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Habs Prospect Review/Player Breakdown: DEFENSEMEN

August 8, 2010, 6:27 PM ET [ Comments]
Steven Hindle
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
A Strong Blend of Offense and Defense on Horizon for Habs Blue-line

Although we have witnessed the Canadiens go through recent struggles with many of their top defensive draft picks in the last few years(see departure of Komisarek, Valentenko, McDonaugh, and 1st round bust David Fischer), it seems that the blue-blanc et rouge’s drafting fortunes are beginning to turn around.

Led by one of the premiere prospects in all of the NHL, the Habs will have a bright future on the back-end thanks to P.K. Subban. Many are already aware of the young defender, but the NHL in general has yet to be fully introduced to the superstar in the making. It may be high-praise for someone who has played in only 2 NHL regular season games, but the consensus is that P.K. is going to be a home-run. Of course, Habs fans will only be expecting the moon from Subban once the season gets under way, but if his track record is any indication of what he will bring to the Habs, then the team appears to be in good hands.

Following the lead of renewed strength in their prospects at right wing and center, the Habs have continued to maintain and stock-pile their prospects for the blue-line. The depth and talent in the pipeline is strong enough that the top 3 prospects on the list should all be considered NHL ready(most notably, PK). Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle find themselves on the precipice of a jump to the NHL and are apparently their own worst enemies as the Canadiens are looking to keep at least one of the two, along with Subban, for the start of the season.

Montreal has focused on defensive prospects for quite awhile now and, while they have diverted alot of attention to their offense recently, they have continued to maintain the strength of their future blue-line.

Without further ado, here is the list of the Canadiens defensive prospects:

*Note: As with the prior 2 lists on CENTERS and WINGERS, please feel free to add to my scouting reports or to post your own in the comments section.


1. P.K. Subban – Drafted 43rd overall(2nd round) in 2007 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: $875K/RFA in 2012

Outlook/Expectations: Hail to the future of the Montreal Canadiens blue line. In P.K., the Habs may have wound up with one of the best draft ‘steals’ in recent memory, but, more importantly, they have an NHL ready top-4 defender(likely top 2) set to make a big splash in the upcoming season. At this point, most everyone is familiar with the ‘Subban Spin-o-rama’ and the defenseman’s agility and speed, yet what fans have witnessed, by all accounts, is but the tip of the ice-berg. Subban’s stick-handling is phenomenal, his puck-control is like velcro and his reaction time is second to none, yet the knock on P.K. throughout his career has been whether or not his defensive abilities will ever match up to his offensive prowess. Fortunately, thanks to former Hamilton Bulldogs head coach and current Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss, Guy Boucher, Subban’s all-around development sky-rocketed last season. Racking up the 2nd best +/- in the AHL as a rookie(+46 in 77g), Subban also finished 3rd in scoring among all AHL defensemen and 4th among all rookies(53pts – 18g/35a), as well as finishing as the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award to Buffalo prospect Tyler Ennis. The impressive rookie season in the AHL saw Subban wind his way up to Montreal during the post-season last spring and, when thrown into the fire to replace #1 defenseman, Andrei Markov, not only did he do a spectacular job, but he exceeded all of the coaching staff’s expectations. Needless to say, the 6’0, 200 pound lightning bolt on skates is currently the Canadiens top prospect and, although management would never let on, is a clear cut Rookie of the Year candidate for this upcoming season. The expectations for P.K. are that he is set for prime-time. He has all of the tools and assets to be an impact player at the NHL level immediately and, given the outlook of the Habs lineup for this year, it appears all but set that P.K. will be one of the team’s most important players. Despite having other prospects in the system who have been drafted higher, there is not one prospect that is as important to the future of this franchise as Subban. Expect him to make alot of noise this season and, as a piece of fantasy advice, don’t hesitate to take a chance on him in your fantasy leagues, he won’t disappoint.

