Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. We 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, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse 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 playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Montreal Canadiens Prospects
To say that the Montreal Canadiens 2017-18 season was a disaster would be an understatement. Coming off finishing first in the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Canadiens would slump to just 71 points and finish 28th overall in the NHL. Carey Price missed time early in the season with chronic fatigue and never looked quite right. Shea Weber played just 26 games, and the Habs defence was lost without him. Max Pacioretty had injury issues and put up his worst season since 2010-11. Those three players were supposed to be the three best players on the team. They had down years and most of the rest of the roster followed.
After missing the playoffs, the Canadiens started to make some changes. New assistant coaches were brought in, as was a new staff for the AHL team in Laval. Alex Galchenyuk was traded for Max Domi. Joel Armia was added with the Winnipeg Jets dumping Steve Mason‘s contract on the Habs.
The biggest part of the team’s reset came during the draft, where the Habs entered the day with the third overall pick, four second-rounders, a third-round pick and three fourth-round picks. The Habs would make selections with each of their first four picks before the trading began. When it was done, the Habs had added even more picks, both in the 2018 draft and in future years. This, combined with a slow free agent day, the Habs indicating they will trade Pacioretty, and Weber being out for up to half of next season following knee surgery, all indications are that the Canadiens are entering a bit of a rebuild.
2018 NHL Draft Picks: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov, Jacob Olofsson, Cam Hillis, Jordan Harris, Allan McShane, Jack Gorniak, Cole Fonstad, Samuel Houde, Brett Stapley
Graduations: Charles Hudon,
Top Prospect: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
The Canadiens drafted Kotkaniemi with the 3rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kotkaniemi. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Ryan Poehling
Centre — shoots Left
Born January 3rd, 1999 — Lakeville, Minnesota
Height 6’2″ — Weight 200 lbs [188 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round, #25 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Poehling opted to enter school a year early, and so he was an 18-year-old Sophomore in his post-draft season. He had an excellent year with St. Cloud State, with 14 goals and 31 points in 36 games. These numbers more than doubled his freshman year. He also impressed in Team USA’s summer camp and try-out camp making the World Junior squad. Poehling played a key role, matching against other teams top lines, and scored three points in seven games as the US team took home the bronze medal.
Poehling is a good skater. He has decent speed and acceleration, but it could be improved with some slight alterations to his stride. This has already started as he improved a lot last season. He has good size and uses his speed to get in quickly on the forecheck, looking to pressure defenders and cause mistakes. Poehling has good lower body strength and balance. He is tough to knock off the puck, especially when working down low. He also is very good in puck battles. Poehling has the power to fight through checks and continue to the front of the net. His lateral agility and edgework are decent for a player with his size.
Ryan Poehling plays a gritty game, battling in the corners and in front of the net; as well as being effective on the forecheck. He also has a decent wrist shot and release. Poehling started to use that shot more this year and his goal totals doubled as a result. He could stand to shoot even more though, as he has a tendency to pass up shooting opportunities in order to make an extra pass.
Poehling’s stickhandling is decent, but he plays a very straightforward north-south style of game and isn’t the type to take on defenders in one-on-one situations. Instead, he looks to move the puck to an open teammate and then try to find an open area on the ice. He loves to run give-and-go style plays with his teammates. His vision is very good, and he seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck. Poehling is especially strong in the cycle game. He protects the puck well and extends plays, giving time for his linemates to get open.
Poehling is already a reliable defensive player at the NCAA level. He reads the play well and anticipates what opponents will do with the puck, to create turnovers, and start the transition game. His positioning is solid and he uses that in combination with an active stick to cut down passing lanes. Poehling is willing to put his body on the line and block shots. Poehling back checks effectively and supports the defence down low. He continues to play his gritty style in his own end of the rink, getting involved in puck battles in the corners, and helping to keep the front of the net clear.
Expect Poehling to play his junior year at St. Cloud State. Following the season, the Habs will push hard to get him to sign an entry-level contract and leave school. He could get his first taste of NHL action late in the regular season, depending on how deep the Huskies go in the NCAA tournament. Expect Poehling to be pushing for a full-time NHL spot in 2019 training camp.
