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These hopes that make us lie…

Auteur: Dose
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These hopes that make us lie…
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

It’s always risky to count the hopes of a hockey team in order of importance. It’s a field very few dare to venture into.

As a wise man once said, “It’s easier to talk about last night’s game than to anticipate the future of 18-, 19-, 20-year-old players!

And so much can change in the space of a summer, a training camp, half a season. The time of a few management decisions too.

The risk of error is great.

We make a few good moves, but we also miss a few… Primeau and Struble would undoubtedly return to the top-15, for example.

And if I had to do it all over again today, I’d put Slafkovsky back at the top of the Habs’ most important prospect rankings, wouldn’t I?

The temptation would undoubtedly be great. Considering what he’s accomplished this season, how could I not put him back at the top?

But Reinbacher and Hutson may not have said their last word…

Slaf: a spectacular breakthrough
Last autumn, when I took Juraj Slafkovsky from first place in 2022 to third place in 2023, I may have been a little fooled by what he’d had time (or not) to show us in his first season.

Even though he was only 18 and hadn’t done badly at all in my opinion, Slafkovsky’s first season had raised just enough doubt in my mind for me to revise his status in the hierarchy slightly downwards by taking away a few percentage points.

Among his “competitors”, Lane Hutson’s incredible and spectacular rookie season at Boston University, as well as his successful appearances at the Junior and Senior World Championships in 2023, had made me think that the small, record-breaking quarterback in the NCAA might well have a bigger role to play in the Canadiens’ future success than a big, 65-point forward.

Enough to push the young quarterback into second place, in any case.

And in the event that the arch-competitive Reinbacher, freshly drafted5th overall by the Habs as the “best defenseman” of the 2023 auction, was called upon to form a dominant pair with Hutson, and that his selection confirmed the Habs’ future dominant identity on defense, I had ranked him first.

Even if it’s impossible to be unanimous with this kind of ranking, placing Hutson and Reinbacher ahead of Slafkovsky didn’t raise any great passions on the rèsôsôssieaux last September.

After all, Hutson (90.5%) and Reinbacher (92.5%) hadn’t lost Slafkovsky (87%) in the dust, as we all know. It was more a question of “confidence in realizing their full potential” than of potential per se.

Rightly or wrongly, Hutson and Reinbacher simply seemed to me to be “safer” hopes in that sense.

But, like many others, I had underestimated Slafer‘s strength of character, his will to improve and be the best. Let’s just say that all his moral virtues had a fairly direct impact on his progression curve!

He managed to strike a balance between the external pressure and the internal pressure he put on himself. He included a little patience and self-indulgence on a mental level.

Slafkovsky’s progress has been so spectacular that it’s no longer far-fetched to compare him at the same age with the best power forwards of the last 10 years.

His dominant presence on the ice and his production of 46 points over 82 games at the age of 19 now puts him in the same category as the Tkachuk, McTavish and Rantanen and ahead of the Draisaitl (!), Byfield, Lafrenière, Meier and Nichushkin.

Watch the games carefully and complete your research on the stats of all these individuals at 18-19-20 and it’s the only possible conclusion: Everyone has their own little idiosyncrasies and special qualities, but Slaf is at this level at the same age.

He’s improving at breakneck speed before our very eyes, flirting with the point-per-game mark since the beginning of February by regularly making this kind of play – what a passer!

Today, Slafkovsky should be seen as a future elite power winger, absolutely dominant, more than a point a game. He’s “just warming up”, in his own words

In short, we’re back to our dream of the 2022 draft.

A trio of dominant players?

Let’s see if the expected Montreal debuts of Reinbacher and Hutson will make me “lie” again in a few months’ time!

At 19, Reinbacher already strikes me as Laval’s most convincing and complete defender. He was his team’s best back in 2 of the first 4 games he played with the Rocket last week.

As with Slafkovsky’s season in the Finnish Liiga in 2022, I don’t attach any importance to the Austrian’s season with his moribund club in Switzerland. It’s just a shame he hasn’t been playing in Laval all year.

If Hughes and Gorton could put the toothpaste back in the tube, they’d do it on this one…

Because he has an ultra-fast hockey processor between his ears, Reinbacher is CLEARLY the kind of defender who benefits from playing with high-caliber players who think the game at the same speed as he does. For this reason, he’ll be even better in Montreal next year.

Comparisons with Seider and Pietrangelo still seem very relevant in his case. A true future first-pair defenseman.

As for Hutson, even more dominant at BU this season and winner of the gold medal as USA’s #1 defender at the last WJC, he’s done absolutely nothing to move down in our rankings – quite the contrary! And his season isn’t even over yet…

The few games he should have a chance to play in Montreal will tell us soon enough whether his size will be a problem for him in the NHL pros. For Farrell, we had our answer right away last year.

But Hutson isn’t Farrell and, after the NCAA, we’ll soon know if he’ll continue to keep up with the likes of Makar, Fox and Hughes in the NHL.

In short, the fact that Reinbacher and Hutson still have a reasonable chance of holding their own against Slafkovsky as the Habs’ top prospect, despite the latter’s remarkable success, suggests that the organization is in pretty good shape.

Whatever the order, these three players still strike me as the most likely to take the Habs to the next level.

And a fourth prospect of this calibre, or even better, should join them in June.

The plan is on track.

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