Welcome back 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.
The 2022 NHL Draft was headlined by the Habs selecting Juraj Slafkovský first overall, a move that raised eyebrows and stirred skeptics. However one might feel about their top pick, there is no denying the strength of their other three selections in the top 64. Especially not when they play like they did last weekend.
Owen Beck, for one, stat-padded like no other OHLer has so far this season over a two-game span. Filip Mešár was also stellar on Friday and Saturday, making a noticeable impact in what were his first two games in the OHL. Finally, the Short King himself, Lane Hutson, also made a mark in the NCAA against older and stronger competition.
Let’s get right into it.
Owen Beck, C — Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Beck took some time to catch his footing, starting with two pointless games upon his return to the Steelheads, but catch it he did.
The Habs’ 33rd overall pick in July earned nine points in his two games over the weekend, first coming in on Friday night against the Hamilton Bulldogs with a goal and five assists in an 8-2 win, then scoring two goals and adding an assist the following night against the Barrie Colts in a 6-5 loss.
Owen Beck's weekend: 2 games, 3 goals, 6 primary assists.— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 23, 2022
Here's some of his handiwork: pic.twitter.com/2Ihvd1zeUi
A lot of his successful plays came from his usual chain of events: making a defensive play, offering puck support using shouldering speed to hit the neutral zone with a speed differential, then cutting to the middle with the puck to back up the defencemen and create confusion. He then follows that up with either a shot or a deceptive pass.
He chains together intelligent play after intelligent play with regularity, crafting sequences like a sculptor. His plays don’t always result in six-point nights, but they work the same at any level, as was evident this NHL pre-season.
The interesting thing is what he’s added, and that’s a lethal threat to the Steelheads’ half-wall on the power play.
Keep the points coming for Owen Beck and Kai Schwindt The @CanadiensMTL prospect scores a power play goal to give him his sixth point of the night and the @FlaPanthers prospect his fifth! #MadeofSteel— Mississauga Steelheads (@OHLSteelheads) October 22, 2022
: Del Mastro (@NHLBlackhawks) pic.twitter.com/zzNr93rgMO
Beck’s one-timer isn’t the only impressive part of this clip. Weaving in and out of his “pocket,” Beck creates fluidity and covers multiple pressure-release points as the puck cycles, even anticipating the rim and getting to the boards on time to recover the puck.
His fluidity and intelligence from that position are what make him so threatening. There is very little that the opposing penalty-killing box can do to keep up with his nonstop movement and effective distribution. His one-timer fake at the very beginning of the clip even creates some doubt when he gets the puck again.
It’s early, but this is what Beck needed for his confidence and to expand his game. Being sent down to the OHL to dominate and exceed the point-per-game mark while adding arrows to his quiver benefits him more than making the immediate jump to the NHL that he seemed so ready for this pre-season.
Filip Mešár, C/RW — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Mešár had some options. As a European prospect whose rights were affiliated to the OHL’s Rangers, he had the benefit of a potential AHL spot right off the bat — something his North American counterparts, such as Owen Beck, are excluded from earning per the NHL-CHL agreement.
After playing one game in a fourth-line role, the Habs’ 26th overall pick in 2022 was sent down to the Rangers, and general manager Kent Hughes argued that it would be better for Mešár to put up 80 points in Kitchener than 40 with the Rocket (for accuracy’s sake, 40 points in the AHL in his first season post-draft would be tremendous, while 80 in the OHL would be underwhelming, but Hughes’s point remains correct.)
Well, Mešár is off to a great start. After posting four points in his first-ever OHL game last Friday — a 7-2 win over the Sudbury Wolves — he added two goals, including a gorgeous overtime winner on a breakaway the following night against Guelph.
These were two games in which Mešár absolutely overwhelmed his opposition with his combination of pace, handling skill and vision. He scored on an end-to-end rush in his first game on Friday, immediately displaying what made him a first-round pick in a draft with a relatively strong amount of depth.
He also showed improvement in his ability to attack the net, cut to the middle, and create off give-and-goes. It’s a small sample — very small — but Mešár has already displayed growth in key areas, and dominance in a brand-new rink, with new teammates. Playing two full years at the highest level of men’s hockey in Slovakia before the age of 18 will do that to a prospect.
Last night, Filip Mesar (#48) collected one goal and three assists in Kitchener's 7-2 win over Sudbury.— Chris G (@ChrisHabs360) October 22, 2022
He also took three shots on goal, two of them on the PP. Mesar won one of the three faceoffs.
His four points
Mešár’s final point of this clip on Francesco Pinelli’s 5-2 goal was especially impressive, as he read the play to perfection, stopped in the right spot to cut off his opponent’s pass, and knew exactly what to do with it and where to pass in order to find Pinelli. Pre-scanning, spatial awareness, and reading his opponent’s defensive posture helped him connect seamlessly with Pinelli on that play.
This is a prospect who is already showing pro-ready habits and an absurd amount of skill in a Junior league. Odds are that we see Mešár turn pro next season, after lighting it up for a season with the Rangers.
Lane Hutson, LD — Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
On to our final highlight of this past weekend, the bite-sized highlight-reel machine that is Lane Hutson. I’ll preface this by mentioning that Hutson has added two inches to his official height already, with a year or so of growth left to go. That puts him at around 5’9”.
Over the weekend, Hutson played two games against UConn, a middle-of-the-pack team with an older core and a couple of key young players such as Leafs prospect Ryan Tverberg and projected 2023 first-round pick Matthew Wood.
He earned an assist in the game on Friday while being on the ice for the opposition’s overtime winner, but followed it up with a stellar performance on Saturday, scoring his first NCAA goal and adding a primary assist to bring his season total up to six points in five games.
What has surprised me the most about Hutson so far for the Terriers isn’t his outstanding playmaking; that’s an area of his game that has always been undeniable. Simply put, he has had moments where he was outright the best defensive player on a stacked Boston blue line.
Timely interventions, patience on opposing rush attempts, and great displays of intelligent body-positioning have been regular occurrences in Hutson’s NCAA tenure so far, though interrupted by the occasional defensive breakdown. He can still get caught flat-footed on his teammates’ neutral-zone turnovers and get beat wide as a result, but overall Hutson has had more outstanding moments than bad ones away from the puck.
Lane Hutson (MTL): Oct 16— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 18, 2022
• Playmaking: led BU in xA1 (setting up chances), 2nd-highest among both teams, beating out Hughes, Casey, Fensore, etc.
• Transition: patience, delay, attack inside when possible.
• Defence: off-puck awareness, win battles with body positioning. pic.twitter.com/gSQcSMFvdo
If Hutson somehow maintains his current point-per-game pace, he would become the highest-scoring freshman defenceman in the NCAA’s modern era, outpacing Quinn Hughes, Adam Fox, Zach Werenski, and many more prominent NHL blue-liners.
He may not maintain that outstanding Draft +1 production rate, but he should be able to remain in the top 10. That is not half bad for a late second-rounder deemed too small to play against men, who is currently playing mainly against 20- to 24-year-olds. He still has a year to add some inches, and much more time than that to add some pounds. This is a prospect that should have all Habs fans excited.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!