l to r: Carey Price, Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Chipchura, Andrei Kostitsyn
The analyzing of a teams top prospects is often a slippery proposition. Many circumstances come into play regarding their initial evaluation, the learning curve of the progression they are making, and the potential it is believed they can achieve.
At the risk of seeming overly optimistic about the Montreal Canadiens prospects as a whole, it should be noted that what is most impressive about them is not so much the quality of the talent, but the sheer numbers of very good players in the pool.
This group has alot of upside. There is much talent, grit, and leadership amongst them. These future NHLer's will, in a matter of years, become important contributors to the Canadiens plans.
Other teams in the league such as Pittsburgh, Washinton, Anaheim, and Chicago may lay claim to having better rated top prospects, but the depth and numbers of which Montreal can boast of is to be admired.
Make no mistake, the Habs have no Evgeni Malkin's, Bobby Ryan's, or Jonathan Toews to offer. Of the players mentioned below, only goaltender Carey Price may be of the future superstar variety.
Having followed the team all my life, I can only recount one such period where the prospects were as thick. I can confidently state that this group comes the closest to the mid eighties when such bona fides as Roy, Chelios, Richer, Corson and Claude Lemieux were all within launching distance of the Habs lineup.
Again, unearthing the second coming of Roy or Chelios seems highly unlikely, even considering both those players were in fact second round draft choices.
In this listing, I have ranked the prospects below, not in order of potential, but in the order I believe they will appear in a Habs jersey to stay. More recently drafted players are obviously further away for the most part. Some as much as three to four years.
I have employed several databases as information sources regarding each prospect. Follow their backlinks for stats, ratings, and resumes on each. Keep in mind that certain sources are in continuous update mode.
1 - Kyle Chipchura: Evidently not the most talented player by any measure on this list. Chipchura's work ethic and leadership skills however, are second to none. He is often mentioned as the most NHL ready of all Habs prospects in regards to maturity and willingness to accept whatever role given him. Will never dominate, but can be extremely useful in defensive situations such as penalty killing and faceoffs. At best, this center is a potential 20 goal man. Chipchura captained Team Canada's entry in the last WJT. No small feat considering the team lacked star power yet still went undefeated. A good bet to make the team in 2006.
2 - Andrei Kostitsyn: This highly skilled right winger appeared in 12 games with the Canadiens last season, notching a pair of goals while giving fans a glimpse that is best described as a tease to what his talents hold. With the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Habs farm team, he demonstrated consistant progression in accentuating roles. With the right centerman, Kostitsym has 40 goal potential. With his defensive game needing attention, he will be brought along slowly. Kostitsyn is the most highly skilled and best skating prospect in the Habs fold.
3 - Alexei Emelin: May be this training camp's biggest surprise. Emelin (often mistakingly named Yemelin) is a pest of a defender. Though his size is still filling out, he has developed a reputation as a hard hitter with a Darius Kasparitus style game as his biggest asset. Though he has often been described as a stay at home type, his greatest strides this past season have involved an increased ability to clear his zone of the puck and leading breakout rushes. The evaluation on his upside continues to grow. Don't overlook him.
4 - Yann Danis: This late blooming goaltender saw action in a handful of games for the Canadiens last season and performed admirably. With Cristobal Huet, the goalie for now, and Carey Price touted as the Habs future puckstopper, Danis' stint with the big team may be brief. Having posted a shutout in his first ever game surely didn't hurt his stock value. A good insurance card should backup David Aebischer be dealt. Danis may well follow the career path of onetime Hab draft pick Tomas Vokoun.
5 -Guillaume Latendresse: If the Quebec media had it's way, this burly winger would be fast tracked to the Habs starting lineup come October. Reality and the NHL's need for complete player play however dictate a different story. Gui is pure gold in the offensive zone, with solid hits and a blistering shot. In his back end, he tends to become the invisible man. Health issues have made his past a checkered one. This could be dynamite or simply pissing on a fuse.
6 - Carey Price: Drafted high at #5 in 2005, the 6' 3" Price is a sizeable commodity. In the opinion of many, he will be Canada's WJT goalie this season, after just missing by inches last year. Price has a reputation of making weak teams competitive. He has yet to be evaluated fronting a stronger team. The high draft selection reflects his abilities as a goalie of size to be acrobatic yet remain square to most shooters. He looks to be a keeper big time, but his best assessment may come one year from now. Had an awesome showing at last seasons Habs camp. No less is expected of him come October.
7 - Sergei Kostitsyn: The younger brother of Andrei put up interesting stats for an OHL rookie this past year. In the regular season, he had 26-52-78 in 63 games while the playoff totals were 13-24-37 in only 19 games. Could Sergei be a draft pick dark horse? It remains to be seen. He did play on a somewhat stacked London Knights squad and seemed to be leader more than simply a follower. This season should be more determining. As a 19 year old leader on the team, much of what it accomplishes will be up to him. As with many kids his age, his overall game seems tobe the biggest concern.
8 - Corey Locke: This smooth and slick former Ottawa 67's center has had a rough adjustment to the AHL.. The Habs 4th round pick in 2003 has knocks on him due to his size ( 5' 9 ", 170 lbs ) but has made slow but steady progression on the farm. Locke is a former two time OHL MVP and one time Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. His junior stats in 2003 were an awesome 63-88-151. This will be a make it or break it year for Locke on the Habs farm. If he does not achieve a point per game ratio, he will unfortunately be cut loose.
9 - Mikhail Grabovski: This Belarussian prospect may need refining in the minors in much the same way as Locke. This left winger made great strides last season while participating in the highest level of tournaments. He is a late bloomer that has many a critic raving. Some astute thinkers have him pencilled into the Habs fall roster come October. He is more likely hamilton bound with agreat season ahead of him.
10 - David Fischer: The Canadiens first pick (20th overall) in last seasons draft, has quite an upside according to scouts. It will not hurt his developement that he will likely be paired with Erik Johnson ( the St.Louis Blues 1 overall pick in last years draft ) at the University of Minnesota. Fischer's game is dscribed as a complete defenders bag of tricks and skills. This 18 yr old has a bright future as an NHLer ahead of him. His maturity and composure is impressive. May well be the real deal.
Other Habs prospects still on the radar include Duncan Milroy, recently signed Matt D'Agnosti, Mathieu Aubin, Ryan O'Byrne, and J.P. Cote.