Deep Down The Middle
As the final true month of summer starts to wind us back towards another season of hockey, it’s time to take a look at what the future holds.
Over the next couple of days I will be presenting a series of reviews on the Montreal Canadiens prospects. Centers, wings, defensemen and goaltending(likely in that order).
Today, I will begin by reviewing the Canadiens brood of centermen. Montreal has not had it easy over the last decade in terms of landing the big, strong scoring center they have longed for, but with recent moves taken into account and a couple recent years of apparently strong drafting, the organization’s depth is starting to come around.
According to the Canadiens website and Capgeek.com, below is the list of Canadiens center prospects in their system.
- Please note that I have ordered them in terms of talent and balance of expectations.(For example: Tom Pyatt is ranked higher than Louis Leblanc because he will be a member of the Canadiens this season. The same applies as to why Dumont falls below Ben Maxwell and Ryan White. Older prospects(ie Maxwell, White), who are now mature and groomed enough to be considered for the team, are(more or less) ranked higher based on the fact that they will be expected to make the jump sooner than their younger prospect counterparts. The one exception to the rule may wind up being David Desharnais.)
I hope you enjoy the list and the breakdown of the players and their expectations. Feel free to leave your own scouting reports or to add to mine in the comments section.
Lars Eller – Drafted 13th overall in 2008 by the Blues
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $1.27M/RFA in 2012
Outlook/Expectations: Traded for Jaroslav Halak, there’s a fair amount of pressure on the Danish center’s shoulders as he immediately becomes the Canadiens top-ranked prospect as well as a player who will be counted on to make an impact this season as an NHL rookie. Eller led the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL in scoring as a rookie and made the AHL’s Rookie All-Star Team last season, his first professional year of hockey in North America. From all accounts, the 6’0, 200 lbs. Dane has all that it takes to be a successful player at the NHL level with a greater chance of being a hit, rather than a miss. Although Eller will likely begin the season with the Canadiens as their 3rd line center, he does possess the ability to play the wing. Depending on how training camp goes, and what sort of chemistry develops between Lars and his team-mates, there is a possibility that Eller could land on the right wing of the 1st or 2nd line, especially if Pouliot or Kostitsyn continue to play below expectations. Lars has a strong shot and has excellent hockey sense around the net(dynamite from 20 feet in and is not afraid to fight for the puck in front of the crease). Now 21, Eller is mature and prepared for the NHL level, a rarity in recent years for Canadiens fans to witness. He has the talent to crack 60 points, with perhaps the potential of one day reaching 80(to be safe, expect 40-45 pts as a rookie – anything more will be a bonus), but for the upcoming season all Eller will have to do is play the strong two-way game that has made him the highest ranked Danish prospect to ever reach the NHL. With 3 years left on a very affordable rookie contract, Montreal fans can expect alot of bang for their buck from Eller over the coming years.
Tom Pyatt – Drafted 107th overall(4th round) in 2005 by the Rangers
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $550K/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: Otherwise known as the ‘after-thought’ in the Gomez trade from last summer, Tom Pyatt hustled his way on to the Habs throughout the season and proved to be a revelation. He may not necessarily possess the inherent skill and offensive talent of Lars Eller or Louis Leblanc, but he’s more offensively capable than he’s let on. Pyatt is an excellent penalty killer, plays a tremendous shadow game and his speed makes him a dangerous defensive weapon, who, on occassion, will have the ability to keep up with the team’s offensive players. Tom put up strong numbers in college and decent numbers in the AHL so his expectations offensively should be somewhat tempered, but as far as the leadership, hustle, heart and desire, he fits right in with what the Montreal Canadiens need as an organization.
Louis Leblanc – Drafted 18th overall in 2009 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $1.2M/RFA in 2013
Outlook/Expectations: Expectations? What expectations? It’s not like Louis Leblanc was the first native Montrealer to be drafted in Montreal since, oh, I don’t know, GUY LAFLEUR in 1971! Did I mention that he’s also a francophone? ...Oh my! Given the extreme attention payed to Leblanc since he was drafted last June, it should not come as that much of a surprise that he decided to opt out of his 2nd year of Harvard to sign his professional contract with the Canadiens. Now a member of the Habs, fans shouldn’t get too excited just yet. Leblanc will likely be playing for the local QMJHL team, the Montreal Juniors, this upcoming season, unless he somehow manages to wind up on the Bulldogs or the Habs(both of which are extremely unlikely). The reality is that Leblanc will play alot of hockey this season for the Juniors and should be a member of Team Canada for the World Junior Championships this winter. Whatever the path winds up being, the more hockey he plays, the quicker he will develop and the better he will become. He has excellent hands, does not hesitate to play in the corners and get dirty and has a very astute offensive mind. He’s recognized as a game-breaker and his hockey sense is a step up on the competition. He needs to work on his skating and his style of game(more east-west than north-south), but with nearly triple the amount of hockey – if not more - scheduled for Louis this upcoming season, Habs fans should pay close attention to his development. It’s not realistic to expect Leblanc in a Habs uniform this season, but there’s a strong chance he could be NHL ready by next season, with no doubt in my mind that he will be ready to be a fixture on the team for the 2012-13 season.
