alma, PQ
Height 5.10 — Weight 179 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in round 5, 122nd overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Charles Hudon was a left wing in the QMJHL, but the Canadiens decided to convert him to centre last year before his first pro season.  It was a move that paid big time dividends, as Hudon had an incredible rookie season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He had 19 goals and 57 points in 75 games, and finished 2nd in AHL rookie scoring. He was also named to the AHL’s all-rookie team, and was the AHL all-star game co-mvp after notching three goals and an assist.

Hudon has incredible hockey sense, and offensive instincts.  He is almost always in the right place at the right time.  He finds openings in the defense and stealthily exploits them.  A gifted playmaker Hudon has great vision and is able to make crisp passes to teammates with only the tiniest of openings to thread the puck.  Hudon has a very accurate wrist shot, and a great release which can fool goalies.  He could stand to gain some strength and improve the velocity of his shot, and this would lead to a lot more goals.  Hudon is also blessed with soft hands which allow him to make a swift move around a defender or to score on a goaltender in tight.  Undersized, Hudon is not afraid of traffic, and is willing to work on the boards and down low, however adding some muscle to his frame would certainly help him in these aspects.

Hudon is a good skater.  While he is not blessed with great top end speed, in fact we’d characterize his speed as just slightly above average, but there is more to skating ability than just pure speed.  More quick than fast, Hudon has a good first step, and acceleration, this allows him to dart into open spaces and pounce on loose pucks in the offensive zone.  He has good balance and  is strong on his skates making him difficult to knock off the puck, especially given his size.  Hudon is also extremely agile, which helps him to get by defenders after he turns them inside out with his fancy stickwork.

Hudon is extremely good defensively. He is an absolute pest out on the ice, getting in the face of the other team’s top players and always at the middle of every scrum. He backchecks extremely hard, and cuts down shooting and passing lanes. He uses his hockey IQ to read and anticipate plays, and his quick first step to cause turnovers and transition to offense.

Like Scherbak, Hudon will also be in the battle for a spot in training camp. Said spot will be very tough to grab this year though, and he may have to go back to the AHL to start the year. Hudon is another forward who could certainly get a chance if injuries hit in Montreal.


Sleeper Prospect: Martin Reway, Left Wing
Born Jan 24 1995 — Prague, Czech Rep.
Height 5.08 — Weight 170 — Shoots Left
Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in round 4, #116th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft

An undersized winger with a ton of skill, the Slovakian prospect was a 4th round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 NHL Draft.  Martin Reway played this season for Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga, the top men’s league in the Czech Republic. He put up a very impressive total of 37 points in 34 games. He was also one of the offensive catalysts for the Slovaks at the World Juniors with 9 points in 7 games, and captaining the team to a Bronze medal.

Reway has absolutely outstanding stickhandling, with quick, soft hands that can dangle in a phone booth. Reway has a hard, accurate shot and a quick release which makes him extremely dangerous as a goal scorer.  He also has good vision and passing abilities.

He also is a very quick and agile skater.  He has good top end speed and acceleration and he is shifty and slippery making him extremely hard to contain off the rush, or even off the cycle game in the offensive zone.  He has good balance and is strong on the puck for his size.

While Reway is an offensive dynamo, he does need some work on his defensive game.  He has a tendency to fly the zone early, looking for a long breakaway pass.  His lack of size also means that he can get beat by bigger players in his own end.

Reway is expected to spend another year in the Czech Extraliga.  The Habs must sign him before June 1st, 2017 or risk losing his rights.  There are some weaknesses here, but there is also the ability for high end offence here.  He is the classic boom or bust prospect.


The Canadiens continue to have excellent depth in their system.  The goaltending features Mike Condon who was outstanding at the AHL level, and Zach Fucale who is either first or second in a number of major goaltending categories at the QMJHL level, and will go pro this year.  The forwards are deep.  Mike McCarron bounced back from a sub-par 2013-14 season to have an excellent first half in 2014-15.  His numbers would drop slightly after a trade from London to Oshawa, but he would be a big part of a Memorial Cup winning team.  Arturri Lehkonen came out of the gate strong in Sweden, but a bout with mono caused him to have real struggles in the second half.  Now healthy he’s having a strong pre-season overseas.  Daniel Carr had a great first pro year, leading the Bulldogs in goals.  Tim Bozon battled back from a bout with meningitis and got stronger as the WHL season went on.  Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas got looks at the NHL level last year.  Head scout Trevor Timmins had some very intriguing things to say about third rounder Lukas Vejdemo who remains a bit of a mystery to the fan base.  Hopefully we will get a good look at him in the pre-season.  While not a prospect, the Habs also added Bud Holloway who will be part of the battle for roster spots in Montreal this year, as will Michael Bournival, who graduated as a prospect in 2013-14 but had a rough year in 2014-15.

The defensive depth has been hit with the graduations of Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn this year.  In addition,  Jarred Tinordi has nearly reached 50 career games, but failed to earn a full-time spot yet.  He needs to do it now, as he will need to be put on waivers to go back to the AHL.  2012 second round pick Dalton Thrower has not looked good, even at the ECHL level last year.  With this in mind the Habs made Noah Juulsen their first round pick to add some more depth on defence.  There is some other talent on the blue line though.  Brett Lernout had a very good season in the WHL last year, and will make the jump to the AHL with St. John’s.  Darren Dietz, Mac Bennett, and Josiah Didier (AHL contract) remain projects with potential.  The time is now for Morgan Ellis to take the next step or he will join the ranks of career AHLers though.  Magnus Nygren showed offensive potential, but needed work on his defensive game.  A concussion ended his season early last year, and now he’s gone back to Sweden.  His future in the organization is very much in doubt.

Overall though, the Habs prospect group is very deep.  The only question is how many blue chippers are there.  Nikita Scherbak has the potential to be a first liner, and Noah Juulsen could be a top pair defender, but the rest of the prospects seem to top out as second liners/second pairing players at best.


Overall team top 10 (including 2015 picks)

1) Scherbak
2) De la Rose
3) Hudon
4) Juulsen
5) Lehkonen
6) McCarron
7) Reway
8) Tinordi
9) Carr
10) Andrighetto