Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Montreal Canadiens Prospects
After missing the playoffs in 2016, the Montreal Canadiens came flying out of the gate in 2016-17, with a 9-0-1 start. The team would continue to rack up wins, until hitting a bit of a blip at the end of January/beginning of February. The down turn cost coach Michel Therrien his job. New coach Claude Julien came in and righted the ship. The Habs finished first in the Atlantic Division with 103 points. Unfortunately the team’s biggest issue, a lack of offence, came back to bite them in their first round playoff series with the New York Rangers. The Habs fell in six games.
The off-season has been one of change. The team traded for what they hope is a superstar forward in Jonathan Drouin, giving top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their were major losses to the left side of the defence. Andrei Markov went to the KHL; Alexei Emelin heads to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, before landing with the Nashville Predators; and Nathan Beaulieu was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. They also took a big hit up front when Alexander Radulov signed with the Dallas Stars. To fill the holes the Habs have added defencemen Karl Alzner, Joe Morrow, and Jakub Jerabek in free agency. They also traded for David Schlemko. Up front, the Habs added Ales Hemsky, Peter Holland, and Byran Froese. They still have $8.5 million in cap space for more additions.
Top Prospect: Noah Juulsen
Defense — 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 captained and led the Everett Silvertips to the best defence in the WHL last season. He also scored 12 goals and 34 points in 49 games. Juulsen’s play got him a top four role on Team Canada at the World Juniors, where he was mainly focused on the defensive end of the ice. He picked up two assists on route to a silver medal.
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 power play 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 more lower body strength to really excel in this area. He got a little better at this last season, but will likely find even more strength is needed now that he is in the pros.
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 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 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 moves from the WHL up to the AHL this season, and should be a top four defenceman for the Laval Rocket. He is likely one to two years away from the NHL.
#2 Prospect: Charlie Lindgren
Goalie — shoots Right — Catches Right
Born December 18th, 1993 — Lakeville, Minnesota
Height 6’2″ — Weight 190 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Signed as a college free agent in March 2016.
Lindgren was brilliant in his first full professional season. He was an AHL all-star and the undisputed MVP of the St. John’s IceCaps. His play was a major reason why the team finally made it into the playoffs. He also got in two games for the Habs, and did not look out of place with a .949 save percentage.
At 6’2″ Lindgren has good size in net. He makes the most of his size by coming out of the net to cut down his angles and challenge shooters. Lindgren is a quick skater and his strong legs allow him to retreat when necessary. This makes him hard to beat on dekes. He also has a good push and gets from post-to-post quickly on cross-ice plays. He takes away the bottom of the net effectively with quick pads and a well-refined butterfly. Lindgren alslo has a good blocker and quick glove on high shots. He has worked to improve his rebound control, though it could still be improved further.
Lindgren remains calm and cool in the net. He tracks the puck well, and maintains focus, even with heavy traffic in front of him. He also responds quickly to bad goals, as he does not let things spiral and is up and ready to make the next save. Lindgren is effective with his stick, making passes to defencemen to start the breakout, and even being able to make a long pass to the forwards if he catches the other team on a line change.
Lindgren will battle with Al Montoya for the back-up job in the Canadiens net. It is likely that he will have to spend another season in the AHL though. However, he could be ready to fully take the job in the 2018-19 season.
#3 Prospect: Victor Mete
Defense — 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
Mete had a brilliant season for the London Knights, picking up 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He played top minutes for the team, and many analysts (including this writer) thought that he was the best defenceman on the team, outshining more highly hyped prospect Olli Juolevi.
Mete is an outstanding skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He has quick feet, with excellent pivots allowing him to transition from offense to defense, 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. Combine these with his skating and he is excellent at carrying the puck out of his own zone and leading the rush. 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 can play the role of quarterback on the power play. Mete shows excellent hockey IQ though, as he sees plays developing and makes his passes at the right time to maximize the offensive opportunity. He showed a lot of improvement in his slap shot and wrist shot last year. These harder shots helped him to really increase his goal total.
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.
Mete will likely spend another season with the London Knights. He also also has a good chance to play for the Canadian World Junior Team. There are some who believe that Mete cannot become an effective NHL defenceman due to his lack of size. With his skating ability and hockey smarts, Mete has every opportunity to overcome that issue and have a long and productive NHL career.
#4 Prospect: Ryan Poehling
The Canadiens drafted Poehling with the 25th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Poehling. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 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
After an injury plagued first pro season, Nikita Scherbak showed big improvement in his second year with St. John’s. He scored 13 goals and 41 points in 66 games. He also got his first call-up to the NHL, scoring a goal in his first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Scherbak is an 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 showed this year that his skating issues of 2015-16 were mainly as a result of his injury.
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. One area that is lacking is consistency. Scherbak had long scoring streaks and long droughts last season. Making those droughts shorter and less frequent is key.
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 last year. 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 offense. 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 back check 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 likely needs another year in the AHL before he is ready to play in the NHL. Improving his defensive game, as well as his offensive consistency are big keys. He has a ton of talent, the question is if he can utilize it to be an effective NHL player.