Ben Maxwell – Drafted 45th overall(2nd round) in 2006 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $850K/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Ben Maxwell will be looking to make a serious impression with the Canadiens at training camp. Although he is rather light, the 6’1 center now has 2 years of pro experience under his belt with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Ben has good hands and speed, but has yet to necessarily take the next step needed to prove that he is NHL material. In light of how often players are brought up to early, the lengthy grooming process that Maxwell has undergone may yet prove useful as he is still regarded as a future NHL player. The only knock on his expectations, from management’s perspective, is that the pipeline at center is getting rather stocked, rather fast and other, younger and more highly touted prospects are quickly rising up the ranks. Once thought to be a possible top 6 forward, chances are Maxwell will have a better chance fitting in as a 3rd liner. This will likely be Ben’s last chance to crack the Habs this season, but if he doesn’t make the team it won’t necessarily be a knock on his abilities to play in the league, but a nod that the Canadiens prospects are getting much stronger down the middle.
Ryan White – Drafted 66th overall(3rd round)in 2006 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $850K/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: Ryan is in the same boat as Maxwell, but just may be given a little more leniancy in his development. The 6’0, 200 pound center has demonstrated a keen offensive ability during his Junior career while fitting in quite well with the Bulldogs at the AHL level. Although he has not been able to translate his point per game performances from the WHL to the AHL, he has gotten progressively better over his 2 seasons with the ‘Dogs. The difference in the slightly smaller White is that he has a strong work ethic and plays excellent positional, gritty hockey, thus making him a better fit as an option on the Habs 3rd or 4th line in the future. White would need an exceptional camp to make the team, but unlike Maxwell, another season in Hamilton won’t preclude him from a spot with the Habs. With another strong year in Hamilton, White could find himself as one of the top call-ups during the upcoming season as well as candidate to make the team in 2011-12.
Joonas Nattinen – Drafted 56th overall(3rd round) in 2009 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a Professional Contract
Outlook/Expectations: The 19 year old Finn has been developing for the last couple of seasons with the Espoo Blues of the SM-Liiga in Finland and has shown constant and considerable improvement. Although projected to be a checker when he reaches North America, Nattinen is known to have some remarkable play making skills as well as an accurate and fairly strong wrist shot. An intelectual on the ice, Joonas does not shy away from the physical side of the game but is still learning in that respect. With no news of Nattinen making his way across the pond for the upcoming season, it’s a strong bet that after another year of playing pro in Finland that he will sign his pro deal and join the Habs organization next summer. Expect to see him on Team Finland at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
Gabriel Dumont – Drafted 139th overall(5th round) in 2009 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $571K/RFA in 2013
Outlook/Expectations: Light and wiry, the 5’9, 178 pound native of Ville Degelis, Quebec has impressed the Habs since his selection last June. He was an offensive dynamo for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL last season and will continue to be so this season. Fast with gifted hands, there is no doubt that Dumont will have the offensive talent to make it in the NHL, but the real key will be in ensuring that he grows and develops into a size that will allow him to play at the professional level. This will be a key year of development for Dumont as he will need to bulk up for the jump to the AHL. The expectations for Gabriel should not be tempered by his size, but by his performance. He has a very strong chance of developing into a steal for the Canadiens and, if all goes well, should find himself trying to crack the Habs lineup in 2012-13.
Andreas Enqvist – Signed as Free Agent in 2009 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $900K/RFA in 2012
Outlook/Expectations: Although he went undrafted during his years of eligibility, the Canadiens are hoping that the Free Agent signing will pay off for them in the near future. Engqvist is entering the second year of his professional contract with the Canadiens and is expected to make the jump to the Bulldogs. At the age of 22, the 6’4, 200 pound centerman is ready to play professionally in North America and, although it would be easy to stick around with Djurgardens IF of the SEL, he seems set to bring his game to Hamilton. Depending on his progress with the ‘Dogs and his aclimatization process to the North American style of play, we could see Enqvist as a call-up this season. With good hands and speed for a player of his size, the Swedish center can also play the wing which may add to his versatility. He can score and throw his body around so as long as he can handle the changes in style of game, Enqvist could challenge for a spot in Montreal in 2011-12.
