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 level (USHL, NCAA).
Alexandre Alain is a new addition to the prospect pool, having just signed an entry-level contract. The forward attended the Montreal Canadiens development camp this summer and the subsequent rookie camp on a tryout basis.
It's clear the organization had their sights on him this year. The 87 points he put up in 65 games, added to the great playoffs he is having right now, made the decision to take a chance on the Quebecer easier for management. They also know the importance of giving opportunities to players in their own backward.
The Habs received a lot of backlash for not signing Alex Barré-Boulet, the leading scorer in the QMJHL this season. But they might have already had a plan in mind for Alain, or simply wanted him more.
The success the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada had this year, 50 wins and being crowned regular season champion, is due in part to the production of their top line - which also included Ottawa Senators prospect Drake Batherson. They spent the entire year dominating the QMJHL.
The incredible numbers they put up can be attributed to a great chemistry. Alain is gifted with an ability to free himself from coverage, enabling him to constantly get shooting opportunities in the slot from Barré-Boulet's passes.
That's the defining characteristic of Alain. The way, game after game, he is at the right place at the right time to receive feeds from his line-mates. This is also the reason why he managed 44 goals in the regular season and why he leads the league with 13 in the playoffs.
Alain has a quick release and is able to one-time pucks even while off balance. He doesn't need a perfect pass to get his shot on net, and can fire accurately through multiple sticks and traffic.
He also combines his goal-scoring touch with a good passing ability that shines on the powerplay. He can locate and exploit seams in the defensive coverage to get passes across the ice for prime opportunities for teammates.
The downside of his offensive game, and it's a sizable one, is that he can't create chances for himself as well as the other top players on his team. His lack of high-end puck handling ability and skating means that he needs to be paired with a good setup man to be effective. Fortunately for him, Barré-Boulet has managed to be just that with the Armada.
The duo benefits from each other, but it's likely that away from the playmaking skills of Barré-Boulet, and without another similar talented player to lean on, Alain would have put up lesser numbers this season.
His production is also boosted by the fact that it's his fifth season in the league. His numbers saw a predictable steady increase over the years and, now that he is an overager, he is expected to dominate. But, to his credit, he did just that this season.
Despite this known factor, what must have factored in giving him a contract to play next season in Laval is that, apart from his offensive game, Alain is very responsible defensively.
He has a developed awareness of the ice and is able to constantly keep his stick in passing lane, disturbing puck movements from opponents and breaking plays. He is also not afraid to get physical when it is needed out of him, and is trusted for long minutes on the penalty kill, being the forward of choice of Joel Bouchard even when defending a 5 on 3.
Alain is versatile and can be leaned on. He can play both on the wing and the center position and is effective wherever he is placed on the ice. For this reason, he should be a great asset for the Rocket in 2018-19.
It's likely he is going to go through a similar path as Antoine Waked this season, starting in the bottom of the lineup to get used to professional play, before he is tried in a more offensive role. But it's also possible that, due to his goal scoring touch, he finds chemistry instantly with a playmaking center like Daniel Audette.
That being said, I think expectations for Alain should be tempered. He is as much of a project as Hayden Verbeek, the other overager the Habs recently signed.
But there is still one clear difference between those two.
It is often said of NHL players that they need at least one elite skill to make it to the show. They don't necessarily have a complete package, but can at least outclass others in the minors in something.
Verbeek has that elite skill in his incredible skating ability, something Alain doesn't really possess, even if he has produced more than the speedy forward.
The Armada player is a well-rounded prospect, but will probably need to develop a niche that makes him a very attractive option for a call-up in the future. It could be proving that he can score regularly at the next level or a solid defensive game.
CHL playoff news
William Bitten and Hayden Verbeek could face each other in the OHL finals. Verbeek's team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, won their series over the Kitchener Rangers in seven hard-fought games. As for the Bulldogs, they have been waiting to know their opponent for a few days, having beaten the Kingston Frontenacs in five games.
Verbeek has been out of the lineup, reportedly due to a broken wrist he suffered in the previous series.
This turn of events could mean that at least two prospects could be at the tournament later this May, the winner of the OHL final, and Cale Fleury. The Regina Pats are hosting the tournament and have an automatic bid. Alain’s Armada are still alive and are in game seven of their QMJHL semi-final as well. That game goes on Tuesday.