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Top-15 CH prospects: Introduction, promotions and honorable mentions

And here we are again, at this time of year: time for our good old list of the CH’s most important prospects!

A small change, and a sign of the quantity and quality of the Habs’ youngsters, our list goes from 12 to 15 prospects who deserve to be considered as important, i.e. who could have a significant impact on the team’s future success.

Proof of the quality and depth of the team’s pool of hopefuls, last year, just outside the top-12, in our “honorable mentions” list, no less than three players played more than 30 games with the big club: Harvey-Pinard, Ylonen and Xhekaj.

It really was time to extend the list a little!

Introduction: What is a prospect? Some examples to help you understand

If there’s one concept in the world of field hockey that’s open to a fair amount of subjectivity, it’shope.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a question of whether a player is already established in the NHL. Juraj Slafkovsky established himself in the NHL last year, but it’s just that we decided to develop him there rather than elsewhere. We’re still a long way from the finished product in his case.

Nor is there a magic number of games.

A bit like “best before” yogurt on July 30 that doesn’t suddenly become inedible at midnight (whatever Tendre MoitiĂ© thinks), the prospect doesn’t suddenly become a veteran who has shown us all his potential becausehe’s played 50, 80, even 110 games in the show.

Nor is it a question of age. You can unlock at 18 or 25.

At 24, Harvey-Pinard proved to everyone last year that he can still improve and establish himself brilliantly in the NHL a little late in life.

As we’ve seen, RHP dominated the AHL for a few seasons, then broke out in the NHL before even playing 40 games, and finally emerged as the famous Gallagher 2.0 we’ d longseen in him. Seasons of 20-plus goals – he scored 14 in 34 games last season! – are now on the cards for him in the coming years in a depanneur/grinder/marker role, not to mention the fact that the Quebecer will be an excellent barometer winger for prospects like Slafkovsky.

Like, “ You want to play wing in the top-6, Slaf? Okay, you’ve got to be better than that guy.

For others, the big breakthrough or confirmation may come a little earlier – Caufield at 21-22 comes to mind, as does a mature, intelligent guy like Harris at 22-23. As for the rest, who expects much better offensively (17 points in 65 games) and defensively (+7) from this college-educated fullback who arrived as an almost finished product?

The borderline cases of my non-static definition of a prospect would be Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook, the two iconic acquisitions of the Hughes-Gorton era.

Dach now has 210 NHL games under his belt, and it may seem as though he still has a lot to show us. But what he does have to show is essentially a full season’s worth of statistics. He showed us most of it last year. Given that he had his big breakthrough and that the player we saw from last November onwards often seemed to be the best player on the ice, I think his case is heard.

Dach has reached his physical and tactical maturity, and we’re now seeing his true potential as a dominant NHL forward, something Hawks scouts saw in him in 2019. It just remains to be seen how dominant he can be night after night, and the 60+ point seasons that will come with it.

For his part, Newhook, 22 since January, already has 159 games under his belt, but has yet to hit his stride despite considerable potential, including outstanding top-end speed and a killer shot.

So he’ll be on our list, along with Guhle, Slaf, Xhekaj, Barron and even a certain Lias Andersson…

So, basically, a hopeful is a relatively young player from whom there is still something more to rationally and realistically hope for. Something like a blossoming, a confirmation of potential, another level yet to be reached on a regular basis in the NHL, as Suzuki, Caufield, Dach and RHP have recently done.

Once again this year, we’ll try to establish a coherent and defensible order of importance among the CH’s prospects by asking ourselves these questions: Which are the most likely to make the Habs a better team? Which are most likely to become the team’s most valuable players? For a more detailed explanation of how we compile hopefuls, I refer you to this article from 2021.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into our 2023 honorable mentions.

Oliver Kapanen | C, right-handed, 20 years old, 6’1, 179 lbs | Last ranking : Uncategorized

No, I don’t think I’m as big a Kapanen fan as Grant McKaag, who currently ranks him 4th among the club’s non-NHL prospects and sees him as a potential 2nd center in the best league in the world.

It’s true that he showed some interesting statistics in the Finnish Liiga (27 points in 55 games) at the age of 19, but as his country’s first center at the last WJC, Kapanen, his country’s captain, broke absolutely nothing offensively, even though he had the chance to play with an elite shooter in Joakim Kemell. In two years at this tournament, he has scored just five points in 12 games.

Despite his limited offensive talent, Kapanen is far from being a celery stalk.

Tenacity, hustle, leadership, work ethic: these are the real calling cards of the Finn, who already plays a professional style of play, similar to Owen Beck’s, but with a little less talent and dynamism.

Kapanen has a pretty good chance of one day playing in the NHL, thanks to his work ethic and responsible style of play, but if he does, it will only be as a support player on a bottom-6 . He bears a striking resemblance to that famous right-handed 4th-three center that makes many NHL coaches happy…

Let’s just say that having the luxury of placing a prospect of Oliver Kapanen’s calibre in the honourable mentions already tells us a lot about the quality of the Habs’ prospect bank, which is undoubtedly still ranked around the top 10 in the NHL.

But why isn’t Kapanen more important to me for the CH, you ask? Simply because, with Suzuki, Dach, Beck and Mesar all available as right-handed centers, Kapanen isn’t exactly a rarity in the organization, and you can bet a few bucks that Hughes and Gorton have already placed Beck and Mesar (whom they drafted) ahead of Kapanen (whom Timmins and Bergevin drafted) in the club’s organization chart.

