Monday, September 21, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview:

Prospects Up Front

While I don't have the data, the time or the energy to continue reviewing each player down the Canadiens depth chart to the same extent as the roster players, I thought it would at least be useful to list who's next in line and add some thoughts and useful info for those that are interested.

I'll begin at the top, closest to the NHL and then proceed down the lineup. I should note that I am keeping those players who have no chance of playing in Montreal this season whatsoever in a separate pile for now – even though they mostly represent our top futures among the forwards.

Potential call-ups

1) Ben Maxwell

First in line for a call up seem to be Ben Maxwell. Personally, I'm not sure what to make of this player. From junior to the AHL, he certainly hasn't shown a desire or ability to dominate the play. And those who say he's big must certainly mean big relative to the Canadiens smallest players, since his height is a mere 6' and his weight must be below league average.

Either someone at Hockey's Future is really high on Maxwell (yet unable to express it in their writing) or the Canadiens are starting to scrape the barrel with prospects, because he's listed as the #2 prospect in the entire organization.

At best, I think Maxwell could be a solid second liner one day provided he can gel with a talent on the wing. For this season, I don't think he'll be given the chance to gel with anyone in the NHL. But he'd do well to think about that in the AHL – especially if Pacioretty is the guy.

2) Mathieu Darche

Second in line for a call up in my opinion will be Mathieu Darche. With the team as it is, Darche looks like a really smart signing from Gainey and BriseBois. It provides the team a player that can be brought up with likely waiver clearance that not only has NHL experience, but also in playing the commuter role.

At 33, the former McGill Redman is probably nearing the end of his NHL road; and one would think that his production will decline given time. Even so, Darche, if recalled, would give a credible two-way game on the fourth line (maybe even third) with the potential for a goal here and there.

Even without a call up, Darche's value on the Redmen alum team (oops, I mean Bulldogs) will be tangible. He knows the coaches, he has NHL stries to tell and he has pursued a career with some success while pushing through adversity. In short, he has character.

3) Ryan White

I've been noticing subtel name dropping going on quite a bit from coach Jacques. While he has nice things to say about almost everyone at this point, it seems like Ryan White has been singled out for some special praise.

Though he's coming from a long way back (see rough season in Hamilton), Ryan actually looks to me like a better bet than Maxwell. In fact, it looks to me like he's been sold short quite a bit along the way. For on thing, he has better WHL numbers than the supposedly visionary Maxwell. For another, at the same height his frame isn't just projectable to 200 lbs, it already carries that many – he's already bigger. The best quote to describe is this one, I thought, as it explains how people don't expect much going in, but somehow (without explanation) he impresses:
"He’s not a great physical specimen, he’s not necessarily in great physical condition, but when we put him on the ice, he does nothing but win battles,” said Hitmen GM and head coach Kelly Kisio.

I don't expect Ryan to make the team right away, because his Hamilton numbers do lead to questions. However, if he starts well on the farm he could be an option come mid-winter.

4) Mikael Johansson

A Swede drafted by the Wings must be worth taking a chance on. He certainly has some attributes that make him an interesting prospect. However, in between his drafting and his signing in Montreal 6 years later, the Wings were right to note a lack of meteoric progress. That's why I have to believe that this season has been bookmarked as a trial for Mikael in the North American game, because Niklas Sundstrom II is not a player the Habs need just now.

Nonetheless, his talent and production in Sweden do count for something and put him higher on the list than the next tier of borderline talent. Because of his size, if and when he makes it to the NHL could well depend on who in the current lineup needs to be replaced. Though he might fit on a line with Latendresse and Cammalleri, it's harder to imagine him getting the call to centre Laarque and Moen.

5) Tom Pyatt

If you remember one thing about Tom Pyatt, remember this: he played for Team Canada twice, winning 2 gold medals.

That alone isn't that meaningful, but it does mean someone somewhere thinks he has something to offer, and not only that, he can deliver on the expectation with wins. Usually a Habs prospect plays in the WJC and we go gaga for years after (see Price, Carey), so his inconspicuous arrival is funny in that way. Perhaps it shows the kind of player he is, he did after all win the OHL's "Lady Byng" in 2007.

Hockey's future describes his talent:
Heart and soul player with good offensive instincts and good hands. Can play both ways, but his size and strength has thus far made for a difficult adjustment to professional play.

That quote, together with his CV makes him stand out among our also rans. I don't expect many NHL games from Pyatt, but get the feeling that if he were called up, he'd be capable.

6) Brock Trotter

We're getting near the niche players now, but Brock is not one of them. By all accounts, Brock is a hard worker, plays hard and can adapt to many situations. He would be an ideal call up if not for being such a small guy – though I wouldn't flinch at adding another 5'10" player, I think the tolerance of more conventional pundits (and I imagine coaches) has been tested already.

That said, Brock isn't really banging down the door to the NHL either, nor do I expect him to. His 2 seasons in the AHL now have been OK, but he has also allowed himself to be overtaken in the depth chart. I expect this undrafted player may have to get used to that again this season.