2. Yannick Weber – Drafted 73rd overall(3rd round) in 2007 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: $875K/RFA in 2011

Outlook/Expectations: Although drafted in the same year and somewhat overshadowed by P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber is to be considered another valuable weapon in the Canadiens defensive arsenal. Much like the younger Subban, Weber has a high offensive upside. His game is based around his booming shot and ability to command the offense, but, since his arrival in Hamilton, has worked diligently to improve his all-around game. Now mature enough and physically ready for the NHL, Yannick is expected to compete for the final defensive spot in camp this fall with Mathieu Carle. At 5’11, 194 pounds, Yannick isn’t as much of a stand-out as Subban, but having accumulated 76 points in 133 AHL games, it’s clear that he is having no problem adjusting to the pro level and is certainly going to be more than an AHL defenseman. Despite the current log-jam and depth of this year’s defense, Weber will be up for a contract renewal next summer and it’s expected that, regardless of whether he makes the jump this season or not, he will be resigned and will be counted on to be a part of the team’s defensive corps in 2011-12.

3. Mathieu Carle – Drafted 53rd overall(2nd round) in 2006 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: $660K/RFA in 2011

Outlook/Expectations: In the same vein as the Habs top two defensive prospects, Mathieu Carle is an extremely talented offensive defenseman who has the potential of being an impact player at the NHL level. The only problem is that, over the course of the last few seasons, Carle has only managed to play in 156 games over the last 3 years with the Hamilton Bulldogs, playing less and less games per year(due to injuries) since he turned pro in 2007-08. Now in the final year of his RFA contract and set to turn 23 this September, the pressure is on Mathieu to stay healthy in camp and to make a distinct impression on the coaching staff. If he can do that, there is a strong chance that he could wind up as the team’s 7th defenseman at the start of the year. Although that is a nice thought, the key will be for Carle to overcome his injury woes and demonstrate that he is going to be a better option than the younger Weber. The expectations for Mathieu have been blurred by the injuries over the last few seasons, yet the consensus remains that he has the talent and ability to still make the NHL. The biggest difference between Carle and Subban/Weber is that his age is now playing against him. This season may not necessarily make or break a possible career in the NHL for Carle, but if he fails to impress the Habs, it may likely spell the end of his career in the Montreal organization.

4. Alexei Yemelin – Drafted 84th overall(3rd round) in 2004 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: Speaking of wild-cards, Alexei Yemelin, the Habs 3rd round selection from the 2004 draft, is actually still on team’s radar. Believe it or not, Yemelin’s contract status with the KHL may be up for grabs next season and, although not necessarily confirmed, there has been alot of talk that he may finally be interested in making the jump to North America and the Canadiens. In stark contrast to the offensive upside of the Canadiens top 3 defensive prospects, Yemelin’s game is based around a hard-hitting, rough and physical games that has made Alexei one of the top stay-at-home defenders in the KHL. Another bonus is that Yemelin has been playing against men for more than half a decade and was an easy choice for Team Russia at the World Championships. It’s clear that Yemelin is a competent pro-hockey player, yet thanks to inanely confusing contract dilemma’s and other NHL-KHL issues, the expectations of him joining Montreal become continually slimmer and slimmer. That said, with the recent rumours of Alexei possibly being able to get out of his KHL contract next summer, and a possibly ‘apparent’ interest in joining Andrei Markov in Montreal, there’s no doubt that the Canadiens will keep their eyes on the 24 year old. (For the time being though, don’t hold your breathe on seeing Yemelin anytime soon...at least until we get some kind of official word on his intentions.)

5. Jarred Tinordi – Drafted 22nd overall(1st round) in 2010 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: Despite having no true offensive upside, the Canadiens did everything in their power to move up in this year’s draft to grab the 6’6, remarkably fleet footed behometh defender. Tinordi, captain of the US’ under-18 team that captured Gold this past year, is not anything to write home about in the offensive zone, but his mobility for a player with such size makes him an extremely appealing defensive stalwart. Rather than being focused on a two-way player or someone with an offensive upside, the Canadiens filled a need within their organization by landing Tinordi. Jarrod is committed to the University of Notre Dame for 2010-11 and could possible stay for two years, yet with orders from the Habs(and a distinct need) to bulk up and balance out his imposing frame, the expectations are that Tinordi will be an impact, stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL by 2013-14. Chances are he will play at least two years in the NCAA before making the jump to the professional level, yet, you never know, with a strong showing in Notre Dame this year and depending how much muscle he puts on, he could very well be knocking on the door in 2012-13.