William Trudeau | DG, 20 years old, 6’1, 187 lbs | Latest ranking : Uncategorized

Few 20-year-old defensemen know the kind of season Trudeau had last year in the AHL. 27 points in 60 games and a +8 record – that’s no mean feat! No one saw this coming from this4th-round pick in 2021.

Trudeau may not be flashy, but he’s rock-solid defensively, as evidenced by his impressive +/- differential in junior and the AHL. He’s also capable of producing his fair share of points thanks to his efficiency and intelligence. He regularly makes good decisions on the ice and executes quickly and well.

For fans of construction analogies, Trudeau’s ceiling may not be the highest, but his floor comes close to knee height. The problem with this is that the player’s progression curve is already coming to an end, and the 24-year-old Trudeau won’t be much different from the 20-year-old. But with what he did at 20 in the AHL, you’ve got to give him a good chance of breaking into an NHL line-up one day and establishing himself for a while on a third pair.

Of course, with organizational congestion still high on the left side of the defense, Trudeau’s use value isn’t that great for the CH, and for the time being, there’s no better plan than to continue his development in Laval.

But for various reasons, Matheson, Guhle and Xhekaj could be prone to further injury, and Harris is far from untouchable, as is Struble. Engstrom isn’t in America yet, and Hutson won’t arrive in town until next spring. If the stars align a little, Trudeau could have a chance to shine in the spotlight as early as this year.

And if he does, his value will undoubtedly rise around the NHL. Playing in the NHL as a 21-year-old defenseman is no mean feat, and teams are taking note. For now, Trudeau would be at best a throw-in in a major trade. But he could become an interesting target if he has the chance to progress further this season.

Sooner or later, it will be up to Kent Hughes to play his cards right and make the right choices with his string of left-handed defensemen. To be worthwhile, each player must be given the opportunity to shine, whether in Laval, Europe or Montreal.

If the Quebecer becomes the Rocket’s #1 defenseman this season – he already was on certain nights last year – with the whole new band of quality prospects expected to join him, he’ll open a lot of eyes in Montreal and elsewhere. Trudeau would be a top-15 player for many teams, let’s not lose sight of that…

Cayden Primeau | G, 23, 6’3, 203 lbs Last position: 7th

After staying in our top-10 since turning pro, it’s time to review Primeau’s importance to the Hughes and Gorton Canadiens, who just drafted no less than three goaltenders at the last amateur auction and are about to extend the contract of friendly, still-young and very effective Samuel Montembeault.

Still, it’s not a total disavowal of Primeau, for as the excellent Anthony Marcotte – perhaps the man who knows the Laval Rocket’s players best of all the observers – reminded us, had it not been for Primeau’s prowess, the Rocket wouldn’t have made the playoffs last year, and wouldn’t have enjoyed the unexpected playoff run of 2021-2022.

There’s also the “Adin Hill factor”, when you realize that the likes of Hill, Binnington and Kuemper have won three of the last five Stanley Cups, it makes you start seriously reconsidering the overall importance of goaltending in teams’ NHL success.

Primeau will begin a healthy competition in Laval this year (if he passes the ballot) with young Jakub Dobes, and we’ll see what effect it has on him to have a youngster at his side for the first time when he’s in the veteran’s role.

The Habs may have to ballot Primeau as early as this fall if they don’t find a buyer for him in a trade. But the American has a guaranteed NHL contract until the end of the 2024-2025 season, and a team would really have to be in love with him and have a place for him in the NHL to acquire him considering his salary.

Jayden Struble | D, left-handed, 6’0, 194 lbs | Last ranking: honorable mention

We gave Jayden Struble a rather favorable review following his selection at No. 46 in 2019 in this annual ranking. We recall that, at the time, Trevor Timmins thought he bore a striking resemblance to a certain P.K. Subban. While Struble – 22 in September – continued to improve his defensive game last year at Northeastern, we still expected much more from him offensively, as he didn’t really progress at this level during his last three seasons in the university ranks. Strange, given that this was his main calling card when he was drafted. But there was also robustness:

Struble will undoubtedly return to Laval in the fall, having impressed Jean-François Houle with the overall quality of his play upon his arrival with the team last spring. Hoping that the injuries that slowed his development are now a thing of the past, it will be interesting to see where he fits in the Rocket’s blue-line hierarchy.

With the congestion on the left side of the defence continuing after the departures of Romanov and Edmundson and the arrival of veteran Matheson, Struble is one of those who could sooner or later be sacrificed by the organization. But there’s no hurry now that he’s under contract for the next two seasons.

Vinzenz Rohrer | C, AD, 18 years old, 5’10, 161 lbs | Last ranking: honorable mention

Rohrer, a 3rd-round pick in 2022, is a brilliant young man who was drafted for his speed, drive and feel for the game, and we were pretty excited about his selection last summer. But we now have to take into account the two major injuries he suffered last year (a puck to the face and a fall on the head following a body check), which undoubtedly slowed down his development.

Even so, Rohrer, who is still only 18 (!), looked good enough for Austria at the last WCJ and still has time to make the offensive progress expected of him last year in the OHL with the mighty Ottawa 67s, the best club in the regular season. So we’ll continue to keep an eye on him, as a depth role is not out of the question for him in the future.

And so our honorable mentions come to an end here, although we can no doubt still spare a thought for Luke Tuch, CĂ©drick Guindon, Riley Kidney, Tyler Smilanic, Xavier Simoneau, Jared Davidson, Jakub Dobes and Nicolas Beaudin.

Out of the lot, one or two may yet break through

We’ll be back next week with positions 15 to 13!

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