#6 Prospect: Charles Hudon
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Jun 23 1994 — Alma, Quebec
Height 5’10” — Weight 195 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 5th round, #122 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Hudon had another brilliant season with the St. John’s IceCaps. He scored 27 goals and 49 points in 56 games. He also was the team’s most dangerous player in the playoffs with four points in four games. Hudon got another taste of NHL action, with two assists in three NHL games, but an injury suffered in practice put him on the shelf for a few weeks. When he returned, he headed back to the AHL.
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 stick work.
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 play maker 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 an outstanding release which can fool goalies. He also has a very good snap shot. Hudon is 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 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. The main issue is size. Hudon has some trouble containing bigger forwards.
Hudon heads to camp looking for a full-time spot on the Montreal Canadiens. There are limited spots available for wingers, and competition will be fierce, but Hudon’s time is now. Expect him to make the team in a bottom line/press box role to start the season, and work his way up the lineup as opportunities present themselves.
#7 Prospect: Michael McNiven
Goalie — shoots Left
Born July 9th, 1997 — Georgetown, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 212 lbs [185 cm / 96 kg]
Signed as a Free Agent in September 2015
McNiven was as good as it gets last season. He won both the OHL and CHL goalie of the year awards. McNiven was a rock at the backend for a young and talented Owen Sound Attack squad. His play was a major reason why the team finished with 102 points, just one point behind Erie for the best record in the league. The Attack also went to the conference finals before falling to the Otters.
At 6’1″ McNiven has decent but not overwhelming size. He makes the most of it, and takes full advantage by coming out of his net and cutting down angles effectively. McNiven just does not give shooters much to look at. His strong legs and good skating ability make this possible. His style is well refined for his age. McNiven gets up and down in the butterfly quickly, taking away the bottom of the net. He also has a very good glove hand.
McNiven’s side to side movement is excellent. He tracks the puck extremely well and gets across the crease quickly. McNiven made a number of highlight reel saves by getting post to post on a cross-crease pass. He is calm and composed in the net and as mentioned showed leadership for the young Attack squad. McNiven could stand to work on his rebound control, an issue for many young goalies.
The Habs will have a decision to make with McNiven. Do they want him backing up Lindgren at the AHL level, or getting big minutes in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast? Last season the team choose to put Zach Fucale in the ECHL for this reason. It is likely that Fucale goes to the Laval Rocket, and McNiven to the Beast. He could be in the AHL by 2018-19 and then move up the ladder.
#8 Prospect: Joni Ikonen
The Canadiens drafted Ikonen with the 58th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Ikonen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Martin Reway
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born January 24th 1995 — Prague, Czech Republic
Height 5’9″ — Weight 173 lbs [175 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 4th round, #116 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
A serious illness cost Reway all of the 2016-17 season. The exact details are unclear, but some type of virus caused Reway to have an enlarged heart, preventing him from participating in sports. Things seem to be under control now, and Reway has been cleared to continue training. He will attend Habs training camp in September.
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.
After a year away from the game, Reway’s conditioning is probably going to need some time to come around. He also will need to get the rust out of his game, and be back to the level he was at in 2015-16. Making the Laval Rocket out of camp, and not going to the ECHL to start the year would be an accomplishment. However, once he finds his game, expect him to quickly rise up the ranks.
The Habs strongest position is in goal. Lindgren and McNiven are stud goalie prospects. Zach Fucale has not quite worked out as the team hoped when they made him the first goalie taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, but there is still some potential there. Hayden Hawkey has performed well in college, nailing down a starting job. The team traded up to get Cayden Primeau in this year’s draft, believing he also has potential.
The Habs did an excellent job of re-stocking the defensive pipeline in this draft. Josh Brook, Scott Walford, Cale Fleury, and Jarret Tyszka were all very good value for where they were selected. They are all good skaters who move the puck effectively. Along with Juulsen and Mete, the system also features Brett Lernout who plays a physical defensive game and has a big shot. Simon Bourque is a defensive defenceman who has played in two Memorial Cups. It is unclear if the Casey Staum, Arvid Henrikson or Nicolas Koberstein will become part of this conversation.
Up front the Canadiens got an influx of centre talent in Poehling and Ikonen, this was badly needed. Will Bitten had an up-and-down OHL season, but may profile as more of a winger. Lukas Vedejmo needs to take a step forward offensively to be a legitimate threat. Jake Evans had an excellent season on a strong Notre Dame squad. With a few teammates leaving, he returns for his senior season, and will be expected to take on an even bigger role in the offense. Daniel Audette looks like an AHL power play specialist.
On the wings, the Habs see Jeremiah Addison move up after a strong season for Windsor in the OHL. They hope he brings some grit and secondary offence to Laval. They will also ask Jeremy Gregoire to bring a bit more in Laval. Antoine Waked is a QMJHL free agent signing who will be asked to play a power game.
The Habs system is great in goal, but requires real influxes of talent at the defence and forward positions. There are some players on defence, but they are young and development is needed. Up front, Scherbak and Hudon are close; Poeling and Ikonen have talent but are going to need patience, and the rest are projects. Adding a high end forward talent is the biggest concern right now.
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