Olivier Fortier – Drafted 65th overall(3rd round) in 2007 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $875K/RFA in 2012
Outlook/Expectations: With the QMJHL now in his rearview mirror, the 6’0, 184 pound center will be taking his game to the Hamilton Bulldogs this season. Having recently inked a 3 year rookie pact with the Canadiens, Fortier will begin his development as a professional. Olivier has some reputable offensive talent, but as he has already been recognized as the top defensive forward in the Q in 2008, it will be his defensive prowess that will eventually earn him a regular spot in the NHL. Fortier has excellent speed and is positionally sound and responsible. He needs to bulk up for the professional level, but with an offensive upside ready to compliment his defensive focus, Fortier has a strong chance of suprising many over the next couple of years. Over the next 2 seasons the Canadiens will need to address their bottom 6 and, although it’s plausible that Fortier could work his way into a spot in 2011-12, expectations are that he will be ready for prime-time by the 2012-13 season.
Michael Cichy - Drafted 199th overall(7th round) in 2009 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract
Outlook/Expectations: Ridiculously fast and seriously talented in the offensive zone, Cichy is quietly developing his game at the University of North Dakota. Playing in the NCAA, Cichy is rounding out his size and learning to play against bigger, stronger competition. Although he has yet to sign a professional contract, the expectations are that he will consider jumping to the Bulldogs next season and, depending on his progress playing at the pro level, his high level of skill and consistently strong output could land him as a strong candidate for the team in 2012-13, while chances are he’ll be ready for 2013-14. Despite being a late round pick, the upside of Cichy’s game is that he could turn out to be a valuable offensive weapon in the future.
David Desharnais – Signed as Free Agent in 2008 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $550K/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: At 5’6, 180 pounds, the only reason that the diminutive scoring machine is this far down the list is his age. It seems like time is running out for Desharnais to work his way into the NHL, but that has always been the knock on him. As with many of the small forwards who have tried to make their way into the NHL, DD has never really gotten a fair-shake because of his size. But that has never stopped him from being an offensive force. Since his Junior days in the QMJHL, Desharnais has been a point a game player at every level that he has played at. The current problem for David is that he finds himself in a logjam of centers who find themselves hard-pressed to supplant either of Scott Gomez or Tomas Plekanec. Considering Desharnais’ talents and size, it makes no sense for him to play on either of the bottom two lines. The only lifeline that Desharnais is the one that he has made for himself. His impressive and incredible offensive output keeps him on the Canadiens radar and, although there are many wingers that could be considered viable replacements for either of Benoit Pouliot or Andrei Kostitsyn, it may be time for the organization to give him a shot as a winger on one of the top two lines. Of course, this all depends on the performances of those younger, more highly touted prospects and current members of the team, but with the center role occupied on the top two lines, the only logical spot for Desharnais to fit in would be on the wing. That said, the expectations for Desharnais are that he will begin the season with the Bulldogs once again and will be high on the list of call-ups. There’s no doubt he will continue to force management to notice him by lighting it up in the AHL, but fans should be cautious about expecting him in the lineup as a regular this season.
Brock Trotter – Signed as a Free in 2008 by Habs
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $250K/1 year with Dynamo Riga of KHL/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: Signed as a free agent out of college, Brock lit it up for the Bulldogs last year in Hamilton. Although he is another smaller forward, he is capable of playing the wing and demonstrated incredible energy and hustle. He possesses smooth hands and quietly became a game-breaker. With expectations of Brock developing for another year in Hamilton and then challenging for a spot in 2011-12 in Montreal shattered by his departure for Riga of the KHL, it’s uncertain what the future will hold for Trotter in a Habs uniform. There’s no doubt that he turned heads with his two-way play and strong offensive zone presence, but, as he realized for himself, there was little to no place for him to fit in on the Habs this season, so he took off for greener($) pastures in Russia. The hope and apparent intention is for Brock to play out his season in the KHL and then to return back to the Canadiens organization. Hopefully this works out for the better for Trotter as his development with the Bulldogs had him on the fast-track to being one of the next prospects to be considered to make the Habs in the near-future and certainly one of the top call-up candidates for the upcoming season. The Canadiens still retain his rights and Brock will remain an RFA in 2011.
Ryan Russell – Drafted 211th overall(7th round) in 2005 by Rangers
Cap Hit/Contract Length: $550K/RFA in 2011
Outlook/Expectations: At the age of 23, Russell finds himself on the outside looking in, in terms of Habs prospects looking to crack the roster. Russell is defensively reliable with minor offensive upside, so he doesn’t rank as one of the teams most outstanding prospects. That said, he has performed consistently during his years in the AHL, but the fact that is 5’10 and not exactly intimadating makes him a better candidate to remain in the AHL with the Bulldogs. Don’t expect Russell to be among the teams call-ups this season.
I will be back tomorrow with a review of the Montreal Canadiens depth on the wings.