Rabid Habs

Where The Future Fits – Part 1

Habs' Zachary Fucale

After a pretty good season overall, the Montreal Canadiens and their fans look forward to what can be, and what should be, next year and beyond. Here is a look at what is on the horizon for the Habs, how fast it will arrive and how big an impact each player could have. Some of the players are already pros, either having played most of the year in the AHL and even some having gotten a taste of the NHL. Marc Bergevin has stated that he wants to “build through the draft” which in hockey terms means he wants to build a mostly homegrown team. Part of that will be young players joining the squad while another aspect will be players on the team growing and evolving into bigger roles.

This will be done in 3 parts. Part 1 will be the younger prospects who are likely 1-3 years away from contributing:

Let’s start with players in junior. These are mostly 18 and 19 year olds drafted in the last 2 NHL Entry Drafts.

2013 and 2014 1st round picks Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak lead the way. They are 1a and 1b in terms of having the highest impact of this group. Both are playing their 19 year old season in the CHL this year.

Scherbak is the more pure offensive talent, but he will likely need a full year and possibly two in the AHL in St. John’s. He profiles as a 1st or 2nd line winger who will score his share of goals though he is a pass first player. He has good size and a long skating stride. His adjustment will likely be to get stronger and improve on the defensive side of the puck. He can be expected to start making a direct contribution as early as the 2016-17 season, but it could take him 2 full years in the AHL.

McCarron on the other hand is more polished, already a solid defensive player and taking key defensive zone faceoffs. His huge frame will allow him to contribute more quickly in the NHL, though he can still add 10-15 lbs of muscle to get stronger. He made huge strides this past saeson. He has played a lot of center this season and could be a solid 2-way center, possibly playing a 3rd line role in the NHL. He probably has more upward mobility in the lineup as a right winger playing the power game. His size and skating will allow him to be a nightmare on the forecheck. He also has a strong, accurate wrister. He could also play a role on the PP, being a net presence as well as shooting one timers from the high slot. His versatility is a definite asset. He could crack the lineup as early as next year, but Bergevin believes in players getting around 100 games in the minors before cracking the NHL so I will put him down as an NHL regular in 2016-17. Like Scherbak, he could play as high as the 1st or 2nd line but he is more of a complementary player offensively and won’t drive a line, much like a Milan Lucic or Scott Hartnell.

Quebec Remparts goaltender Zach Fucale is also 19 years old and should be jumping to the pros next season. Though he did not have a banner season, he did step up in key moments for both the Remparts and Team Canada U20. During the regular season, he had some rough nights where he seemed to lose focus but when the pressure was on, he shone brightly, helping Team Canada win Gold with the key saves at key times. For the Remparts, he was one of their better players in their run to the President’s Cup final, keeping them in the final against a deeper Rimouski Oceanic team but ultimately losing in double overtime in game 7. He has all the tools to be an NHL starter, he has good size and athleticism plus an advanced mental approach. He will need to refine his technique and improve his rebound control. Being behind Dustin Tokarski and Mike Condon in the pecking order, he will likely get a couple of years in the AHL to develop. Given that the Habs have Carey Price as their goaltender of the present and future, he could be used as a key trading chip to get help offensively.

Former Gatineau Olympique and 2013 4th rounder Martin Reway had a strong year after making the jump to Sparta Praha in the Czech pro league from the QMJHL. He had 37 points in 34 games and ranked 3rd in that league for points per game. He had a strong U20 tournament, captaining his team and putting up 9 points in 7 games. He is a highly creative winger with excellent hockey sense and vision. He will need to keep getting stronger and work on his defensive and puck management game. He tends to play a high risk / high reward game so he has a high bust potential but he remains an intriguing prospect due to his creativity and skill. He is to play another year in Sparta at which point a decision will be made if he is going to get signed and brought over to North America. He is likely 2-3 years from being a regular NHL contributor.

2013 2nd rounder Artturi Lehkonen had an up and down year making the jump to Frolunda in the strong Swedish Elite League. He is a player who’s slight build does not prevent him from going hard to the net and winning battles along the boards. Playing against men made it harder for him to put up points, only putting up 16 in 47 games as a 19 year old playing on the 3rd line. This extra challenge could be good for his long term development. He profiles as a gritty 2-way top 9 winger who can play both sides down the road and he is possibly 2-3 years from being an NHL regular. He remains a solid prospect and will play another year in Frolunda, at which point, he can hopefully make the jump to the AHL.

