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Catching The Torch: Mid-season prospect round-up — Each league’s standout player, stats, & more

A full mid-season recap of the Habs’ North American prospects from the NCAA, QMJHL, OHL, and WHL.

Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

Welcome to Catching The Torch, where we keep an eye on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how their development is progressing week by week.

With 2022 right around the corner, I wanted to perform an overview of the team’s prospects and point out which of them have stood out so far with roughly half the season to go. We’ll discuss the team’s mid-season standouts from each of the four Junior and collegiate leagues in which the Habs hold talent, namely the QMJHL, OHL WHL and NCAA.

Stats for every North American prospect are also listed, separated by league, so you can keep up with the general overlook of the prospects’ numbers. The Habs’ selections in 2021, for the most part, have bolstered the team’s pool in a way that has exceeded expectations, starting off with the team’s standout QMJHL prospect.

QMJHL

Joshua Roy, W/C — Sherbrooke Phoenix (2021, round 5 #150)

Roy’s progression since joining Sherbrooke midway through last season has shown how much a change of scenery can benefit a prospect’s game, especially when the team they’re joining has the infrastructure required to make him better. The Phoenix have clearly been working on training and nutrition with Roy, as he has slimmed down without losing any strength, and become a much more dynamic player as a result.

His previous tendency of dragging his feet any time there was a release in opposing pressure became less prevalent with his added durability, and he was able to put together more solid 200-foot presences. Timely back-checks, second and third efforts on loose pucks, and more appearances in high-danger pockets of space now figure among his skill set, adding to an already refined goal-scoring ability.

Roy’s playmaking has also come a long way since his struggles with anticipation and layered play-reading from last year. He’s developed a decent synergy with teammate Xavier Parent, and the two have been able to find each other through crowds with an impressive amount of regularity, but his power-play distribution has improved greatly as well with and without Parent.

His 47 points in 25 games so far this year earned him a shot with Team Canada ahead of the recently cancelled World Junior Hockey Championship as part of their selection camp, but he failed to make the final cut with Canada’s depth of forward talent.

The St-Georges-de-Beauce native was leading his league in points up until his leave to take part in the camp, but should nevertheless remain in the mix for the league’s scoring title. It has been a great performance for a fifth-round pick from just a handful of months ago, which earns him the title of standout QMJHL prospect.

QMJHL Prospects’ Season To Date

Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Joshua Roy 2021 W/C QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix 27 17 30 47 6
Xavier Simoneau 2021 C/LW QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders 24 13 33 46 33
Riley Kidney 2021 C QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan 29 17 24 41 30
William Trudeau 2021 LD QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders 31 6 19 25 27

OHL

Jan Mysak, C/LW — Hamilton Bulldogs (2020, round 2 #48)

Mysak started the season off cold, failing to hit the scoresheet in five of his first 10 games, but quickly caught up production-wise with 11 goals and five assists in his next seven matches. His production has dipped again as of late (two goals, four assists in his last eight games), but this dry spell is a bit different as Mysak’s game hasn’t dropped in quality like it did at the beginning of the year. The bounces just aren’t going his way.

His passes are now less hopeful and more calculated, and his overall sense of timing when taking pucks from the boards to the middle has improved, although the main concern of pace — both in terms of his skating and execution speed — is still there. His shot is his best weapon, and he had been using it to fool goaltenders all throughout the Bulldogs’ season before heading to Alberta to captain Czechia at the World Junior Championship.

In the chaotic, bounce-prone hockey of the World Juniors, Mysak’s reactiveness and sound decision-making was a welcome change of pace, as the prospect took a simplified approach to the game and fed pucks into dangerous areas whenever he had the chance.

The issue, however, was that he didn’t get the puck enough, which is partly due to awkward off-puck routes from the forward as well as a lack of chemistry between he and his linemates. He would wane out of the game for stretches, then make a decent play or two, which was much of the same problem as in Hamilton.

He is good at slowing plays down and using lateral movement and distribution to open up lanes, but when the pace of play picks up, he can find himself lagging behind due to sub-par skating mechanics. According to the next player on this list, who shared a room with Mysak at rookie camp, the forward trains and behaves like a pro already, which bodes well for his future in the NHL, but pace is paramount. Everything happens quickly at that level, so he needs to either be fast or play fast — and preferably both.

OHL Prospects’ Season to Date

Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Jan Mysak 2021 C/LW OHL Hamilton Bulldogs 25 17 14 31 4
Arber Xhekaj 2021 LD OHL Kitchener Rangers 18 6 11 17 54
Daniil Sobolev 2021 RD OHL Windsor Spitfires 23 1 9 10 12
Joe Vrbetic 2021 G OHL North Bay Battalion 20 GAA: 2.78 sv%: .903 Record: 13-3-4

WHL

Kaiden Guhle, LD — Prince Albert Raiders/Edmonton Oil Kings (2020, round 1 #16)

This one was easy, given that Guhle is the only Habs’ prospect playing in the WHL. Make no mistake, however: the Habs’ first-round pick is having an outstanding season. He figures among the league’s top blue-liners at both preventing zone entries and breaking up offensive cycles (per Mitch Brown), and led the Prince Albert Raiders in points and shots on goal until his trade to the Edmonton Oil Kings in early December.

