Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.
Cole Fonstad didn’t record a point in his first game back from the Canadian Hockey League’s holiday break. It was an anomaly; maybe a large Christmas dinner still impaired him. The next game he was back to full form, with a four-point performance against the Kamloops Blazers.
Only one other time did Fonstad fail to write his name on the scoresheet since joining the Everett Silvertips. His current performance with his new team contrasts with his previous seasons, where he alternated between hot and cold streaks, which also led him to be moved up and down the lineup. Now Fonstad is on the first line. He is older, has experience, and has found chemistry with his new linemates.
Everett’s system seems to be working very well for the prospect. From the nine points in the same number of games he recorded with the Prince Albert Raiders to start the season, Fonstad improved to 41 in 28 with the ‘Tips. Moreover, he is second in the WHL in assists with 40, one less than the leader.
Patience is still the name of Fonstad’s game. It’s his best tool to accomplish everything he wants on the ice. While the forward doesn’t actively mislead the defence with fakes, he rarely reveals his intentions to defenders. He keeps a neutral stance where all options are possible. His poise coupled with deceptive abilities makes the defence uncomfortable.
Even when he faces superior opposing numbers on the attack, his ability to slow down the pace of play makes opponents jumpy. They don’t want to out-wait the winger; they get on him, which creates holes in the defence for Fonstad’s teammates joining him up on the attack. A quick lob pass and they are on their way to the net.
Watch Fonstad hold the puck a couple of extra seconds in the play below. He isn’t skating at full speed, but still drags the defence out of position by making himself their sole point of focus. He then hits trailing shooters or linemates speeding past him off the rush.
Fonstad can also create chances for himself with the same patience. In the last clip in the video, he keeps himself from releasing until the defender in the firing lane goes down. The winger glides around the block and finds himself one-on-one with the goalie.
This isn’t to say that the Silvertips forward can’t play with more tempo. When he can attack the defensive line with speed, he doesn’t hold back. He takes open space to accelerate and tries to move the puck inside the stick and skates of defenders to move past them.
The sequence below starts with a great individual effort, as he carries the puck in the zone by extending it out of the reach of a first opponent and then using a speed difference to beat a second one.
The offensive-zone presence then turns into a secondary assist for the Habs prospect. He creates enough chaos by planting himself in front of the net that a puck coming from below the goal line deflects to the stick of a nearby teammate, who shoots it in.
The occasional net-front play is another way Fonstad has kept fortuitous bounces coming, and his production high. Watch him softly deflect a puck to a teammate on a zone entry in the clip below, and then immediately head for the blue paint to present his stick for a tip that gives some trouble to the goalie.
He’s always been a dual-threat forward in my mind, almost equal parts scorer and playmaker. He came close to a 30-goal season last year, scoring every other game for the Raiders. But this season, for some reason, despite putting up the same volume of shots on net, pucks aren’t going in as often. The forward only has eight goals so far, so a slight regression in shooting percentage seems due. After all, Fonstad has talent as a shooter. This goal against the Red Deer Rebels is a testament to it.
On this rush, the goalie knows he’s shooting — everyone knows he’s shooting. But the puck still finds its way to the top of the net, far-side. It’s precision, but also strong mechanics. Fonstad doesn’t draw the puck behind his inside foot. He also keeps the puck at the centre of the blade, only slightly rolling it up toward the toe as he fires. Both of those elements contribute to a quick release. It didn’t matter that the prospect showed shot if the goalie couldn’t read it or raise a limb in time to stop it.
It’s not rare to see fourth-year CHL players start to dominate their leagues like Cole Fonstad is doing. In fact, it’s expected. But Fonstad setting himself up to produce consistently at a high level is a good sign. A disappointing fourth season in the CHL is more often than not the death of any kind of professional hockey future.
Improvements are not always reflected in numbers — Allan McShane’s play this season is a testament to that — but they remain an important part of the evaluation.
Most of the Habs’ CHL prospects are playing for contracts right now. A dominant second half of the season will be crucial for their futures.
CHL Season to date
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||60||6||25||31|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||60||15||59||74|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||37||5||20||25|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||36||0||6||6|
NCAA Season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||28||2||5||7|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||36||19||17||36|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||21||3||7||10|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||33||3||18||21|