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Projecting the 2016-17 St. John's IceCaps: The Forwards

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A preview of the Canadiens farm team once again points to potential success, but we've been fooled before.

St. John's iceCaps

It is a long-standing organizational philosophy that a farm team is in place in order to develop players for the National Hockey League, frequently sacrificing the well-being of the team in favour of individual development. This is certainly apparent for the Montreal Canadiens whose farm team is steeped in mediocrity on a results level, however individually when players are called up to the NHL, they are certainly able to integrate successfully into the line-up and help out the Montreal Canadiens.

This upcoming season will be somewhat of a rebirth for the IceCaps forward corps as a purge of players from the previous edition will give a whole new look to the offence. Gone are Captain Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, Lucas LessioJohn Scott, and Bud Holloway. In addition most of the supporting cast on AHL contracts such as Brandon McNally, Markus Eisenschmid, and Angelo Miceli are gone as well. So we can expect a significant turnover for the team this season.

NHL Ready and Waiting

Every NHL training camp opens with the notion that nobody is safe, and that the best players will earn their spots, however it's pretty well documented that spots are few and far between for the Montreal Canadiens this upcoming season, with eight defencemen on one-way contracts, three goalies that require waivers, and a glut of forwards choking any in-roads to the NHL for a prospect.

That being said the IceCaps should expect to see the return of Charles Hudon once again, who will be heading into his third professional season, all of it spent in the AHL, unable to break through into the NHL. He will certainly be expected to be one of the top point producers for the team.

Nikita Scherbak who will look to shake off an injury-plagued rookie season, and start to truly demonstrate his full potential in the pro ranks as he awaits his first recall. He was curiously moved to centre last season, a position he has never played before, and the results were varied. It's unknown whether this was a temporary experiment, or whether the organization will continue to groom the talented forward for the pivot position.

Daniel Carr might start the season with the IceCaps for the sole reason that he one of the very few forwards deserving to play in the NHL who is not waiver eligible, and can be easily sent down the AHL. It could simply be a short stay in the AHL for him however because he showed last season that he has the ability to play in the NHL in a style that should appeal to head coach Michel Therrien.

Michael McCarron will be in a battle for a spot on the Canadiens at training camp, but should he fail to earn the fourth line centre role with the Habs, I'm sure the IceCaps wouldn't mind getting their towering first line centre back for the start of the season. He should be a dominant player this season, defeating opponents along the boards while showing off an improved stride. Anything less would be seen as a regression for the first round pick.

Make or Break Seasons

If Jacob de la Rose's rise into the NHL as a Therrien-trusted forward was rapid in 2014-15, as was his precipitous decline this past season. Looking out of place and overwhelmed for most of his 22 games with Montreal this season he completed an injury riddled season book-ended with stays in St. John's. He will be hard-pressed to break into the Montreal line-up this season with plenty of other prospects-in-waiting also knocking on the door of the NHL. Entering the final season of his entry level deal, he will have to convince the organization that he can still be a contributing member of the Canadiens going forward as a trusted two-way centre.

Tim Bozon's medical troubles are well documented as is his hard work to recover and get back to the game is quite inspirational. However his rookie season began with a serious shoulder injury in the AHL pre-season which sidelined him for many weeks, throwing off any momentum he had going into the season. He had several stints with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL, and never seemed to find his place on the IceCaps, usually relagated to fourth line duties with John Scott and the ATO forward-of-the-day. Headed into the final year of his entry level deal, he will have to demonstrate offensive dominance in order to earn a subsequent contract. He did not participate in this year's development camp, so that could be a tip of the hat for his future on the team unfortunately.

Local tough guy Connor Crisp is entering the last year of his entry level deal after two consecutive injury-shortened seasons. Last year he suffered a concussion which stopped his season at exactly 10 games. At this year's development camp he wasn't quite yet recovered, and did not fully participate in all the activities. As a depth forward in the AHL at best, he is not likely to aspire to attaining the NHL, but does serve as a serviceable deterrent for the more scrappy elements still found in the AHL.

Max Friberg arrived mid-season for Dustin Tokarski, and formed an effective shutdown line with Dumont and Bournival. He will now be one of the senior player on the team, and playing out the final season of his two-year bridge deal. So far in four professional seasons he has failed to establish himself in the NHL, and risks suffering the same fate as the other RFAs who were unqualified this past off-season.

Stefan Matteau arrived in the organization from the Devils at the trade deadline when the Canadiens shipped out Devante Smith-Pelly. On an injury plagued group Matteau struggled to keep his spot, and once forwards started coming back to the line-up he found himself in the press box. He dissapointed as a former first round pick, and given the glut of forwards on the Canadiens, including the prospects on the verge of breaking through, Matteau is probably not going to see much NHL action this season. In the final year of his deal

Mark MacMillan is entering the final year of his two-year entry level deal. In his rookie season last year MacMillan performed the role of third line centre honourably, while also modestly supporting the offence with some contribution. MacMillan has this upcoming season to prove his worth. He can be a useful pillar for an AHL team as a two-way centre, but it will be interesting to see whether his development curve has plateaued, or whether he will increase his responsibilities and improve his results this season and earn another contract.

One to Watch

Jeremy Gregoire might be the surprise of the upcoming season. Known for his offensive contribution in his Junior career, Gregoire was limited last season in terms of production and opportunity. He ended up fighting a lot to keep his spot, and getting injured as a result. Bouncing around the lineup in all three forward positions, Gregoire's lack of stability might have affected his play. At this past development camp Gregoire emerged hungry and frequently was the most imposing player on the ice. It's possible that he has found how to translate his junior success to the pro game, so he will be interesting to watch on an IceCaps squad on which he will have to once again compete for a spot on the roster, but perhaps better prepared to do so this season.

Newcomers

Martin Reway has lots of talent at his disposal, and an abundance of youthful confidence. He arrives in North America with lots of fanfare, and perhaps a bad reputation, so he will be perhaps best served to learn the North American game and the Therrien system away from the spotlights of Montreal, and in St. John's where he will have some time getting familiar with the new surroundings. If there was a massive question mark hanging above any player on the roster, it's Reway. Pretty much nobody knows what to expect, and as a result could be the revelation of the year for the organization.

Daniel Audette will be the only rookie forward on this year's squad, and as such he will starting from scratch. He played a few games last season with the IceCaps when his Junior season ended, and he certainly didn't seem out of place. He should pick up the pace rather quickly, but with a top-heavy IceCaps forward line, he will have a tough time earning top line minutes.

Chris Terry is the hired gun for the IceCaps this season, next in the lineage of mercenary scorers like T.J. Hensick, Martin St. Pierre, and Bud Holloway. Terry has been an NHL mainstay for the past two seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he put up ok numbers, but also struggled defensively. He should provide the IceCaps with steady goals.

Projected Forward Lines to Start the Season

  • Top offensive threat: Carr - McCarron - Hudon
  • Secondary offence: Terry - Scherbak - Reway
  • Shut down line: Friberg - De La Rose - Gregoire
  • Fourth Line: Matteau - MacMillan - Audette
  • Extra Skaters: Crisp - Bozon