Habs Top 25 Under 25:  10-6

Now we're really getting into the heart of the matter.  Actual NHL players, top prospects, and recent acquisitions appear on the list as we look at the top 10 Montreal Canadiens under the age of 25.  To view the rest of the list, here are players 25-21, 20-16, 15-11 and the introductory piece

#10:  Dustin Boyd, C, 24 years old

Acquired in the trade that sent Sergei Kostitsyn to the Nashville Predators, Boyd is a young centre who had a very strong WHL career and made an appearance for Canada at the 2006 U20 World Junior Championships, where he was teammates with current Canadiens Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt, as well as former Canadiens Kyle Chipchura and Guillaume Latendresse.  He was second in scoring on that team to Blake Comeau, with four goals and two assists in six games.  Since turning pro, Boyd has played in 210 NHL regular season games, plus 9 playoff games, more than anyone else under 25 in the Canadiens' organization.  He hasn't found his scoring touch at this level, however, topping out at 11 goals and 24 points last year with the Calgary Flames and Nashville. 

Boyd is an effective defensive player, posting the lowest GA/60 minute figure on Calgary before being traded.  He has good speed, and posted the best faceoff numbers of his career after being traded to Nashville.  That could be nothing more than a hot streak, because his career faceoff numbers aren't very impressive.  For the time being, he's penciled in on either the 3rd or 4th line out of training camp, a role he hasn't escaped so far in his career.  Will he be as productive as Sergei Kostitsyn?  Probably not, but considering he was a player who forced himself out of town, the Habs could've done worse in getting Boyd in return.

#9:  Tom Pyatt, LW/C, 23 years old

Acquired as part of the Scott Gomez trade with the New York Rangers last summer, Pyatt surprised many observers out of training camp by making a push for a roster spot.  Eventually, Pyatt forced his way into the regular lineup, a feat that is noteworthy despite the opening night presence of Georges Laraque as an everyday player.  Pyatt's game is all about the details:  good skating, strong backchecking, aggressive puck pursuit and getting in the passing lanes.  It translates well into penalty killing, and he was taking a regular shift on the PK by season's end and into the playoffs. 

Pyatt's obvious weakness:  his offensive game.  He recorded only 5 points in 40 NHL games last year, plus 4 points in 18 playoff games.  It's unlikely he'll ever threaten for a spot in the top 6, but some kind of scoring ability is appreciated even from the final 2 lines.  He'll have to focus extensively on excelling as a defensive player as a result.  He's also a potential Lady Byng candidate:  He's recorded only 36 PIM in 156 AHL games, and won the OHL's Most Sportsmanlike player in 2006-07 with only 18 PIMs in 58 games, to go along with 81 points.  Most Byng winners are also offensive stars, so Pyatt probably has some work to do in other regards if he's to achieve that kind of accolades as a NHLer.

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#8:  Alexander Avtsin, RW, 19 years old

Avtsin is the true wildcard of the Habs' system.  Picked 109th overall in 2009, the Habs swung for the fences and picked a 6'3", 200 lbs. winger with good hands, good speed, and a great shot.  So why was he still available?  Well, because he's Russian.  Avtsin, however, immediately made his desire to play in North America well known, and this past summer, bought himself out of his contract with Dynamo.  That freed him up to sign with the Canadiens, and he'll almost certainly begin his North American journey this fall in beautiful downtown Hamilton, Ontario.  As one of the few teenagers in the AHL, he'll also have a leg up when it comes to select the Russian U20 World Junior team that will play just down the road in Niagara and Buffalo, New York. 

What are the concerns about Avtsin?  Well, he suffered a major wrist injury which ended his KHL rookie season after just 30 games.  With his shot being such a dangerous weapon, there are concerns about how he'll recover from that setback.  He's also not noted for his physical game despite his size, and has a lot of polishing up to do to develop an all-around game.  Basically, at this point, he's a bit of a one-trick pony, but good coaching could help to insulate his weaker points and use his natural gifts to greater effectiveness.

#7:  Max Pacioretty, LW, 21 years old

One of only five former Montreal Canadiens first round draft picks still in the system (with two of them being from the past two years), Pacioretty has had a turbulent first two years as a pro.  His career path was greatly accelerated, playing high school hockey in Connecticut at 16, the USHL at 17, NCAA at 18 and turning pro by 19.  Perhaps it's a matter of him needing some catching up, but his offensive game has yet to translate at the professional level.  Still, there is quite a lot to like about his game.  He didn't hurt the team at all last year during his 52 games, all from the start of the season, but he wasn't progressing, either.  His solid skating, strong physical play, and unselfish game gave him passing grades as a third line player.  Unofortunately, the Habs are expecting more from him than that.  

This inability to translate his offensive game as a professional (he also only has 8 goals in 55 career AHL games) has brought up some interesting questions.  Topham at Lions in Winter, who took part in this project, wonders if Pacioretty might be worth converting into a defender, given his strong skating ability, good passing, and strong understanding of the defensive game.  It's a bit of a left field proposition, but we have seen players like Craig Rivet and Andrei Markov move from forward to defense with great success, so there is precedent.  However, doing so would be giving up on one of the Habs more promising forward prospects, and at this point seems unnecessary. 

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#6:  Danny Kristo, RW, 20 years old

Selected in the 2nd round of the 2008 Entry Draft, Kristo was actually the Canadiens' first selection, as they had traded their first round draft choice in the Alex Tanguay trade, a move oddly made possible by Calgary's acquisition of current Hab Mike Cammalleri earlier that day.  Kristo isn't blessed with great size, but he has good staking ability and excellent puck skills.  He's the kind of forward that makes defenders back off a little bit, for fear of getting beat by a quick move.  Kristo earned the WCHA Rookie of the Year honours last year and played a key role as the USA U20 team won gold at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon this past January.  Kristo is actually teammates with another Canadiens prospect, Michael Cichy, at the University of North Dakota. 

Kristo will return to the UND for another year, probably a smart move given the experience of Pacioretty.  Kristo will be looked on as a leader at the UND as they hope to repeat as conference champions, which is a significant experience for him this coming year in light of the fact that he's no longer eligible to play at the World Juniors. 

Here are some words from Rich Michalowski at Premium Scouting on Kristo:

Kristo’s stickhandling  is strengthened by his quick hands.  He’s got some fancy moves and can dangle with the best of them.  He gets away with it now but he’ll need to not rely upon those moves as he progresses into a professional career.  Kristo has great vision and offensive awareness and has the ability to get the puck to the open man.  He’s also very creative with the puck and has the ability to surprise the defense with his passes.  Those skills earned Kristo time manning the point on the power play.  Kristo plays a responsible defensive game through good positioning, discipline and hard work in his own end.

Rank Player Pos. Age Height Weight Current Team Habs Contract?
6 Danny Kristo RW 20 5'11" 181 lbs. U. of North Dakota (WCHA) No
7 Max Pacioretty LW 21 6'2" 212 lbs. Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) Yes
8 Alexander Avtsin RW 19 6'3" 198 lbs. Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) Yes
9 Tom Pyatt LW/C 23 5'11" 181 lbs. Montreal Canadiens (NHL) Yes
10 Dustin Boyd C 24 6'0" 187 lbs. Montreal Canadiens (NHL) Yes
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