In our second preview of the 2012 edition of the EOTP Top 25 Under 25, we take a look at the three players who are now 25 years old that graduated from last year's ranking. The list includes the reigning 2010 and 2011 champion, goalie Carey Price.
There are varying thoughts on when one person ceases to be considered young. From those that believe in the possibility of being "Forever Young", or the various ages used in our society to help decide between those that are considered minors or adults, or whenever offers for youth rates finally run out.
As a 30 year old, I'm well aware of all these numbers... there are very few measurements that still count me as young, yet I plan on milking those for all they're worth.
For the purposes of our annual ranking of the best young players on the Montreal Canadiens, I'm sorry to tell these guys, but they're no longer young.
The good news is that at least one of the players featured here should be a member of the Montreal Canadiens for much later than age 25.
Carey Price, G: It's a few days early, but I'd like to be the first to congratulate Carey Price on making it to his 25th birthday as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. It has not been an easy ride, living up to the lofty expectations of being a goaltender picked four spots after the best player of the generation. The first words of criticism of Price's presence in Montreal came mere seconds after his name was called while he was trying to get to the podium, an awkward and racially insensitive comment from TSN's Pierre Mcguire. I know I wasn't overly thrilled with the selection, either. I kind of wanted Anze Kopitar, but admittedly was excited at the prospect of the dynamic junior star Gilbert Brule. Brule was the expected choice, and would've been a terrible one. They were the consensus two best players available but Timmins took a gamble on the top goaltender available (who I didn't think was noticeably better than the top European goaltender, Tuukka Rask).
Well, draft day 2005 was a long time ago. After that, Price had a fairly good 18 year old season, but he followed it up with a star turn at age 19, winning every award he possibly could aside from a WHL title. To recap: World Junior gold, World Junior MVP, World Junior Top Goalie, Top Goalie in the WHL, Top Goalie in the CHL, Calder Cup, Calder Cup MVP. His amateur/minor professional career was for all intents and purposes over by the time he turned 20 in the summer of 2007. He spent some time in the minors in 2007-08, but had a great NHL rookie campaign that saw him advance to the team's #1 goaltending position. And then the Jaroslav Halak challenge came into play as Price hit his sophomore slump at the end of the 2008-09 season. Price had a brief stint as the organization's #2 goaltender in 2009-10, but he was never far from the picture and when Halak was dealt with his value at its peak, Price turned in an All-Star season in 2010-11 and followed it up with a solid 2011-12 while the team around him collapsed. To end his status as a young star, he signed a 6 year, $39m contract extension that will cover the entirety of his expected career peak.
Most goalies at age 25 have a resumé only about a third or a quarter of the length that Price has... and some don't have a NHL game to their name. Price has had a very special run for an under 25 year old player at his position, and while it isn't a guarantee of greatness in the future on its own, his elite combination of size, playing the percentages position wise, his elite footwork/skating, elite puckhandling ability and ability to play 70 or more games in a season makes him a great bet for being one of the league's better goaltenders going forward.
Brendon Nash, D: It's been a while since we've talked much about Brendon Nash on this website. Major shoulder surgery was required for Nash during the 2011 training camp and sidelined him for the entire 2011-12 season. He's a big, left handed offensive defenseman who turned some heads in his first professional season after graduating from Cornell. He was a free agent signing that wasn't widely heralded at the time, but his first year of professional play attracted the attention of our panel in a significant way, as he placed 18th overall in 2011. But if you go back and take a look at what I said at the time, things don't look all that great for Nash a year later:
Players like Nash tend to be replaceable if they should suffer setbacks: the Canadiens have invested little in his development as an undrafted free agent signing, and since he doesn't project to have the upside of a top four NHL defenseman, he's a low priority unless he can firmly establish himself as a reliable player who can seamlessly fill a void at the NHL level should injuries strike... The time for Nash to make an impression with the Canadiens is this year [2011-12], before higher profile prospects like Jarred Tinordi, Mac Bennett and Nathan Beaulieu turn professional. He needs to seize this moment.
While Bennett isn't here yet, Morgan Ellis took a huge step forward in 2011-12 and will be a significant addition to the Hamilton blueline along with Tinordi and Beaulieu in 2012-13. Nash also saw Frederic St-Denis get a call-up in 2011-12 and perform rather well, giving Nash even more competition for playing time. Combine that with recovering from missing a full season at 24 years old, and Nash has quite a hill to climb to reach the NHL in Montreal. But he did sign another one year contract and has the opportunity to put that bad break behind him. 2011 Ranking: 18th; 2010 Ranking: N/R.
Michael Blunden, LW/RW: Blunden became a lightning rod here on Eyes on the Prize for criticism of the Randy Cunneyworth coaching staff. His early season play was terrible by every possession metric and his promotion during the team's injury crisis at forward mid-season rankled us something good. I can't say that all of the criticism of Blunden was fair, but I will say I was looking forward to not seeing his name on the team's depth chart when word came out that he was not given a qualifying offer from Marc Bergevin. Then, all of a sudden, he was back, signing as an unrestricted free agent to a two-way deal.
By the end of his 2011-12 campaign, Blunden proved to be not the worst player on the team. He did improve a bit after a brutal start, and players like Brad Staubitz came onto the team and were much, much worse. I'm sure Blunden is just back as minor league depth, but there will always be the possibility that this guy will continue to get NHL minutes every year even though he's never proven any ability to play at that level for any length of time. Of the three guys here, he's the guy I'm down on the most, and he's also the only guy that didn't crack our top 25 list last year. Of the three guys, he's the guy I hope plays the least NHL games going forward. 2011 Ranking: 30th.