The next tier is a couple of solid prospects who will more than likely require 2 to 3 years of seasoning in St. John’s. 19 year old Brett Lernout is a 6’4” bruising stay-at-home defenseman with a right hand shot. He was a 2014 3rd round draft pick. After McCarron, he is likely the most improved Habs prospect, nearly doubling his point total of 2013-14 and putting up 14 goals with his big bomb from the point. His bread and butter is playing a physical, stay-at-home defensive game, he has plus mobility for a big man and will not hesitate to drop the gloves if needed. As defensemen usually take longer to develop, he is likely 2-3 years from being an NHL regular. He profiles as a 2nd or 3rd pair bruiser who will play a stay-at-home game, likely paired with a more offensive defenseman and should also play a role on the PK.

Jérémy Grégoire is another 19 year old player that made some nice progress this past season. This, despite missing three months due to a wrist injury incurred at the Canadiens training camp that required surgery to repair. His season finished on a high with a strong playoffs where he basically put the Baie Comeau Drakkar on his back as captain and got them to the 2nd round, putting up 21 points in 12 playoff games along with a plus 12. His game is similar to Brendan Gallagher as a player who plays a simple game and will do a lot of his damage from 5-10 feet of the net. He is bigger than Gallagher which should help him along with being a bit more advanced defensively. He can play both right wing and center, but profiles as a better winger in the pros. He could top out as a gritty 3rd line winger that chips in 10-15 goals a year, but if his skating keeps improving and he gets stronger he could eventually, like Gallagher, be a top 6 NHL forward. He is likely to require a couple of years in the AHL, but the maturity in his game might allow him to crack the roster sooner in a depth role.

While a lot of the previously named prospects made large strides this year, 2012 3rd rounder Tim Bozon was just trying to get back to where he was last year before a bad case on bacterial meningitis put him in a coma for nearly 2 months and threatened his life. He made a remarkable recovery but after training camp the Habs front office determined that it would be better for him to play another season in the WHL as a 20 year old overager to get himself back up to speed and get his strength back. He had a decent season, but it was apparent that his heart was in the AHL. Unlike a lot of the players mentioned previously, he is more of a one dimensional player, a finisher in the mold of Micheal Ryder. How quickly he can work on his defensive game as well as improving his compete level to win battles will get him in the NHL. He is not a lock to make it, but with a couple of solid development years, he should be knocking on the NHL door in 2017-18. He is a player who will likely have to be on an offensive line so he would need to be a top 6 player or at least PP specialist on a 3rd line to be a full-time NHLer.

2014 7th round pick Jake Evans was an afterthought when looking at the 2014 draft. He was one of the bright spots, having a strong freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, putting up 17 points in 41 games as a freshman. This is no easy task for an 18 year old. He played mostly right wing for the Irish, but can also play center. It will be interesting to see how he progresses in his second season. His game is built on soft hands and good vision as a playmaker so his game might be a better fit at center long term. He is likely to stay at the NCAA level 2 to 3 more years then possibly jump to the pros.

Here is an update on a few 2014 draft picks and their progress. These players are all 3-5 years from making an NHL impact.

Daniel Audette had a solid season with Sherbrooke of the QMJHL. He is a small, but skilled sniper, and has made some strides offensively. Next season will be a key one for him as he is not yet signed to an NHL contract. He also has a chance to play for Team Canada U20 with a strong start and a good camp.

Nicolas Koberstein is a raw, but bruising right handed defenseman with size. He struggled in the 1st half of the USHL season with Sioux Falls, but then took off after a trade to Bloomington. He is headed to the University of Alaska-Fairbabanks next season.

6th round pick goaltender Hayden Hawkey (talk about a great hockey name!) had a rough season, blowing out his knee in November while playing for Omaha of the USHL. He is destined for NCAA champions Providence College next year. His injury is not expected to prevent him from starting the season on time. He is a long term prospect, likely playing 3 or 4 years NCAA before jumping to the pros.