Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or 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.
TSP: Montreal Canadiens Prospects
The Montreal Canadiens came out of the gate on fire, starting with a 9-0 record in October. They continued their hot play through November 25th, when they defeated the New York Rangers 5-1 and took over first place in the entire NHL. However, that was also a night that they took their biggest loss of the season. Reigning MVP Carey Price injured his MCL and would not play again. Without Price, the Canadiens collapsed. They were amongst the NHL’s worst teams over the remaining four and a half months of the season. Due to the terrible play they fell well short of the playoffs. The lone bright spot of the second half of the season was Alex Galchenyuk developing into the number one centre. He also reached the 30 goal plateau.
The off-season was a mixed bag. The Canadiens kicked things off by trading away Lars Eller and acquiring Andrew Shaw in separate draft day transactions. General manager Marc Bergevin followed that up with a controversial blockbuster. He traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. In free agency the Canadiens signed Alex Radulov, Al Montoya, and Zach Redmond.
Montreal Canadiens Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Mikhail Sergachev
Drafted ninth overall in this year’s draft; Sergachev immediately becomes the Habs top prospect. As we did an extensive pre-draft scouting report, and no meaningful games have been played since the draft; we will not re-write it. You can find the pre-draft report here.
#2 Prospect: Arturri Lehkonen
A full scouting report was prepared when Lehkonen signed his entry level contract in May. You can check it out here.
#3 Prospect: Nikita Scherbak
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born Dec 30 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’2 — Weight 190 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #26 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Scherbak suffered an ankle injury in training camp last year, that really marred the start of his first pro season. When he finally did get in the lineup; he struggled with his skating. When things finally seemed to be turning around, Scherbak re-injured his ankle on a hit by Viktor Loov of the Toronto Marlies. He would miss the next several weeks. When Scherbak did get back on the ice, he showed flashes of brilliance, but also had his struggles. In addition to trying to play catch-up due to the injuries, the Canadiens also tried him in a new position. He played a number of games at centre, as the team looks to maximize his obvious offensive abilities.
When healthy, 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 edge work makes him very elusive off the rush with his quick cuts. His ability to generate speed quickly takes advantage of any opening those cuts can create. He added lower body strength prior to his final year of junior. This gave Scherbak even better balance. He is also stronger on the puck and in the cycle game.
It was clear that Scherbak’s ankle injury bothered him at times last year. There were times his agility and lateral movement were clearly compromised. However as the season went on, his skating returned to its previous high levels. It is believed that the skating struggles were an aberration caused by the injury taking time to heal, and for Scherbak to shake the rust off when he first returned.
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.
Scherbak often looked lost in the defensive end of the ice last year. His backwards movement sometimes seemed to be a problem as he could read the play better, and use his hockey sense, anticipation, and quick first step to close 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. His defensive game seemed to get better as his skating improved though. It is hoped that being healthy will allow Scherbak to really make strides in the defensive end.
There is an open spot in the Habs top nine for a talented winger. Like Lehkonen, Scherbak will certainly head to training camp looking to win the job. It is more likely that he goes to the minors as he could use a year of AHL development. This is especially true considering the fact that he was one of the youngest players in the AHL last year, and his season was marred by a number of stops and starts. He needs work to work on his defensive game this season, but could be an NHL regular in 2017-18.
#4 Prospect: Daniel Carr
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Nov 1 1991 — Sherwood Park, ALTA
Height 6.00 — Weight 191 [183 cm/87 kg]
Signed by the Canadiens as an undrafted free agent.
Daniel Carr came up as an injury replacement for the Canadiens in December. He scored a goal on his first shift, on his first shot in the NHL. Over the next six weeks. where the team had massive scoring issues, Carr was one of the team’s most consistent producers. He had five goals and eight points in 18 games, before hurting his knee in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The injury would keep Carr out of the lineup for three months, and derailed what was looking like a strong rookie campaign. He would come back and play four games at the end of the year, finishing with six goals and nine points in 23 games last year.
Skating can be a bit of an issue for Carr. His stride is a bit choppy and he lacks some top end speed as a result. Carr needs to work at improving that stride and developing more power. He does have good agility though, which allows him to elude defenders and find open space. He also has good lower body strength and balance, which helps him to establish position in front of the net and create havoc for goaltenders.
Carr scores the majority of his goals by crashing the net. He has the co-ordination to get tip-ins and the quickness to pounce on rebounds. Carr has the soft hands to finish plays in tight to the net. He is extremely gritty and battles for his position at the top of the crease and creates problems for goalies and defencemen. In college and in the AHL he also showed the ability to be a sniper with an excellent wrist shot and one timer. Carr’s goal scoring skills are aided by his good positioning and hockey sense. Carr finds holes in the defence and sets up where he can unleash his accurate and powerful shot.
He also has decent vision and play making skill for a winger. The majority of Carr’s assists come from his ability to dig pucks out of the corner and then move things quickly to a teammate. While he is not a huge hitter, he does pressure defenders into mistakes and turnovers.
