After positions 12 to 10, when we successively analyzed goaltender Jacob Fowler, as well as defensemen Logan Mailloux and Arber Xhekaj, it’s now the turn of two other defensemen, Justin Barron and Adam Engstrom, to take the test.
It’s worth noting that they’re just ahead of Mailloux and Xhekaj, and that the “difference” between the four defenders remains highly debatable in many respects.
We all agree that this isn’t an exact science like Monopoly (!), where we know full well that the “oranges” are the properties on which we are most likely to land, and which we must ultimately seek to acquire if we want to increase our chances of winning the game!
Be that as it may, since we haven’t yet found a way to simulate NHL careers as accurately as we have based on the viewing and statistics of young prospects, I feel that Barron and Engstrom should be more important in the overall picture of the CH team.
Mainly because their general mobility and field hockey IQ are superior to those of the two Ontarians and, given a good competitive spirit(compete level), these two attributes remain key factors for success in high-level field hockey. They are also qualities HIGHLY valued by the CH’s new staff in the style of play they wish to promote.
The fact that Barron (via transaction) and Engstrom were chosen and selected by this same new management also prompts me to rank them a little higher than the other two in this countdown of the CH’s most important prospects.
The words of Habseyeontheprize’s Patrik Bexell, a specialist in Swedish hopefuls, can be a bit of a mixed bag. A few years ago, it was Bexell and this site who perhaps did most to raise Mathias Norlinder’s profile with comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom (!), rankings of 5th (2020) and 4th (2021) in their annual Top 25 under 25 and, of course, a few “mythical highlights ” on social networks, such as this one :
Adam Engström stood in the shadows behind teammates Liam Öhgren, Noah Östlund, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and Calle Odelius in his draft year, but after a stellar season following his selection by the Montreal Canadiens, it is Engström who’s in everyone’s spotlight.
Öhgren, Östlund and Lekkerimäki literally couldn’t even play in the same league as Engstrom in 22-23; instead, they played in SWE-1, without breaking a sweat, and the same goes for Odelius, who was selected 65th. Engstrom, on the other hand, has continued to progress and was Rogle’s best player in the SweHL playoffs, no less.
So it wouldn’t be completely crazy to think that, in retrospect, Engstrom, selected 92nd by the Tricolore in 2022, should already be getting some very serious consideration as a player who would have been worthy of the first round.
After Slafkovsky (1st), Mesar (26th), Beck (33rd) and Hutson (62nd), all of whom already deserve to be considered first-round picks in retrospect (even if doubts persist about Mesar…), could the CH have a 5th 2022 prospect who could become one of the 32 best field hockey players of his year?
Seen from here, with a year’s hindsight, it’s certainly not impossible.
That’s why, in my mind, Adam Engstrom is the Montreal Canadiens’ most underrated prospect, not Kapanen, as Grant McCagg would argue.
In our eyes, from what we’ve seen of him at the last two WJCs, Kapanen is simply a second-rate prospect, an “honorable mention” outside the top-15, perhaps a future 4th-trio center, hard-working, not bad at all, but with no really dominant quality. I really don’t see the 2nd center potential the former Canadiens scout is talking about…
In Engstrom’s case, you can immediately see his qualities, many of which are above average: exemplary mobility in all directions, big field hockey IQ, calm, confident and efficient in his execution with the puck, good size, surprising hands, excellent defensive positioning, just robust enough, nice overall maturity in his game.
His only “big” flaw would be his ordinary shot. But shot strength is perhaps the most overrated aspect of defenseman evaluation.
When you look at Engstrom’s performance in Sweden (SHL), at the CMJ and then at the development camp, where he greatly impressed me, and you add up all his qualities, you see a very complete, intelligent and constantly improving defenseman, with potential worthy of the top-4 of any NHL club.
Engstrom may never have all the offensive talent required to play power-play quarterback, but he’s got what it takes to play big minutes at five-on-five and short-handed.
Basically, on the left side, when you look at all the qualities and little flaws, it’s a potential that could resemble Kaiden Guhle’s in a less kamikaze style and with a less good throw.
Assurance of reaching his potential
Unlike Guhle, Xhekaj and Mailloux, Engstrom doesn’t seem the type to want to hurt the opponent every time he’s present, preferring instead good positioning to take the puck away from the opponent, a little more in the Swedish tradition (Ulf Samuelsson being the exception!).
It’s less spectacular, but generally makes for longer, less painful careers.
Don’t get me wrong, Engstrom isn’t soft, far from it; he can even be rather rough in front of the net. He’s just wiser in general.
But, just as on the road and in life in general, the people who have the fewest accidents are usually the ones who expose themselves least to unnecessary risks…
And even though he’s Swedish, he didn’t seem out of place in North American rinks at the last CMJ in the Maritimes. He was expected to be on Sweden’s last pair? He ended the tournament on the first! Unlike other Swedes before him (Nygren and Norlinder), I have no fears about his adaptation to the style of play that awaits him in the AHL or NHL.
Despite his propensity to exceed expectations since being drafted, we’d be wary of handing Engstrom the keys to the tank before his arrival in town. There’s still a long way to go between Rogle and Montreal.
When we talk about Xhekaj and Mailloux, we think “they could establish themselves in a top-4″. But major doubts persist because not all the qualities seem to be present in either of them, especially when it comes to defensive positioning, stability, consistency and efficiency in decision-making and execution. Almost all qualities associated with field hockey IQ…
Engstrom’s intelligence seems to bring the stability and versatility so beloved by coaches. That’s why I’m inclined to think that his chances of becoming an excellent4th defenseman are better than those of the aforementioned duo.