7) David Desharnais

As I listened to fan game reviews yesterday, I'd have thought that David Desharnais was the next coming of Martin St Louis. But you know what, it doesn't really add up for me. While I'm sure he must have oodles of talent to score so many point in junior, it remains that he only actually scored 24 goals in the AHL.

While you have to credit his perseverance, the drop in production a AHL level from prolific to adequate doesn't raise the right flags for the NHL evaluators. Still, you never know – a rare chance taken could lead to great things – I'm just not betting on it today.

8) Andrew Conboy

Notorious for making the AHL simply because he got booted out of the NCAA. Not a great start, unless that is, you're hoping to be an intimidator at the NHL level.

At this point in his career, I don't think Andrew could really be aspiring to be much else, do you? His numbers when he made the jump to college certainly took most hope of the power moniker being attached to forward in his case. Still, his 9 goals in 14 playoff games in 2007-08 for Omaha are the one beacon of light here.

9) Mike Glumac

Career AHLer, I'm afraid. Still, is a useful player to have in Hamilton for his AHL prowess alone. And, should all 8 of these guys and more go down with flu or something, wouldn't be a disaster in the NHL.

10) Ryan Russell

The original Tom Pyatt. His progression is steady in the minor pro ranks, but you have to wonder where the progression is leading him. At this point, he looks far more a future Mike Glumac than he does a future Canadien. However, because of the nature of the 4th line in the NHL, his combination of skating, hard work and AHL hands could make him an able stand in.

11) Eric Neilson

No player has gone more out of his way to make an impression this fall in camp than Neilson. With the Canadiens, though, his sole purpose would be to fight. And while Gainey and co. seem to be wavering over how they feel about fighting, the fact that Laraque is still around spells no call up for Neilson. Should that change, then he'd have a lifeline.

12) Olivier Fortier

In my opinion, Fortier has no chance of playing an NHL game whatsoever this season. Though he won the Guy Carbonneau trophy, he's no Carbonneau yet. For one thing, Carbonneau had NHL calibre scoring and skating potential at junior level. His conversion to defensive specialist was abetted by these facets of his game. For Fortier, he's already gone down that route in junior, which is a red flag for me (see career, Chipchura).

What's more, his defensive game hasn't been tested against anyone other than what amounts to forwards from the weakest league in Canada. Hamilton will have to be a testing/training ground for him. It wouldn't hurt if he turned in some key offensive contributions along the way to make him look more than a next-generation Metropolit.

13) Dany Masse

Missing camp is a killer for Masse, and I'm sure he knows it. His evaluation, and thus promotion prospects, have been put on hold for now. And that goes for me too – since it's hard to judge how an overage junior on a league best team will fare against better players and goalies in both the AHL and NHL.

14) JT Wyman

Almost off the books, I'm sure. Wyman may once have been a prospect, he's now AHL filler. He should go the way of Duncan Milroy and Jonathan Ferland by the end of this season barring what would need to be a miracle turnaround and injection of talent.

Not at camp

1) Andreas Engqvist

NHL ready, but contractually tied, I'd keep an eye on Andreas' stats in Sweden if you want to get a look into a player that should figure in the Canadiens plans within a year or two.

2) Danny Kristo

From the sounds of it, Kristo has the offensive skills and speed to play in the NHL. The only things stopping him at the moment are a commitment to his NCAA club North Dakota and a few late signings in Montreal to fill the roster.

3) Steve Quailer

Qualier, to me, is the unheralded Canadiens draft pick. Good numbers in the USHL, followed by a decent start as a rookie at Northeastern have jumped Qualier into my sights, and I'm sure those of the team brass. If Latendresse doesn't pan out as a power forward, Qualier is the next one in line to try to take the mantle.

4) Louis Leblanc

Hard not to be impressed with Louis' career. I'm sure the coverage he's received already, and the coverage his Harvard career will get means I can forego a big preview here. I'll say this, if Plekanec still looks like a third liner next spring, then Louis might be having some talks about how far he wants to take his university education.

5) Alexander Avtsyn

A great draft pick with a lot of points in junior. He's still got a lot to prove at his next level to show he can ever play for the Habs, let alone be mentioned in the same breath as Ovechkin.

6) Joonas Nattinen

Another big centre who could get some career advice next spring depending on how the year goes for everyone. His career could go anywhere from here, so let's just sit back and cross our fingers.

7) Maxim Trunev

"Our Euro scouts describe him as a combination of the two Kostitsyn brothers,” Timmins explained. “He was the MVP of the Mac’s midget tournament earlier this year in Calgary and he’s one of the youngest players in the draft.”

Timmins doesn't exactly have a 100% record, but some of his punts have come off (Mark Streit, Halak). To play this season again with Severstal Cherepovets, he is listed as a player to watch in the KHL by Hockey's Future.

8) Gabriel Dumont

The last player I will go out on a limb to note is Gabriel Dumont. He's already been demoted back to junior from the Canadiens camps. Talked up as a future Talbot/Lapierre type player, this season it will be critical for him to succeed on the Voltigeurs squad with a lesser cast. I think that if he does that, there will be no doubt about him reaching Montreal one day.

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