Carr’s defensive game is decent. He understands positioning and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. He is willing to block shots and to sacrifice his body. Carr generally plays a responsible game, but can still make some rookie mistakes in his own end. He should continue to develop in this area.
Earlier it was stated that there was a spot for at least one top nine winger on the Habs next year. The reality is that there is could be room for two such wingers, but one of the spots is likely to be taken by Carr. After his impressive debut, the Canadiens will be looking for him to build on that. He plays a gritty style, and goes to the front of the net. Those are elements that every NHL team needs, but have been lacking in Montreal for some time. Now with Shaw and Carr joining Brendan Gallagher, the Habs have an abundance of net presence.
#5 Prospect: Michael McCarron
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Mar 7 1995 — Grosse Pointe, MI
Height 6’6 — Weight 231 lbs [198 cm/105 kg]
Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #25 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
McCarron came out of the gates with a huge first half of the year for the St. John’s Ice Caps. He was a point per game player through the first 25 or so games. However he could not keep that pace, struggling to find offensive production once the middle of December hit. This included his time in the AHL, as well as his 20 game NHL callup where he picked up his first two NHL points.
McCarron is an absolute monster of a man at 6’5.5″ and 234 pounds. The physical dimensions alone have scouts salivating over his power forward potential. He certainly plays a very physical game, hitting a ton, battling on the boards, and getting to the dirty areas of the ice. In terms of offence he has a powerful wrist shot. He is also good at using his big frame to cause havoc in front of the net. His stick handling and play making skill are at a below average level for a top six player. He will need to continue to work on these areas if he wants to be a scorer in the NHL.
McCarron is a good skater for his size. For a big man, he has very good straight line speed and acceleration. His first step quickness is a little bit sluggish and his acceleration is merely average. His agility is good for his size, but really is not anything to write home about. He is extremely strong on his skates though and it is difficult to knock him off the puck. Endurance and conditioning seems to be an issue. He seems to really slow down at the end of shifts. He has also come out of the gate much stronger in each of the last two seasons, and faded down the stretch.
McCarron is good defensively, and brings his robust physical game at both ends of the rink. He’s a hard worker who back checks hard, covers his man and is willing to cut down passing lanes, and block shots. His long stick and good skating ability helps him on the penalty kill, where he steals pucks and can even create short handed chances in transition.
McCarron got a good look in the NHL last year. However, it appeared that he was not quite ready as he struggled at times with the speed of the NHL game. Another year in the AHL may be best for his development. While others might rank McCarron higher than we do, we have questions about his ultimate offensive upside. McCarron projects to be a similar player to Brian Boyle. He needs a bit more time, but could become a third liner who brings big time physical presence. He’s defensively responsible and can kill penalties.
#6 Prospect: Noah Juulsen
Defense — shoots Right
Born Apr 2 1997 — Abbotsford, BC
Height 6’2″ — Weight 185 lbs [188 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in round 1, #26 overall, at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Some might look at the stats, a 24-point decrease from his draft year, and think that Juulsen had a poor season with the Everett Silvertips last year. That would not be accurate. The Everett Silvertips had used their previous two first round picks on Auston Matthews and Tyson Jost, two players who choose to play elsewhere. Their leading scorer from 2014-15, Scherbak had gone to the pro ranks. As a result the team had a hard time generating goals.
In order to win games, coach Kevin Constantine put in a rigid system that emphasized defence. Juulsen was tasked with being the team’s primary shut down defender, and playing the toughest minutes against every team’s top lines. It worked, as the Silvertips were the best defensive team in the league, and made the playoffs despite the lack of offensive firepower. Juulsen’s strong defensive play was recognized when he was named to the WHL‘s second all-star team.
Juulsen is a strong skater, with a smooth and fluid stride. While he’s not an absolute speedster, he does have good speed and acceleration. Its in his edge work and agility though that he really shines. Juulsen pivots quickly and this allows him to cover large areas of the ice. He is able to use his agility to walk the line on the powerplay and open up shooting and passing lanes. The ability to quickly change directions, makes him tough to beat one-on-one and helps him to quickly explode into huge hits if a forwards tries to beat him to the outside.
Juulsen has good balance, helping him in board battles, but he could really stand to add more lower body strength to really excel in this area. At 6’2″ tall, and listed at just 185 pounds, there is certainly room to add muscle to his frame in both the lower and upper body.
Noah Juulsen has good offensive skills. He has very good hockey sense, making smart plays with it on his stick, and choosing good times to join the rush or pinch in at the blue line. He combines his strong skating with good stick handling and is able to join the rush. Juulsen has the poise necessary to control the play at the line and quarterback the play from the blue line.
He also has very good vision, and makes strong passes both to start the transition out of the zone, long breakaway passes, off the rush, or controlling the play in the zone. Juulsen has a hard slap shot, and good one-timer, as well as a good release on his wrist shot. He gets the puck through to the net and creates deflection and rebound opportunities for his teammates. He played an extremely conservative game last year, but when he did get the chance to open things up, the skill was obvious.
