Since we are approaching the hockey season, I believe it is time to introduce the class of prospects I have decided to examine for what is my fourth year (my first at EOTP) of tracking the Montreal Canadiens prospects. Today, we will have a preview of the prospects the Montreal Canadiens hold in the Canadian Hockey League.
The Canadian Hockey League is the umbrella organization that oversees the Major Junior level of hockey in Canada. This is the highest level of amateur hockey that is played in Canada and is comprised of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League(WHL). The Canadiens through the legacy of the 2012 and the 2013 NHL Drafts have eight representatives in this group this year.
G Zachary Fucale: 18 years old, 6'1", 181 pounds, left-handed glove.
Junior Club: Halifax Mooseheads
|Games Played||Wins||Losses||OTL||GAA||Save %||Shutouts|
Expectations: Fucale is the CHL prospect that is perhaps the most under-the-gun from a performance standpoint this season. With the powerhouse Halifax Mooseheads almost certain to lose the backbone of their offensive muscle in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin to the NHL this season, Fucale will have a lot more work to do in nets for the Mooseheads as they lose a great deal of their offensive dominance. While one should never expect a goalie to bail out a team, Fucale will be expected to be a difference maker for Halifax. There is still consideration of how much he benefitted from playing behind the CHL's best team in 2012-13. One would hope he can maintain or even improve his save percentage on a weakened Halifax squad.
C Jérémy Grégoire: 18 years old, 5'11", 190 pounds, right-handed shot.
Junior Club: Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Expectations: Gregoire finds himself in a good position compared to most prospects. GIven his draft position, expectations are low and he is playing on a very strong Baie-Comeau team that is favoured to have a strong year in the QMJHL. At the same time, Gregoire will need to display a good uptick in his production. His production so far in junior hockey can be described as stagnant; he registered two more points in 2012-13 than he did in his rookie 2011-12 season while playing about the same number of games. Gregoire did have an impressive post-season display, scoring 16 points, including nine goals over 18 games, but given the limited sampling of a playoff run it is not something to heavily weigh in his favour. It would look favourable for Gregoire if he could edge towards point-per-game production this season, as that level of scoring would indicate he is developing puck skills to the level of making the push into professional hockey.
LW Charles Hudon: 19 years old, 5'10", 171 pounds, left-handed shot.
Junior Club: Chicoutimi Sagueneens - Team Captain
Expectations: Hudon is arguably the Canadiens' most talented forward in the CHL, and is most definitely their best QMJHL prospect. Hudon is coming off a respectable season in the QMJHL, but once again he battled injury as has become a concerning theme in his hockey career. With a back ailment giving him some trouble over the past while that has not quite resolved, and some concussion history in his past, durability concerns do arise. Expectations for Hudon this season are pretty simple in that he is expected to be an offensive force and make Team Canada for the World Junior Championships (injury forced him to miss the 2013 Tournament after making the team). If his talent is what it is projected to be, he could finish within the top 10 of QMJHL scoring and catch some eyes at the 2014 World Juniors. Given that Chicoutimi is expected to go into a rebuilding phase, there is a general expectation that Hudon will be dealt this season to a contending QMJHL club.
RW Martin Reway: 18 years old, 5'9", 170 pounds, left-handed shot.
Junior Club: Gatineau Olympiques
Expectations: While a bit under-the-radar due to his draft position, it is worth noting that Reway was a point-per-game player in both the regular and postseason in his rookie QMJHL season. Expectations for Reway are simply for him to improve his scoring this year and dispel concerns that were raised that he is timid in the physical aspect of the game. Provided Reway can improve his offensive output, it will look good towards him maintaining a steady track of development.
LW Connor Crisp: 19 years old, 6'3", 225 pounds, left-handed shot.