Guhle gets injured a lot, is likely to demand a big contract and has excellent market value? Hmmm…
Matheson may be productive and from Quebec, but he’s also injured a lot and will be 32 at the end of his current contract. Hmmm…
Hutson is wonderful offensively, but can’t handle the tricky defensive tasks? Hmmm…
Xhekaj is not stable enough defensively and is often injured too? Hmmm…
Harris is okay but no more than a 4th-5th defenseman and he’s asking for a substantial raise? Hmmm…
Understandably, if he continues his phenomenal progression, Engstrom will become more than just a “nice, nasty insurance policy” for the Tricolore; he could simply become a better option in the team’s plans than many of his competitors on the left side.
And he can also play on the right side if need be…
That said, the fact that there’s an overabundance of young left-handed defensemen in the organization robs him of some of his rarity and therefore use value.
Of course, given what we’ve just said, we’d be inclined to believe that Engstrom’s medium- and long-term use value for the CH is greater than his exchange value.
But if we’re comfortable with Guhle and company in the top-4, want to keep Matheson as a long-term veteran, etc., Engstrom could become a nice bargaining chip, especially if we’re able to boost his value a little more in Sweden, the AHL and the NHL.
NHL general managers would do well to demand detailed reports on him, as he is one of the left-handed defensemen – a position of strength – that Hughes and Gorton might be tempted to monetize in order to fill gaps elsewhere…
8. Justin Barron | DD
Use value: 23.5/30
Exchange value: 7.5/20
The jury’s still out on Justin Barron’s potential. Some nights he seems like the best version of Jeff Petry, other nights the worst. Let’s chalk it up to the job at hand.
Let’s take that for what it’s worth, but if we want to talk about potential, such a pace over 82 games would give him a production of over 50 points!
Even if we’d like to see more consistency from him, Barron’s progress in his first “half full season” in the Tricolore organization is enough to reassure everyone that he’s realizing his potential. At the very least, his NHL floor seems to be pretty well taken care of; he’s already an adequate last-pair defenseman who, at the age of 21, has recorded 17 points in 46 NHL games.
If he’s a late bloomer like Petry and other tall, lanky defensemen in his style, it’s highly likely that his progression is far from over, and that he too will one day become a defenseman capable of 40-50 points.
The coming season should tell us more, as he’s expected to start it with the Habs, although he’ll now have to compete with newcomer Gustav Lindstrom, as well as Savard and Kovacevic.
In my opinion, even if he still needs to polish his game, these are all “opponents” within his reach; Barron has more potential and qualities than these three.
But if Barron were ever to spend a few months in Laval again, for whatever reason (ballotage, etc.), there’d still be nothing wrong with that. Even if, on the face of it, the Halifax native wouldn’t have much to learn there, he could still gain in consistency, assume more leadership and play to his strengths even more freely.
A value in use that’s hard to predict, but we can get an idea…
Considering that he is perhaps the defender still furthest from reaching his full potential in the entire organization(yes, including Hutson and Reinbacher!), it remains difficult to say exactly what Barron’s use value will be for the CH in the future.
However, the fact that he’s right-handed gives him an advantage in terms of usage value, since the days of Savard, Kovacevic and/or Lindstrom are already numbered with the team. Barron, even with the addition of Reinbacher, remains a rarity within the organization.
Barron has the attributes to do a bit of everything on the Habs’ blue line. But from a medium- to long-term perspective, will he be good enough to get a big slice of the pie, whether on the five-on-five power play or the short-handed?
On the power play, guys like Hutson, Reinbacher and Mailloux could all pass him by, not to mention Matheson, who’s far from out of Montreal.
So it’s best to get ahead of the game as soon as possible, because even if the glut is on the left side, the internal competition is likely to be even fiercer in the years to come…
A rising trade value?
Barron certainly hasn’t lost any of his trade value since he was acquired in return for Lehkonen. On the contrary, logically, if his game is still improving, his market value should be too, at least slightly.
So if Lehkonen was worth a player like him, i.e., a very young first-round draft pick (2020), Barron is still worth at least one quality young veteran like Lehkonen or a very interesting prospect. If he continues to progress, he could be a real ace up Hughes’ sleeve for the next few years, should the decision be made to sacrifice him to the big-game hunt.
Finally, with “equal talent”, right-handed defenders being rarer, they’re always worth a bit more in general…
Having said that, I believe that Barron does figure in Hughes and Gorton’s long-term plans, and that the presence of Savard, Lindstrom and Kovacevic – all on short contracts – serves rather to keep him from taking too big a bite out of what is still a learning period.
Remember, young Barron still has only 46 NHL games under his belt…
Here’s a small table summarizing our evaluations of the last four players analyzed in this countdown, all defensemen:
|Players||Potential||Insurance||Rarity/use value||Exchange value||Total|
All in all, we’re talking about four defensemen full of complementary qualities who, in our eyes, are guaranteed to play in the NHL for a long time to come.
It remains to be seen which chair they’ll occupy for the most part of their careers, whether with the Habs or another club, because if you include Guhle, Harris, Hutson and Reinbacher, that’s a lot of young guys at the big Mass…
Choices will have to be made, sooner or later, but for the moment there’s no hurry. Let’s let “natural selection” do its work, as we were saying the other day.
I’ll give you a week to think about it!