#3 Prospect: Victor Mete
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 7th, 1998 — Woodbridge, Ontario
Height 5’10” — Weight 180 lbs [178 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 4th round, #100 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
At this time last year, there weren’t many who thought that Victor Mete would be NHL ready in 2017-18. While he was coming off a great season with the London Knights, transitioning to the NHL was expected to be at least a year or two away. Instead, Mete forced the issue, shining at Habs training camp and in pre-season. He won a spot on the team’s blueline and was one of the real bright spots in a disappointing campaign. In December, the Habs loaned Mete to the Canadian World Junior Team, where he played a key defensive role and brought home a gold medal.
Mete is an outstanding skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He has quick feet, with excellent pivots allowing him to transition from offence to defence, and with very good agility. Mete makes quick cuts and maneuvers away from forecheckers in his own end as well as through the neutral zone. He also has the ability to walk the line in the offensive zone, opening up passing and shooting lanes. Mete could stand to add a bit more core strength which would give him better balance, and allow him to be better in board battles and in clearing the front of the net. He still wins his fair share for a smaller player, making good use of his low centre of gravity and quick stick.
Mete has outstanding puck handling skills for his age. Combine these with his skating and he has shown real potential carrying the puck out of his own zone and leading the rush. He may only be showing flashes of this in the NHL right now, but it is something that he excelled at in Junior and should continue to develop. He also makes a great first pass, allowing him to start the transition game. Mete has excellent vision and sets up things with his end to end rushes, and could develop into a quarterback on the power play.
Mete shows excellent hockey IQ as he sees plays developing and makes his passes at the right time to maximize the offensive opportunity. His slap shot and wrist shot improved over his junior career, but still has a way to go before they are considered to be effective weapons at the NHL level.
Defensively, Mete’s quick feet allow him to keep attackers in front of him, and maintain great gap control. He is very difficult to beat off the rush, especially in one-on-one situations. Mete uses a quick stick to poke check the puck off of his opponents stick. He uses his good hockey IQ in his own end as well, anticipating plays and working to create turnovers and a quick transition game. He does have some issues with bigger and stronger forwards and containing them in the cycle game, as well as clearing the front of the net.
It is expected that Mete will again be a key part of the Canadiens defence, perhaps even in a top-four role. The team has options though, as he can be sent to the AHL without having to pass through waivers. Some have suggested that a bit of time in the AHL could allow Mete to better develop his offensive game at this stage in his career. That said, Mete did not look out of place at the NHL level last season, and most analysts believe he will be back in that role this season, especially on a Habs team that lacks puck-moving defencemen.
#4 Prospect: Nikita Scherbak
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born December 30th, 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 190 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round, 26th overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Last season, Nikita Scherbak showed off the skills that made him the Habs first round pick in the 2014 Draft. Despite missing some time due to injury, he was dominant at the AHL level with 30 points in 26 games. It eventually earned him a call-up to the big club. Scherbak played limited minutes in Montreal but showed flashes of brilliance. He finished the year with four goals and six points in 26 NHL games.
Scherbak is a strong and powerful skater. His stride may not be textbook, but he has good 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. Added lower body strength allows Scherbak to fight through checks and drive the net. He is very good when he is taking the puck to the front of the goal, but could do it even more. He also controls the puck well in the cycle.
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, at least in the offensive end of the ice.
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 really improved his consistency at the AHL level as he seemed to pick up a point in nearly every game. He had some struggles in his step up to the NHL game though, but that should resolve itself as he adjusts to the faster speed and higher level of play.
Scherbak has improved defensively, but there are still some very big strides to be taken. He sometimes looks lost in the defensive end of the ice. He has improved in reading the play and using his hockey sense, anticipation, and quick first step to close down passing lanes and cause turnovers. When he does this he is able to smartly transition towards the offence. He needs to pick his spots though, as he can over-commit which causes him to lose his man. He has shown more commitment to the backcheck and takes that increased physicality and grit into all three zones of the ice. Scherbak needs to continue to work on his defensive game at the pro level.
Scherbak would need waivers to return to the AHL, and the Canadiens are unlikely to risk losing him. As such, Scherbak is widely expected to make the roster out of training camp. The Canadiens are very deep on the wings, and so Scherbak must impress in camp so that he earns a role on a scoring line.
