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Habs Top 25 Under 25: The Departed

A visual summary of 25 year old Dustin Boyd's stint with the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
A visual summary of 25 year old Dustin Boyd's stint with the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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Last summer, Eyes on the Prize unveiled our first ever Top 25 Under 25 Ranking for the Montreal Canadiens.  We're going to be unveiling our second edition in the coming weeks, but I thought it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of what we thought of the young players in our organization just a year ago.  Things have changed a bit since then:  players are now one year older, and therefore must face the terrifying fact that they are no longer in the coveted 18-24 demographic.  Some have been traded, while some have been outright released.  There's actually a decent turnover rate here, and I thought I'd first focus on the group that the Canadiens felt weren't worthy of the organization's long term plans.  It's quite a notable group, as it makes up 5 of our lists top 15 players:

Player Pos Age Rank How They Left
Benoit Pouliot LW 24 4 Not tendered QO; signed with Boston
Tom Pyatt LW 24 9 Not tendered QO; signed with Tampa Bay
Dustin Boyd C 25 10 Not tendered QO; signed with Astana (KHL)
Ben Maxwell C 23 14 Traded to Atlanta (now Winnipeg)
Mathieu Carle D 23 15 Traded to Anaheim
J.T. Wyman RW 25 33 Became UFA; signed with Tampa Bay

All of these players hit a certain point in their careers where they were either going to become core members of the Montreal Canadiens moving forward, or marginal players who had been supplanted by younger, or more specialized players.  Were we wrong to have had faith in them a year ago?  Perhaps we were a bit optimistic about their long term future, but a lot of those concerns were factored into the ranking.  In a group of 25 players, you're bound to have a number of players that don't quite work out for you.  However, all six of these players still could end up in NHL jerseys over the next 3-5 years at varying points, hardly qualifying them as failures.  After the jump, I'll take a look at each of these players' time in the organization. 

Benoit Pouliot, LW, 24 years old

Pouliot came to Montreal in one of those 'change of scenery' type deals that every team is supposed to win by virtue of getting rid of the undesirable player they had before.  Thing is, Guillaume Latendresse was hardly an undesirable player, a big winger who provided offence at a decent clip at even strength.  But this isn't about the trade, this is about the player.  Pouliot provided good scoring rates in a limited role, but ultimately could not secure the permanent LW spot beside Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta that was presented to him often.  His skating was excellent, but his decision making was terrible.  In both playoff runs he participated in, he had to be a healthy scratch, as the coaching staff couldn't trust him to make the smart decision. 

Pouliot leaves the Canadiens with 56 points in 139 career games, and now the Boston Bruins will be his home.  I've heard some hopeful Bruins commentary about how maybe he just needs a change of scenery.  Funny, that was what was thought when the Habs acquired him just 20 months prior to releasing him.  At some point, a player has to justify his place in the league, and not just be given opportunites because of his draft position and raw talent.  I usually end these recaps by wishing the young man well in the future, but hopefully he's terrible for one more year before signing on somewhere else and finding success.  Break a leg, Benny.

Tom Pyatt, LW/C, 24 years old

We had Pyatt inside the Top 10 on last year's list, mainly due to actually making the NHL.  It's not an easy task, but sometimes players make it in a specialty role, and Pyatt is one of those.  He was one of the least rounded Canadiens in terms of ability:  while he could skate an effective shift on the penalty kill, his even strength shifts didn't seem to vary much from his PK ones.  Instead of icing the puck from his own zone, Pyatt would have to work to gain the red line before dumping the puck in and going for the line change.  He was the anti-Pouliot:  a player who made the team in spite of his talent, who did all that could be asked of him and nothing more.  If Pouliot and Pyatt could hybrid into one player, they'd either form an elite player or the worst player in the league.  For a throw-in in the Scott Gomez deal, he's done as well as could be expected, but the team didn't think it was worthy to keep him around even as a spare part this coming season.  He'll be reunited with Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay in 2010-11, for whom he tallied 35 points in 41 games in Hamilton in 2009-10. 

