Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.
There’s something about the Habs drafting seventh-rounders going the college route.
It started with Jake Evans in the 2014 draft. Evans played four seasons for Notre Dame, and his production ramped up each year. During his time spent with the Fighting Irish’s organization, he also became a two-way player, one who could setup his teammates at the offensive end of the ice and come back to act as a strong presence in his own zone.
Now, in his first few steps in professional hockey, the Habs centreman is already a top player for the Laval Rocket.
Last year, the Habs selected Cayden Primeau out of the USHL. Primeau’s stats weren’t appealing in his draft year, but it didn’t stop the goalie from becoming one of the better freshman netminders his NCAA conference had seen since its inception. Now, only in his second year, he is fourth all-time for shutouts at Northeastern. With his raw talent, it’s expected that he breaks a few more records for the Huskies before he leaves college.
This season, it could be the turn of Brett Stapley. The latest seventh-rounder wasn’t featured in most guides heading into the 2018 draft. He was a true off-the-board pick, though in the last round of the draft, there is not really such a thing as teams tend to select an underdog player that they have liked, and may not have been scouted as extensively.
At the press conference following the selections, Trevor Timmins revealed that Stapley was someone the scouting staff had had an eye on for two years. In his first year of eligibility, they chose Primeau over him, but finally pulled the trigger on the BCHL centreman on their second occasion in June.
Stapley had back-to-back good seasons with the Vernon Vipers, which helped him stay in consideration for Montreal. In his first draft-eligible years, he recorded 50 points in 52 games, and broke the point-per-game mark in his second with 59 in 52. He wasn’t overly big or the greatest skater, but his offensive touch was evident, manifesting itself in his setup ability.
At first look, it seems as though that offensive touch has followed Stapley into his first college season.
He has 10 points in 10 games. He might be a year older than Jake Evans when he made his debut in the NCAA, but Stapley’s early production remains quite impressive. It’s a big jump from Junior A — where he was playing previously — to the collegiate level. It took Evans a full year before really making an impact, while Stapley has landed comfortably in a middle-six role, immediately pivoting his own line with Liam Finlay, another ex-Vipers player, on his wing.
Placing Stapley with Finlay, who is in his third year with Denver, seems to have been a good move from the coaching staff. There is familiarity there — both players were part of the 2015-16 edition of Vernon, Stapley’s first with the team — and the experience of the veteran has helped the freshman in his new role with the Pioneers. The duo has already connected for a few goals this season.
What is also working in Stapley’s favour this season is that Denver is a strong team with wide-spread offensive threats. They are ranked seventh in the nation, and could realistically keep climbing the rankings as the season goes on.
Despite good circumstances and the mature player that he is compared to other Habs prospect who were also freshmen at different points, most of the credit for the early success of Stapley should be attributed to himself. A testament to that is his power-play time; something that is always earned in any hockey team. Stapley started the year on the second unit, but after showcasing his ability to distribute the puck, most notably his saucer passes, he was placed on the first unit a few games ago.
Stapley was also recently named rookie of the week in the NCHC after strong performances against the St. Cloud State Huskies where he recorded three points and scored this impressive goal.
So, is it too early to get excited about Brett Stapley?
Probably, but this debut is really encouraging when a lot of the players out of the 2018 draft class are not playing up to expectations. It’s certainly surprising that Stapley has the most positive development out of a group of forwards comprised of Cameron Hillis, Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad and even Jack Gorniak, who are all under-performing to an extent.
Stapley’s toolkit — his evasive skating, his good hands, and his vision — isn’t as full or as exciting as some of the above players, but there is something to be said about actualizing potential into production, which is always a very important factor when it comes to youngsters making their way to the NHL. This is exactly what Stapley is doing.
There will still be a long road ahead for the Pioneers centreman, but the good news is that he seems to be walking in the path of a few other successful seventh-rounders ahead of him. If we are very lucky, they could all find their way up to Montreal at some point in the not-so-distant future.
Cam Hillis, C, Guelph Storm
Hillis might have had a slow start to the season, but since he was put back with Isaac Ratcliffe, his season has turned around. If there was any single play able to give the Habs' third-rounder full confidence this year, it’s the one he made last Friday against the Flint Firebirds.
While attacking the net on a zone entry, Hillis was tripped. But it didn’t stop him from making a beautiful pass to Ratcliffe while spinning around, laying flat on the ice.
It will be hard for the centreman to top that play in his Junior career. The feed led to the final goal in a crushing 8-2 victory, but it was still an impressive display of skill, precision, and vision.
Hillis scored a pretty good goal in that same game that featured him holding on to the puck against pressure in the offensive zone, something that was a shortcoming for him previously this season. He first created a turnover off of the forecheck, and battled with a defender after coming out of the corner to receive the puck and skate to the slot, to finally pivot on the opponent and beat the goalie with a quick shot.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performance
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||3||1||4||5|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||3||1||0||1|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||2||0||4||4|
CHL season to date
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||21||17||18||35|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||21||6||9||15|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||16||6||17||23|
NCAA weekly peformance
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Hockey East||Wisconsin||2||0||1||1|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||0||1||1|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||1||0||0||0|
NCAA season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Hockey East||Wisconsin||12||1||2||3|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||12||3||10||13|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||11||1||2||3|
Cayden Primeau’s weekly performance
Cayden Primeau’s season to date