#5 Prospect: Noah Juulsen
Defence — shoots Right
Born April 2nd, 1997 — Abbotsford, British Columbia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 190 lbs [191 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1st Round, #26 Overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Noah Juulsen entered training camp, and his first professional season, looking to fight for a spot on the Montreal Canadiens roster. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken foot early in camp and was out for several months. When he was ready for action, he joined the Laval Rocket. Juulsen quickly became a consistent defender at the AHL level, even has a rookie. He put up six points in 31 games and earned himself a call-up to Montreal where he had three points in 23 games.
Juulsen is a strong skater, with a smooth and fluid stride. While he is not an absolute speedster, he does have good speed and acceleration. It is 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 point 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 forward tries to beat him to the outside.
Juulsen has good balance, helping him in board battles, but he could really stand to add lower-body strength to really excel in this area. He has improved this area over the last couple of years, but will likely find even more strength is needed now that he is in the pros.
Juulsen is mainly known for his defensive game, but there are some untapped 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 was able to quarterback the play from the blue line when he was in junior.
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 plays an extremely conservative game, but when he gets the chance to open things up, the skill is obvious.
Juulsen plays a physical game in his own end. He throws hits and battles 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. He is learning to pick his spots though. Juulsen is tough to beat off the rush due to his good skating and edgework. 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 the offence when that happens. He is more than willing to do what it takes to win, including block shots.
After Juulsen’s impressive audition last season, he is likely to be in Montreal to start this campaign. With the injury to Shea Weber, Juulsen’s opportunity became even more secure as Jeff Petry is the only healthy, right-handed defenceman who is clearly ahead of him on the depth chart.
#6 Prospect: Josh Brook
Defence — shoots Right
Born June 17th, 1999 — Roblin, Manitoba
Height 6’1″ — Weight 182 lbs [185 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2nd round, #56 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Brook missed the start of the 2017-18 season recovering from shoulder surgery. Once he came back, he didn’t miss a beat, as one of the best defencemen on one of the best teams in junior hockey. Brook played a strong two-way game for Moose Jaw, putting up 32 points in 45 regular season games, and six points in 14 playoff games. He was used for big minutes in all situations and often played against other team’s top lines. Brook’s performance earned him an invite to Team Canada’s Summer Showcase, a try-out camp/mini-tournament for the World Juniors. Unfortunately, he is still recovering from an injury suffered at the end of last season, and won’t take part in the event.
Josh Brook has a very good first step and strong acceleration. This helps him to retrieve loose pucks and to dart into openings. He is more quick than fast though. This is true in both directions. While his top end speed is good, he is not a speedster. Brook also has very good edgework and agility. His pivots are crisp and clean. His agility makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations, and his overall mobility is a strong asset in his game. Brook also has a strong lower-body. He has good balance when battling for pucks in the corners or fighting for position in front of the net. He also is strong on the puck when carrying it.
Brook transitions the puck from defence to offence quickly. He can stickhandle and skate the puck out of danger. Brook also has good skills in making the first pass or controlling things at the blue line. He tends to be a bit of a risk taker though, and this can lead to some inopportune turnovers. It is an area of his game that he will need to refine going forward. Overall though he makes many more good offensive plays than giveaways and helps his team maintain possession and drive play forward. Brook has even been known to take the puck end-to-end to create an offensive chance. He can also play the role of power play quarterback, setting things up on the blue line.
Brook also has a decent shot. His slap shot is accurate and he keeps it low and on the net. He also has a very good wrist shot and will pinch in from the point to get it off. His strong lateral agility allows Brook to walk the line, and to open up passing and shooting lanes.
Brook’s bread and better is his defensive game. He maintains very good gap control and can be very hard to beat one-on-one. He also clears the front of the net effectively and battles hard in the corners. Brook is not afraid to fight for pucks and to use his frame to contain an opponent, but he is not the type to go looking for a big hit. Instead, he looks to get the puck and quickly transition to offence. From time to time he can be a bit overaggressive in puck pursuit though, getting him into trouble.
