2013 Top 25 Under 25:  Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Danny Kristo is still trying to hang with the likes of Ovechkin, just not as a Canadien anymore. - Martin Rose

Before we reveal our new ranking and player profiles, we'll review some of the players that were in last year's rankings, but are either now too old or not with the organization anymore.

It's not unexpected to have a notable amount of year-to-year turnover in a roster, but this year the Montreal Canadiens seemed to make a few more changes than usual amongst their reserve and roster list for players under the age of 25. Some players who have appeared on our list over its first three years exited the organization in the past 12 months for a variety of reasons, while only one player made it to the age of 25 with a NHL contract in hand as a member of Les Glorieux. Here's a look at this group of players:

Player 2012 Rk 2011 Rk 2010 Rk Current Status
Danny Kristo 9 7 6 Traded to the Rangers
Yannick Weber 13 8 12 Released as UFA, signed with the Canucks
Aaron Palushaj 14 9 16 Waived, claimed by the Avalanche, now with the Hurricanes
Ryan White 15 13 13 Signed a 1 year extension with the Canadiens
Alexander Avtsin 27 11 8 Released as a UFA
Blake Geoffrion 20 Retired due to skull fracture
Andreas Engqvist 31 15 23 Signed extension with Atlant (KHL), on the Canadiens reserve list
Daniel Pribyl 29 24 Not signed, re-entered NHL Draft
Alain Berger 34 23 Released as a UFA, signed with Bern (NLA)
Ian Schultz 38 33 20 Released as a UFA
Olivier Archambault 35 28 Not signed, re-entered NHL Draft
Philippe Lefebvre 43 32 35+ Traded to the Panthers
Joe Stejskal 42 35 35+ Released as a UFA
Scott Kishel 46 38+ 35+ Not signed, playing in lower German league this coming season

Just before we went to gather votes for this year's ranking, GM Marc Bergevin threw an unexpected twist for us this year: he traded three-time top-10 honouree Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers for the younger, but more professionally groomed Christian Thomas. Kristo was more than a mainstay on this list, he was a source of tantalizing wonder for a lot of Canadiens fans. He waited five years from his draft date to turn professional, fulfilling a full four-year career with North Dakota of the WCHA (following a bridge season in the USHL where he played on Louis Leblanc's wing). In 157 career WCHA games, Kristo tallied 161 points. While a junior, he played on the USA World Junior team twice (and U18 team once), winning gold with both organizations and being a major offensive contributor at both levels. He got his feet wet at the professional level this past year with Hamilton, with a disappointing three assists in his first nine games. Despite this, he still received an invite to play at the World Championships for the USA this past year, tallying three points in 10 games as the USA won bronze.

Swiss national team defenseman Yannick Weber has had an interesting career with the Montreal Canadiens. Drafted out of the OHL as one of the top offensive blueliners in the Canadian junior circuit, Weber impressed early. His offensive game has been at a NHL level since he was about 19 years old, but his defensive game has never caught up to the NHL level. This massive disparity in his ability has seen him often dressed as a fourth-line winger in the NHL who plays the point on the powerplay, but he is definitely a bit more effective as a defenseman, just not at a strong enough level for consistent action. He only played six games under Michel Therrien this year despite spending the entire 48 game season with the club. He'll try again now with the Vancouver Canucks, who signed him to a two-way contract after Bergevin decided to not send Weber a qualifying offer this offseason.

American winger Aaron Palushaj has been a top AHL forward in his young professional career, but ultimately got lost in that 'in between' space on Montreal's depth chart. Like every other Hamilton forward, Palushaj had a down year production wise in 2012-13, falling from a point per game pace to less than half a point per game to start the year, but despite this drop Colorado decided to take a chance on him as a NHL forward when they saw his name on the waiver wire in early February. Palushaj wasn't anything special at the NHL level, though he wasn't their worst forward, and Colorado didn't qualify him. Palushaj also was part of the USA bronze medal winning entry at this past year's World Championships with Kristo. He'll try again to move on from the AHL this next fall with Carolina, an organization that is lacking in forward depth.