Dustin Boyd, C, 25 years old

Boyd was Habs property through his final year of eligibility on this type of list, but he was quickly forgotten.  After ten games in about eight weeks, he was waived twice and finally banished to Hamilton where he finished the year as a top line AHL centre.  Boyd came to the Canadiens in hopes of challenging for a spot on the team's 3rd line, but Jeff Halpern proved way too difficult of a challenge for the young man, and the team also felt they could mould Lars Eller and David Desharnais into more useful players than Boyd.  Boyd bounced around three different organizations in his formative professional years, and that's usually as telling as any statistic as to how he worked out.  Quite simply, Boyd's 10 game NHL stint was awful, probably the worst of his NHL career, and it cost him a spot in the league entirely.  He'll be suiting up for Barys Astana of the KHL, joined by AHL linemate Nigel Dawes as they try and take Kazakhstan by storm in 2010-11.

Ben Maxwell, C, 23 years old

Finally, an actual Montreal draft pick to talk about!  Maxwell was drafted with high expectations in 2006, a 2nd round pick with 1st round talent, we were told.  Unfortunately, after a promising draft season (31 goals, 68 points in 75 WHL games), Maxwell only was healthy enough to suit up for 87 games the next two years.  The injuries appeared to have affected him:  he had 58 points in 46 games as an 18 year old, but dropped to 36 points in 41 games as a 19 year old before turning professional.  However, as a professional, Maxwell was solid.  Over 3 AHL campaigns he managed 147 points in 186 games, suggesting he has some depth forward potential in the NHL in his future.  Unfortunately for him, he needed an organization with less centre depth than Montreal has.  With two long term veterans in Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez, plus two better options in the 25 and under demographic behind them in David Desharnais and Lars Eller, Maxwell was only useful as an injury call-up, and when that happened, he failed to make any impression.  He was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in the Brent Sopel trade and apparently didn't do enough in his two months there to save that franchise from fleeing to Winnipeg.  He'll be back in Western Canada as he tries to establish a NHL career at 23...  which isn't too late for him, but he'll have to make an impact soon, more than 1 goal and 1 assist in 33 career NHL games, that's for sure. 

Mathieu Carle, D, 23 years old

The second of the Habs' two second round draft picks in 2006 (remember actually making 2nd round draft picks?), Carle actually looked the most promising coming out of the junior ranks:  he had consecutive seasons of a point per game or better, putting him in rarified air for major junior prospects.  Unfortunately, the injury bug that plagued Maxwell's junior career seemed to be inherited by Carle in his professional career:  in his first three seasons in Hamilton, he dressed in only 161 games (plus a 3 game NHL callup).  Perhaps worse for Carle was the opportunity his injuries provided his younger competitors:  both P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber were also right handed, offensive defensemen and both got significantly more PP time than Carle did.  Carle plateaued just below a point every two games for the past three AHL seasons (0.48, 0.47, 0.47) and while he did manage 14 goals last season, his offence doesn't project to the level it needs to gain a spot on the Canadiens blueline in the coming years.  The team opted to sign 25 year old Swiss star Rafael Diaz this offseason, effectively blocking any chance Carle had of moving up the depth chart.  This past month, he was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks organization for Mark Mitera, a more defensively-minded, left handed blueliner also from the 2006 Draft class.  Carle is a player I truly wish the best of in the future...  he really had a tough, tough hill to climb to make it in Montreal. 

J.T. Wyman, RW, 25 years old

One of the reasons I like the "Under 25" format is that 25 is also the first year a player can earn unrestricted free agency as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Due to Wyman's lack of NHL opportunity (if you don't play 80 NHL games before your 25th birthday you become a UFA), he could choose a new organization to try and catch on with.  Wyman was a longshot prospect when drafted, a man who dominated the Minnesota High School circuit, had good size and skating ability, and was headed to a solid NCAA program in Dartmouth.  In Dartmouth, he showed a versatility in his early years in order to earn a regular lineup spot, shifting between right wing and defense.  Finally, after three good but not great campaigns, he ended his collegiate career in 2007-08 by tallying a point per game.  His Hamilton career saw him utilize that versatility, but it wasn't until Guy Boucher arrived that Wyman started to thrive at the AHL level, becoming a top checking winger for the club and providing some decent offence for his role.  However, it was never enough offence to even unseed a man like Tom Pyatt at the NHL level, so although his loss is a big one for the Bulldogs, the Canadiens couldn't justify denying him his own future.  Like Pyatt, Wyman will be re-uniting with Boucher in Tampa Bay this next season, although as with Pyatt, that reunion may only last until the end of training camp.