Brook should head back for another season in the WHL. Moose Jaw is coached by Tim Hunter who is also coaching Canada’s World Junior entry. Brook’s absence at the summer showcase should not affect his chances of making the December tournament. Simply put, if he plays well at the start of the WHL season, the Canadian Brass will be well aware of it and if he struggles, they will also have a front row seat. Brook might be the Habs defensive prospect with the highest potential ceiling but is also a bit further away from NHL time.
#7 Prospect: Jesse Ylonen
The Canadiens drafted Ylonen with the 35th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Ylonen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#8 Prospect: Cayden Primeau
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born August 11th, 1999 — Voorhees, New Jersey
Height 6’3″ — Weight 181 lbs [191 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 7th round, #199 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
After being drafted in the seventh round just one year ago, Primeau outperformed many of the goaltenders taken ahead of him in the NHL draft. As a freshman, he took the starting job for Northeastern University and was brilliant with a 1.92 goals-against-average and 0.931 save percentage. Primeau won Hockey East goaltender of the year, as well as making the conference’s first all-star team and all-freshman team. He was also named a New England D-1 All-Star and Rookie of the Year.
Skating and Talent Analysis
Primeau has good size for a goaltender, and he takes full advantage of it. He comes out of his crease to challenge shooters and maximize the amount of space that he takes up. Primeau is a strong skater, who can back up quickly, or get post-to-post in a flash. Good butterfly technique and quick legs take away the bottom of the net. He has very good rebound control for an 18-year-old goalie. While this can improve, he’s already ahead of where most goalies are at his age. When a rebound is given up, Primeau has a knack for staying square to the puck and being ready for the next shot.
Primeau was criticized for having issues with rebound control with his blocker, and for not having a good enough glove hand. These issues seemed non-existent in his freshman season at Northeastern. He made a big jump in both areas and showed big-time improvement. Primeau can also get out of his net and handle the puck. At times he acts like a third defender, moving the puck up quickly to his defencemen and starting the transition game.
The son of Keith Primeau, Cayden Primeau grew up around hockey. He experienced the pressure and expectations that come from being an NHLer’s son while playing minor hockey from a young age. This has helped him as he goes through his hockey career. Primeau is very good at keeping his emotions under control. He is able to continue to stand tall, even in the face of heavy traffic. He also is quickly able to shake off a goal against and is ready to make the next save. Even though he was a freshman, Primeau showed leadership, as a steady presence in net that his defence could rely on.
Primeau heads back to Northeastern looking to improve on his outstanding freshman campaign. He should once again be one of the top goalies in the NCAA. Primeau is also an early favourite to be Team USA’s starting goaltender at this year’s World Junior Championships.
#9 Prospect Jacob Olofsson
The Canadiens drafted Olofsson with the 56th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Olofsson. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Cale Fleury
Defence — shoots Right
Born November 19th, 1998 — Calgary, Alberta
Height 6’1″ — Weight 201 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 3rd round, #87 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Fleury started the season as the Kootenay Ice captain, but the rebuilding club quickly traded him to the Regina Pats who were loading up to host the Memorial Cup. Split between the two clubs, Fleury finished with his best offensive season in junior, scoring 12 goals and 51 points in 68 games. He helped the Pats to the Memorial Cup final, where they ultimately fell to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Fleury is a very good skater, as his mobility allows him to play an effective two-way game. He has a good first step and strong acceleration. He also has very good top end speed. This is true in both directions. Fleury is able to pinch in from the blue line, or join the rush and still get back defensively. He also has very good pivots, transitioning from offence to defence, and vice-versa very quickly. His lateral agility is good as well. This allows him to walk the line in the offensive zone, opening up passing and shooting lanes. It also helps Fleury to defend against the rush, keeping him between his man and the net. Fleury has good lower body strength. He is strong on the puck and has good balance when fighting for pucks in the corners or in front of the net.
Fleury has some offensive tools. He has a hard and accurate point shot. Fleury makes good use of both his slap shot and wrist shot. He can sneak down from the point and get his wrister through traffic. It features good power and a quick release. He also has decent puck handling skill and good vision and passing ability. Fleury makes a strong first pass to start the transition game, and also has the poise to quarterback the power play from the blue line.