Finally, we see a modest success story in Ryan White. He was always ranked by our panel a little below the players ranked above because of his lack of offensive skills, but his defensive skills and physical play found him a spot with the Canadiens, albeit just barely. White came up to the Canadiens as a third-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, which was Trevor Timmins' worst day on the job as the head of their amateur scouting department. White has been given consecutive one year, one-way contracts from the Canadiens, and has now appeared in 99 NHL regular season and playoff games, scoring four goals and adding eight assists. This past year, he made the shift from right wing to centre out of necessity, proving capable of handling the fourth line role, although he probably is more effective as a forechecking winger.

Beyond White, we once had a lot of hope for Russian winger Alexander Avtsin, but for a variety of reasons, he wasn't able to make an impression in North America. It's hard to believe a player with his skills wasn't able to get more than limited ice time in 140 AHL games over three seasons, but three different coaching staffs didn't see him as worth more chances than that. He was released from his contract this offseason with one more year left on the deal.

Blake Geoffrion probably could've stuck in the NHL for a season or two on the fourth line, but an absolutely horrific injury suffered at an AHL game held at the Bell Centre in November ended a professional career that almost certainly would've lasted into his thirties in top leagues around the world. His absence was missed greatly by the Bulldogs, who went from a team that could hang tough in the competitive league early in the year despite their youth to one that was absolutely out of their depth after his injury. Geoffrion seemed poised to battle for the fourth line centre job against White this past year, but never got that chance. He'll start his post-playing career as a scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets this month.

He's still technically part of the Canadiens organization, although a lot of people have already forgotten about Andreas Engqvist. Like White and Geoffrion, Engqvist was groomed for the fourth line centre role at the NHL level, but he found the jump from Sweden's Elitserien and the AHL to the NHL too big of one. He left North America for Atlant of the KHL in the summer of 2012, although the Canadiens did send him a qualifying offer to maintain his rights on this side of the pond. The trip proved successful for Engqvist, who put up 36 points in 48 games last year. He remains an option for the Canadiens down the road, although his more likely path is a successful career in Europe rather than as a fringe NHLer. Engqivst joins White as the only players who hit the age of 25 this past year still with ties to the Canadiens organization going forward.

After Engqvist, the list thins out notably. Daniel Pribyl and Olivier Archambault were 2011 draft picks that were not signed by the team and re-entered the draft (and weren't picked up by any NHL team). Both can probably contribute at a modest level in the AHL next year, but couldn't find a fit with the Canadiens longer term vision. Ian Schultz was once called up to the Canadiens in 2011-12, but never saw action. He seemed to find a home with Utah of the ECHL last year as a top six forward who can fight, but conditioning issues saw him blacklisted by Hamilton last year. Alain Berger simply couldn't cut it as a professional in North America, and his contract was terminated mutually so he could return to Switzerland. Philippe Lefebvre was added as the contract sent to Florida in exchange for enforcer George Parros after failing to establish himself in Hamilton with any regularity. Joe Stejskal got lost on the defensive depth chart with so many new bodies added in Hamilton this past year and wasn't tendered a qualifying offer this offseason. Scott Kishel actually left the Canadiens' organization last August as an unsigned college draft pick, spent the year in the ECHL, and now is giving a German semi-pro hockey a try.

All in all, fourteen players left the Canadiens U25 list from last year. Of course, twelve players have also been added to the prospect pool in the past twelve months through the 2013 Entry Draft, trades, and free agent signings. It is notable when we look at our list for this year that in this summary we had eight players who were notables (top 20 or higher) in previous editions, of which only one has forged a role in the current Canadiens squad. Three of them are getting a realistic second (or third) chance with a new NHL organization. Making the NHL isn't an easy task, and a lot of promise goes unfulfilled. Such is the nature of prospect evaluation and development.


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