The Montreal Canadiens had an incredible draft in 2007, selecting three players who eventually became top-end NHLers with their first three selections. That was the beginning of a turnaround for the franchise after a difficult stretch in the late 90s and early 00s, and helped to bolster their ranks for the future.
After that exceptional draft, things went downhill for the Habs. A terrible draft in 2008 was followed up with a draft class that initially seemed to have potential, but, like everything else about the Canadiens’ 2008-09 centennial season, wound up not living up to the initial promise.
Those two poor drafts have been felt throughout the organization in recent years, and have forced the team to look (without much success) elsewhere for talent to fill out the NHL club, while having few quality players to fill the ranks of the minor-league franchise.
As the 2007 prospects began to make their mark on the NHL, the team began to extract some worthy talent from the annual entry draft. They got incredible value out of a fifth-round selection in 2010, and added a CHL prospect in each if the next two drafts that is now a regular NHLer.
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft rivals what the team enjoyed in 2007, though perhaps in quantity of talent moreso than in the quality of the players selected. The Canadiens have already seen three players from the 2013 draft play with the big club, with three more with the potential to don the sweater in the upcoming season.
Six of the eight players selected in 2013 have been profiled among the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the organization so far this summer, and we still have one left to go.
To get you caught up on the series so far, and get prepared for the reveal of the top five this coming week, here are the 21 players who occupy positions 25 through six in the Canadiens 2016 Top 25 (or 26, as the case may be) under 25.
The long shots
The project began with a look at some of the guys who have a chance to become NHLers, and a few who saw time with the Canadiens when the defensive depth was decimated last season. These players all have a skill or two that would see them succeed in the big leagues, but their lack of overall talent may limit them to lower tiers throughout their professional careers.
#25 — Max Friberg
One of two players to tie for the 25th spot, Friberg was brought into the fold in a trade of goaltender Dustin Tokarski during the 2015-16 season. He plays effective minutes in a bottom-six role with the St. John’s IceCaps, and is a candidate for a call-up in the event of an injury on the NHL roster.
#25 — Jeremy Grégoire
He’s one of the best all-around prospects in the system, but there are questions about how his offence will translate to the pro level. A higher point production in his sophomore season in St. John’s could see him rise up the rankings next year.
#24 — Ryan Johnston
An offence-first defenceman, Johnston got three games of NHL experience last year. He gives the IceCaps a dangerous play-making threat from the blue line, but it can be negated by his play on his own half of the rink.
#23 — Zachary Fucale
His stock rose in his draft year thanks to his work on one of the CHL’s top teams and a great performance in the World Junior Championship. The flaws in his game were magnified in his first pro season last year, causing some to doubt that he will live up his potential of a starting NHL goaltender.
#22 — Brett Lernout
Lernout was a contentious omission from the list in 2015, and a debatable addition this time out. He has a lot of tools that would give him an edge at the NHL level, but he’s yet to put them all together in a single season.
#21 — Simon Bourque
A smart defenceman who understands how to play his role, Bourque has had a great QMJHL career, and leads his team both on and off the ice. He has bottom-four ability and could be a complementary player on an NHL roster in the future.
#20 — Jake Evans
After moving to centre, Evans’ play-making abilities were brought to the fore this past NCAA season. His point-per-game pace surprised some who had dismissed him in the past, and has many wondering how he will follow it up.
#19 — Victor Mete
Like Bourque, Mete has the potential to be a lower-pairing defenceman on an NHL roster. He has both offensive and defensive ability, and should be an interesting player to watch over the next few seasons.
Positions 18 to 13 are occupied by players who have more fleshed out skillsets that give them better odds of making the big show. These players are either seen as one-dimensional, or just not experienced enough to earn a high ranking. No matter the case, these are players who need more development time to be considered among the organization’s best.
#18 — Lukas Vejdemo
Trevor Timmins was very pleased that he was able to snag Vejdemo in the third round in 2015, and the Swedish rookie’s play in the SHL this season showed everyone why. He’s an improved version of what Grégoire offers the organization, and seems to only be getting better.
#17 — Daniel Audette
One of the best play-makers in the system, some wonder if Audette’s excellent offensive numbers are a sign of high-end ability or just the result of playing in the defensivley lacking QMJHL. His performance in the 2016-17 season — his rookie professional campaign — may answer that question.
#16 — Charlie Lindgren
A sought-after free agent coming off his college career, Lindgren’s play in his one NHL start legitimized some of the hype surrounding him. He’s had good numbers everywhere he’s played, and most of our panelists are confident that this trend will continue.
#15 — Jacob de la Rose
Slotting into the sixth position in 2015, de la Rose fell several spots this time out. He has been given an opportunity at the NHL level at an early age, but hasn’t been able to seize it. Whether that is a result of his abilities or his handling by the organization is a matter of debate, and that uncertainty led to a wide range of votes in this year’s ballots.
#14 — Will Bitten
For a player just drafted in June — in the third round, no less — a debut at 14 is an impressive feat. Bitten plays a game that should translate very well to the professional level, and that has many confident in his ability to become an NHLer.
#13 — Noah Juulsen
A first-round selection in 2015, Juulsen plays a steady defensive game, but saw a major slip in his offensive production in his post-draft season. He’s still a prospect to watch, but doubts about his future made Juulsen a polarizing figure for voters in 2016.
Once we hit #12, we began to see players who have skills that are already NHL-calibre, but there are question marks about their ability to stick with the Habs. Great offence with little defence, or quality defending with little production is the description for the majority of players in this group.
#12 — Martin Réway
There’s no doubting Réway’s offensive skill, which is perhaps the best of all players not currently playing with the NHL club. His defensive game needs work, and his small stature is a bit of a concern, but his ability to control the pace of the game with the puck on his stick places him near the top of the prospect list.
#11 — Phillip Danault
A great trade of two expiring contracts netted the Habs Phillip Danault: a bottom-six forward who has the ability to play every game and chip in some bonus offence. On a team overflowing with bottom-six players at the top level, Danault is one of the most likely to survive an eventual purge.
#10 — Michael McCarron
He’s a big man, but has a lot of the talent you would want in a skilled offensive forward. If he can combine all his potential into one realized whole, McCarron will be a very effective player at the NHL level.
#9 — Sven Andrighetto
Already with 56 games of NHL experience, Andrighetto has shown he has what it takes to score goals in the world’s best league. The consitency of that offence, along with the progression of his defensive game, are the biggest hurdles between he and a substantial NHL career.
#8 — Charles Hudon
He’s looked to be ready to play in the NHL for some time, but management has yet to give him a real shot to prove it. Hudon has scored goals at every level, and many are curious about how he would perform if he had a decent stint with the Habs.
The best bets
These are the ones who have the best chance of becoming everyday NHL players, if they’re not already. These elite prospects are the best the Canadiens have available to carry them into the future.
#7 — Daniel Carr
Carr announced his presence with a 24-goal rookie AHL season, and surprised with his offensive production and tenacious play when he got a chance to play in the Habs lineup. His contract situation may be the deciding factor in whether he starts the season with the Canadiens or returns to lead the offence of the IceCaps.
#6 — Nikita Scherbak
As much of a character as he is an offensive force, Scherbak has an exciting set of puck skills. He plays a controlling possession game and uses his timing and vision to set up incredible scoring plays, and is a year of defensive-zone development away from bringing his talents to Montreal.
#5 — ?
We’re now at players who either have made or will make the NHL, and will play key roles for the team over the next few years. We‘ve reached the cream of the crop, and the countdown begins on Monday of the top five players in the Canadiens organization under the age of 25.