The numbers and the eye test match up, as they often do. Guhle’s presence on the blue line is absolutely punishing, and you can see prospects hesitate before venturing to his corner on retrieval attempts as a result. On the rush, Guhle’s lateral mobility and strong defensive stick makes him extremely adept at dislodging loose pucks for his teammates to pick up. Playing against kids in the World Junior Championship allowed him to showcase just how hard he can be to play against:

He also shows no hesitation throwing pucks at the net, to the extent that he can occasionally overlook high-danger pass options to the high slot or across the ice. As a result, his passing numbers are low, specifically his expected primary assists and his slot-pass completion in terms of both volume and accuracy. Basically put, most of his passes don’t lead to high-danger shots which, combined with a high shot volume (especially for defencemen), is usually indicative of a lack of patience with the puck.

His transition game also lacks consistency. He has the legs required to make his way up and down the ice with regularity, but rarely identifies opportunities to join the rush and carry the puck up the ice. He mostly delegates carry-exits to his defence partner, and when that option is removed, he tries a board or stretch pass eight times out of 10.

The best part of Guhle’s game is his high floor; at the very worst, he’ll be an icing-prone fifth/sixth defenceman with great defensive capabilities. Even if he fixes his sense of urgency with the puck, I don’t see the playmaking and possession dominance required from a top-pair blue-liner in Guhle, but a hard-nosed, Joel Edmundson 2.0 to complement a puck-mover like Alexander Romanov or Mattias Norlinder down the stretch would be a safe bet for his projection as an NHLer.

WHL Prospects’ Season to Date

Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Kaiden Guhle 2021 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 17 2 13 15 28
WHL Edmonton Oil Kings 3 1 2 3 2
Total 20 3 15 18 30

NCAA

Sean Farrell, LW — Harvard University Crimsons (2020, round 4 #124)

When we last broke down Sean Farrell’s impressive NCAA start about a month ago, he had been on a tear with the Crimsons, scoring 12 points in eight games for the team, seven of which came in his first two matches for the college program. Since then, a grand total of three games have occurred, with Harvard having a couple of games rescheduled while also benefiting from a holiday break. The prospect earned two points in those games, bringing his season total to 14 in 11 matches and looking a bit inconsistent in the process.

His playmaking makes him a special prospect, as he can identify his options and break seams so quickly and effortlessly it sometimes seems like he’s passing through his opponents’ stick blades. On top of that, there has been a more-than-promising progression in both his goal-scoring ability and his defensive game since being drafted in 2020.

If he can manage to carry his efforts consistently, not only game-by-game but shift-by-shift, there will be a tremendous uptick in his production. As he stands right now, Farrell seems to fade out every second shift, and he’ll need to work that out of his game.

Regardless, the anticipation and comfort with the puck that Farrell displays on a regular basis is extremely projectable, and the winger has an impressive escape gear that should continue to find him space once he turns pro.

NCAA Prospects’ Season to Date

Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P PIM
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCAA (NCHC) Denver 16 6 10 16 8
Sean Farrell 2020 LW NCAA (ECAC) Harvard 11 6 8 14 4
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCAA (NCHC) Minnesota-Duluth 18 8 6 14 10
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW/C NCAA (Big-10) Wisconsin 19 4 4 8 6
Rhett Pitlick 2019 RW NCAA (Big-10) U. Minnesota 13 0 6 6 6
Luke Tuch 2020 LW NCAA (East) Boston U. 9 0 0 0 8
Jordan Harris 2018 LD NCAA (East) Northeastern 18 2 9 11 2
Jayden Struble 2019 LD NCAA (East) Northeastern 17 2 2 4 29
Arvid Henrikson 2016 LD NCAA (CCHA) Lake Superior 20 0 1 1 33
Jakub Dobeš 2020 G NCAA (Big-10) Ohio State 17 GAA: 2.02 sv%: .923 Record: 12-5-0

In other news:

— Logan Mailloux’s case has officially been reviewed by the OHL, and they have determined that the prospect has taken the steps necessary to warrant his return starting January 1st. He will be eligible to play for the London Knights the same day he will be reinstated, as the Knights start off the year by facing the Erie Otters. His suspension will have lasted 26 games.

Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, and Jan Mysak are options to be called up by the Habs in the case of a lack of NHL contracts on their roster. All three have entry-level contracts and can be recalled as emergency lineup plug-ins if ever the team’s COVID and injury situation were to further deteriorate. We’re already at a baker’s dozen of affected roster players, so it’s far from out of the question.

— Both Jayden Struble and Luke Tuch are on a nine-game point drought for their respective NCAA teams; expect a breakdown of how and why in the upcoming weeks.


Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on the Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!