Noah Juulsen plays a physical game in his own end. He is willing to throw big hits, and to battle for loose pucks in the corners. He also does a decent job clearing the crease. His aggressiveness can get him into trouble though, as there are times he seems to get out of position looking for that big hit. Juulsen is tough to beat off the rush due to his good skating and edge work. He has really worked on his hockey IQ and reading the play when the other team has the puck down low. Juulsen does a really good job of anticipating plays and causing turnovers. He also transitions well into offense when that happens. He is more than willing to do what it takes to win, including block shots.
Juulsen likely needs another year of junior hockey, and perhaps some AHL time before he is ready to make an impact on the Habs. He will be back in the WHL this year. He will also get the opportunity to try out for a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Team, that will look to win a medal in the Bell Centre in January. After making big strides at the defensive end last year, Juulsen could be poised for a much bigger offensive year.
#7 Prospect: Charles Hudon
Centre/Left Wing — Shoots Left
Born Jun 23 1994 — Alma, PQ
Height 5’10 — Weight 197 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in round 5, 122nd overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Charles Hudon played left wing in the QMJHL, but the Canadiens explored the possibility of converting him to centre over his two years in the AHL. Whether he has been at wing or at centre, it has not mattered that much. He keeps on scoring. Hudon led the Ice Caps in goals this past season with 28. His 53 points were second on the team. Hudon even earned a shot at the NHL level. He scored two assists in his three-game callup last year.
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. 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. He must continue to work at getting low and maintaining leverage to win puck battles against bigger defensemen.
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. This is especially true when you consider 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. Hudon is almost always at the middle of every scrum. He back checks 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.
Hudon will also be in the battle for an open wing spot in training camp. Said spot will be very tough to grab this year. It seems likely that Hudon will 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. If given the opportunity, we believe Hudon would seize it. He could be the mid-season call-up who never gets sent back down. We believe that Hudon will be an NHL player, its just a question of when. Bulk up this summer would help him make the team sooner.
Sleeper and #8 Prospect: Martin Reway
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Jan 24 1995 — Prague, Czech Rep.
Height 5’9 — Weight 173 lbs [175 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by Montreal Canadiens in round 4, #116th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Reway is 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. It was another controversial year. Reway was kicked off his Czech league team in late October despite scoring over a point per game. He was also the team leader in points, and one of the highest scorers in the league at the time. Reway would go to Switzerland where he scored 8 goals and 21 points in 19 games for Gotteron. Following the season he signed his entry level contract with Montreal.
Reway is a very quick and agile skater. He has good top end speed and acceleration. Reway has excellent agility and edge work. This makes him extremely shifty and slippery. He is 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. Reway is not afraid to battle in front of the net or in the corners.
Reway has absolutely outstanding stick handling. He has quick, soft hands and can dangle in a phone booth. Reway also has a hard, accurate shot and a quick release which makes him extremely dangerous as a goal scorer. He also has the good hand-eye co-ordination to get tip-ins and bang in rebounds. He is not afraid to play in front of the net to do it.
Reway is more play maker than goal scorer though. He also has good vision and passing abilities. Blessed with excellent poise, he can slow the play down or speed it up as it becomes necessary. This becomes important in allowing team mates the time to get open, and then capitalizing on it with a lightning quick pass. Reway has been an offensive dynamo in every league he’s played in to date.
While Reway can wrack up the points, he does need some work on his defensive game. He has a tendency to fly the zone early, looking for a long breakaway pass. He can get beat by bigger players in his own end due to his lack of size. These defensive issues are likely the reason why he has had so many issues with coaches, going back to his QMJHL days.
Reway has the offensive skill to play in the NHL, but his defensive game needs a lot of refinement. Reway is expected to start next season with the St. John’s Ice Caps; though the door remains open for him to move up with a great training camp. He needs to bulk up at the lower levels and prepare for the rigors of a professional campaign.
The Canadiens continue to build depth in the system. Victor Mete was a real steal in the 2016 draft. He was taken well below where LWOS had them ranked. Casey Staum and Arvid Henrikson, also added to the defence. It is a unit that already featured Juulsen, Brett Lernout, Simon Bourque, Joel Hanley, Ryan Johnston, and Tom Parisi. The team also has a number of young goaltenders with potential, including Zach Fucale, Michael McNiven, Charlie Lindgren, and Hayden Hawkey. Up front there is depth on the wings.
However the team is looking for a stud centre. The attempts to convert both Scherbak and Hudon to centre show that the organization recognizes this weakness and is exploring internal options. If Scherbak does become a top-6 centre, it would be a real boost to the team. Other dark horse options include Lukas Vejdemo. He is playing in Sweden, but head scout Trevor Timmins has made some comments that the team believes they drafted a player with a ton of potential last year. William Bitten was the Habs third round pick this year. He was ranked considerably higher than that by LWOS. However there is some concern that he is going to be a winger and not a centre at the pro level. These four options all seem like long shots to really pan out as a top 6 centre. The Habs could stand to try to acquire a young centre this year, or to look for one in the 2017 Draft. Galchenyuk looks like he is ready to become the number one centre for this team. The question going forward will be, who is the second line guy behind him, as Tomas Plekanec gets older.
BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 24: Mikhail Sergachev poses for a portrait after being selected ninth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)