6. Mac Bennett – Drafted 79th overall(3rd round) in 2009 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: A 3rd round choice of the Habs in 2009, Mac Bennett is a middle of the road prospect with decent upside, but could have more upside than first let on. Bennett, a smooth skating defenseman with good hands and a nose for the net, surprised many by having a stellar season with Cedar Rapids in the USHL. He was selected to the All-Star team and racked up 23 points in 53 games as a rookie. The unspoken upside of which I speak is that Bennett was the 40th ranked North American skater at last year’s draft, before falling all the way down to the Habs at the no. 79 spot. The fact that he dropped as much as he did could serve as a concern for many critics, yet after the stellar season Mac had last year as a rookie in the USHL, Montreal management feel justified and remain pleased with his selection. The expectations are for Mac to mature and put on weight(as is the case with all prospects), but the Canadiens are in no need or hurry to rush his development. He will be given the chance to grow his game at the University of Michigan(with fellow Habs prospect Greg Pateryn) this year and will likely be an invite to camp next fall if he chooses to make the jump to the pro’s, yet don’t be surprised if he spends at least 2 years in the NCAA and, like Jarrod Tinordi, isn’t a consideration until 2012-13/2013-14.

7. Greg Pateryn – Drafted 128th overall(5th round) in 2008 by Leafs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: Unlike a majority of the Canadiens defensive prospects, Greg Pateryn was not a Montreal draft choice. Originally selected by the Maple Leafs in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, Pateryn was acquired in the trade that saw the Canadiens expell locker-room nuisance Mikhail Grabovski to Toronto. Since his acquisition, Greg has played out his development in Michigan. He is not necessarily acredited with having trememdous offensive potential, but at 6’2, 215 pounds, Pateryn loves to throw his weight around and play a physical game. It’s uncertain whether Greg will ever hit the fast-track in his development, but his steady and consistent play will likely earn him a spot in Hamilton next season if he chooses to make the jump. Otherwise, if he wishes to finish out his studies at Michigan, expect him to be a member of the ‘Dogs in 2012-13. It does not seem that the Canadiens are keen on rushing his development so don’t expect them to pay much attention to him until he chooses to turn pro and develop his game with the Bulldogs.

8. Brendon Nash – Signed as an RFA in 2010 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: $900k/RFA in 2012

Outlook/Expectations: The Canadiens signed Nash as a free agent this past summer after he completed his 4 year career with the University of Cornell. During his time in Cornell he proved to be one of the most consistent defenseman in the NCAA, collecting 67 points(8g/59a) in his 120 game career. Although he went undrafted, the 24 year old is a mature and confident defender who will bring his game and his 6’3, 206 pound frame to the Bulldogs this season. The Canadiens do not have all that much in the way of expectations for the Kamloops, BC, native but certainly have an interest in what Nash can do at the pro level. Expect him to spend the year in Hamilton and to work with the two Randy’s(Cunneyworth and Ladouceur) in developing his game. He may never wind up with the Canadiens, but he is a chance worth taking according to the Habs scouts, so it should be interesting to see what he can do with the Bulldogs.

9. Morgan Ellis – Drafted 117th overall (4th round) in 2010 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: Chosen in the 4th round of this year’s draft, the Canadiens went out on a limb and drafted only their 4th QMJHL defensive prospect since 2000. Ellis, a 6’1, 197 pound defender out of Ellerslie, PEI, is set to become the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles next captain and is known for his stay-at-home, responsible play in his own zone. The Canadiens liked the selection mainly due to his leadership abilities and the fact that they foresee an abundance of development in Morgan’s near future. As the leader of the Screaming Eagles for the upcoming season, the Habs will get a good look at what type of affect being under the spotlight will have on the 18 year old and if he can grow into the role set before him. It’s likely that Ellis won’t be lighting up the scoresheet anytime soon, but as a minute-eating, dependable rear-guard, so long as he doesn’t turn out to be a liability in his own end, all signs point to Morgan making the jump in a year or two, joining other defensive prospects like Tinordi and Bennett as a possible Hab in 2013-14.