Junior Club: Sudbury Wolves
Expectations: Simply put, a massive boost in his offensive output. With Crisp on his final year of OHL before he would have to qualify for overage status to remain in the league, his offensive output does not look good for the consideration he can make a significant push into professional hockey. While many fans are simply looking at him in the expectation as a checking-line player and fighter, it is worth noting that a productive checking line player tends to trend at, or above point per game status in their senior junior season.
RW Michael McCarron: 18 years old, 6'5", 235 pounds, right-handed shot.
Junior Club: London Knights
2012-2013 Stats (For the Under-18 US National Development Team):
Expectations: While there is no doubt there are certain expectations for McCarron to be an impact player in the OHL this season, it is important to consider the transition effect. McCarron is going from the US Under-18 program to the CHL, which is a significant jump in the competition level he was facing in the 2012-13 season, where he did not exactly dominate in the lower level of competition. However, McCarron is slated to play with one of the best teams in the OHL this season and the coaching staff of the London Knights has speculated McCarron could line up with high-flying prospects Max Domi and Bo Horvat. This would give McCarron a comfortable introduction into the OHL, but it would also hang something of a question on how much of his production is coming from playing with such talented linemates. Bottom line, I would project a strong season for him to be near the point-per-game mark, with hopefully at least 25 goals.
C Brady Vail: 19 years old, 6'1", 194 pounds, left-handed shot.
Junior Club: Windsor Spitfires
Expectations: It has not been a good summer for Vail. He was cut early from Team USA's World Junior camp this summer, and had the ugly distinction of a bad rookie camp with Montreal that saw him sent back to Windsor, while every other junior prospect in the organization got invited to the main camp. For a player who is noted for excellent two-way play (which essentially demands a hard-working approach to the game) it is rather curious Vail's efforts have been described as lacklustre since his previous season concluded. One can hope such a wake-up call pushes Vail to do better in the coming season as the true measurement of his performance this year will be in the OHL, but he does not have an encouraging start so far. A performance at, or above point-per-game in the coming year would serve well to dispel concerns that he is losing value as a prospect. While Vail is not projected as a scorer in the NHL, such a production level could indicate his having the skills to be an effective NHL forward.
Tim Bozon: 19 years old, 6'1", 185 pounds, left-handed shot.
Junior Club: Kamloops Blazers
Expectations: The major competition for Charles Hudon for the Canadiens top CHL prospect is none other than Tim Bozon, who has scored 72 goals and 161 points in his two WHL seasons so far. With the Kamloops Blazers losing three of their top 4 scorers from the previous season, Bozon will be under pressure this season to produce with less talent around him and be the offensive MVP of the Blazers. This will be a different role for Bozon, having been part of a group of high-flying offensive talent on the Blazers in his first two seasons, Bozon will now have to establish himself as a true difference-maker and prove he can operate with less talent around him. Bozon may only produce at or around his previous season production this coming season, but on a less talented roster it would be worth noting that would still be a strong accomplishment.
Dalton Thrower: 19 years old, 6', 184 pounds, right-handed shot.
Junior Club: Vancouver Giants
Expectations: A revival to the point of his draft-eligible year would be a welcome sight for Dalton Thrower. After a troubling post-draft season that saw his production have a 50% drop versus his previous season, being benched by his team and facing suspensions, Thrower has a lot to prove. His poor play failed to earn a contract with the Montreal Canadiens even though, going by his birthday, he was eligible for the AHL this season. Now, Thrower will have to work hard to erase concerns about his decline last season and prove he is still a legitimate prospect. What does go in favour for Thrower is his change of scenery, as he was dealt from the Saskatoon Blades to the Vancouver Giants this past summer. If the Vancouver Giants sound familiar, it is the club where Brendan Gallagher spent his junior career terrorizing WHL goaltenders under the guidance of veteran WHL coach Don Hay, who has seen several players to the NHL under his tenure aside from Gallagher including Shane Doan, Evander Kane, Cody Franson and Milan Lucic. Thrower has only one year left to prove to the Canadiens that he is worthy of a contract, so a revival in his offensive production would go a long way to realising that goal.