Fleury sometimes tries a little too hard to push the play out of his own end. This can lead to taking risks, and to mistakes such as giveaways. However, he really reduced this tendency following the trade to Regina. In Kootenay, it might just have been because he was playing for a struggling team that was almost always trailing in the game, and he had to take bigger risks to generate offence.
Fleury works hard in his own end, engaging physically in the corners and in front of the net. He could stand to improve his upper body strength in order to really be effective at the next level but does well against the junior competition. His positioning is good most of the time, but he still has a bit of a tendency to chase the puck too much. It is something that can get better with work and good coaching.
With a late birthday, Fleury is eligible to play in the AHL this season. However, he has not yet signed an entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens. If the deal gets done before the end of training camp, and there is little reason to suggest it wouldn’t get done if he has a good camp, expect to see Fleury in Laval. If not, he could play an overage season in the WHL.
Sleeper Prospect: Jake Evans
Centre — shoots Right
Born June 2nd, 1996 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 188 lbs [183 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 7th round, #207 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Drafted in the seventh round by the Habs in 2014, Evans has grown during his time at Notre Dame and was one of the top players in college hockey. His 13 goals and 46 points in 40 games led the team in scoring and as captain, he took them all the way to the final of the Frozen Four Tournament.
Evans is a good, but not a great skater. He has decent speed and acceleration but could stand to work on generating a more powerful stride. His edgework and agility allow him to slip into open areas and get around defenders. One area that needs some work is his lower-body strength. He needs better balance and this will help him to win board battles and not get knocked off the puck as much.
Evans is a strong playmaker in the offensive zone, with good instincts and passing skill. He sees the ice well and has the hockey IQ to anticipate where teammates are headed and make smart plays with the puck. Evans shiftiness allows him to open up passing lanes and find an open teammate. If an opportunity is not available, he does a good job of not forcing things, but instead moving the puck to an open teammate and keeping the cycle game going.
Evans has a decent wrist shot and release but could stand to use it more often. His one-timer is good. Evans can also score in tight to the net finishing rebounds and getting deflections. He will need to get stronger to play his game at the pro level, as he will have trouble winning board battles and forechecking effectively against stronger competition. This should be a key focus of his development going forward.
Evans is a strong two-way player who did it all for the Irish. While his offensive game sees him play on the top line, he also played against the other team’s top players and helped kill penalties. Evans supports the defence down low on the backcheck and plays a strong positional game cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He reads the play well, and his anticipation causes turnovers and creates transitions. He could stand to bulk up and will need the extra strength now that he has moved up to the pro game. Evans is also good on faceoffs.
Evans will likely start the year with the Laval Rocket, as he will need time to adjust to playing against stronger and faster competition. If things go well, he could be an injury call-up to the Habs this year, but it is more likely that he is fighting for a full-time job in 2018-19.
The Canadiens have long been criticized, and rightly so, for their lack of top centre options. While this remains the case at the NHL level, they have taken steps to address the problem in their system. The 2017 Draft featured Kotkaniemi taken third overall, and the Habs loaded up with centres throughout the draft taking players like Olofsson, Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad, Cam Hillis, and others. Adding them to a group with Poehling, Joni Ikonen, Evans, and Lukas Vejdemo has given the team a deep stable of centre prospects. On the wings, the Habs have a number of players under the age of 24 contributing at the NHL level, and some solid prospects in Scherbak, Ylonen, and Will Bitten. It should be noted that some of the Habs centres could convert to wing if things get crowded up the middle.
The right side of the defence is strong with Juulsen, Brook, Fleury, and Brett Lernout. There were questions about the left side with Mete, Jarret Tyszka, and Scott Walford the only legitimate prospects. The Habs added Mike Reilly (a young defender but not a prospect) and Rinat Valiev at the trade deadline. They signed Michal Moravcik and David Sklenicka out of the Czech Republic and drafted Romanov and Harris to address the position.
Even with a pair of departures, the team’s goaltending pipeline remains a strength. Primeau is a high-end prospect. Charlie Lindgren is knocking on the door of an NHL backup job, and Michael McNiven had a stellar junior career.
While the Habs pipeline has just one blue-chip level prospect in Kotkaniemi, the overall depth and number of good prospects are extremely impressive.
Embed from Getty Images