10. Scott Kishel – Drafted 192nd overall(7th round) in 2007 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: With their final pick of the 2007 draft, after selecting the likes of Ryan McDonaugh, P.K. Subban, Olivier Fortier, Yannick Weber and Andrew Conboy, among others, the Habs took a bit of a risk on high school defenseman Scott Kishel. Kishel is a 5’11, 188 pound blue-liner currently skating at the University of Minnesota-Deluth. At the time of his selection, head of scouting, Trevor Timmins, likened Kishel to Dallas Stars(at the time) prospect, Matt Niskanen, and while that sounded promising at the time, Niskanen has taken the fast-track to the NHL whereas Kishel is still developing slowly in the NCAA. Now, this is not a knock on the talented and capable two-way defender, yet it remains to be seen if Scott will have what it takes to make the jump to the pro level. In either case, it wasn’t much of a risk for the Habs when he was drafted and, considering that he was drafted at a young age, there is still plenty of development time left for Kishel. From the sounds of things, the Canadiens still have interest in his development but expect him to finish out his University career. That means that, with another 2 years of left at Minnesota-Duluth, it’s not likely that we will see Scott in the Habs organization until 2012. Until then, and if he even ever makes it to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the expectations of Scott making the NHL remain rather ambiguous. Safe to say that judgement on Kishel’s status should be reserved for when and if he chooses to turn pro.

11. Kyle Klubertanz – Drafted 79th overall(3rd round) in 2004 by Ducks

Cap Hit/Contract Length: $550K/RFA in 2011

Outlook/Expectations: Drafted by the then ‘Mighty’ Ducks of Anaheim in the 3rd round of the2004 draft, Klubertanz was purported to be a mobile, two-way defender with some decent offensive upside. Unfortunately for Kyle, he never quite made it into the NHL after a 4 year career in the NCAA with the University of Wisconsin and, after a brief stint in the AHL(*brief as in 5 games*), Klubertanz took his game to Europe. Now, after two years in Finland and Sweden(Turku and Djurgardens), the Canadiens have decided to give the defenseman another shot at trying his hand at the pro game in North America. Montreal management doesn’t likely expect Kyle to be a factor with their parent club, but the expectations are for him to play in Hamilton and to be a reliable, veteran defenseman with a rugged and, at times, offensive flair. There’s no point in ruling Kyle out in terms of his chances of playing in the NHL as this will actually be his first official year of pro hockey in North America, but as a 25 year old(soon to be 26), there’s no question he will have to make a big impression if he has any chance of seeing time in the NHL.

13. Joe Stejskal - Drafted 133rd overall(5th round) in 2007 by Habs

Cap Hit/Contract Length: Yet to sign a professional contract

Outlook/Expectations: When drafted, Joe Stejskal was recognized for having excellent all-around skills. A terrific puck-mover who possesses good size(6’1, 190 pounds) and a keen hockey sense, the Minnesota native can also throw a powerful body check. *Note: It has been pointed out to me by some kind readers that Joe is actually entering his final year at Dartmouth and has been named assistant captain. As he has yet to actually complete his NCAA career, the jury is still out on Joe and, as per standard Habs practice, he will most likely be signed to a pro contract following this season. Joe's development has come in spurts apparently, yet he seems to have truly blossomed into a solid, two-way defender who enjoys playing a physical game and has some leadership qualities. If his recent progress is any indication, expectations should be for Stejskal to be a Bulldog by 2011-12.

That's it for today, I will be back with my review on Montreal's goaltending prospects tomorrow.

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