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.
It’s time for Part 2 of our OHL and WHL report cards, after covering Kaiden Guhle, Jan Mysak, and Arber Xhekaj’s seasons in the previous update and grading them on their performances throughout the 2021-22 campaign. This time around, we’ll be evaluating Logan Mailloux, Daniil Sobolev and Joe Vrbetic’s seasons in detail while looking ahead to what’s next for all three of them.
Logan Mailloux, RD — London Knights (OHL)
A small preamble on Mailloux before we head into his grade: he missed a lot of time. Firstly due to his half-year suspension by the OHL, and then later on due to a couple of injuries, the latest of which might require surgery. Still, I managed to catch 10 of his 12 games this year, and feel comfortable grading him based on those matches.
Season grade: C+
Mailloux’s season started very late, but started off well — the prospect dressed for his first game in early January, immediately making an impact with two assists in the Knights’ 6-1 win against the Flint Firebirds. Two days later, he was scoring his first two OHL goals against the Kitchener Rangers. He then went on to earn a point in his following four games, bringing his total up to eight points in six matches on the campaign.
However, Mailloux was injured in warm-ups the following game, and was sidelined for a month. Upon his return, the 6’3”, 212-pound defenceman collected an assist against Owen Sound. That ended up being his last point of the season, as he was kept off the scoresheet for the following five matches, before a fight with Spitfires forward and Red Wings sixth-round pick Pasquale Zito injured his shoulder and put an end to his 2021-22 campaign.
The sample size is small, but Mailloux is a good case study in the concept of tools versus toolkit. His tools in isolation — his skating stride, his shot power and accuracy, his stickhandling, and his physical prowess — are above-average or even significantly above-average in some areas, but his processing of the game and his ability to use those tools in a way that drives play positively with consistency are still cause for concern.
His passing and his release are tremendously powerful, among the most powerful outside of the NHL, but he offers very little in the way of misdirection in both areas. He precipitates his shots and doesn’t often identify opportunities to delay and maximize efficiency when distributing the puck.
His defensive game also leaves a lot of room for doubt. When he is clear on the threat he needs to stifle, he uses his stick and body well, but as soon as opposing routes force him to re-evaluate and analyze, he tends to seem lost.
He is playing an OHL-adapted brand of hockey at the moment. With a player as physically mature as he is, there needs to be some sort of adaptive pressure to ensure that he learns the right skills. The best thing for him would be a trial-and-error process in a men’s league overseas, as he was doing last season when he was loaned to the HockeyEttan.
If his processing can be brought up to even an average level, the Habs could have a potential top-four defenceman in Mailloux. Hockey sense bleeds into every area of a prospect’s game, and developing that should be among the top priorities in his case.
Individual skill categories ratings:
Puck retrievals/receptions: B
Off-puck play: C
Daniil Sobolev, RD — Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Season grade: C
Sobolev’s first taste of North American ice has been slightly underwhelming, as the 6’0”, 210-pound, right-handed defenceman finished the campaign with only two goals and 15 assists in 62 games for the Windsor Spitfires. The prospect mentioned wanting to develop the offensive side of his game in the OHL after being selected 142nd overall in 2021, but has mainly stayed true to his usual habits as a physical, defensive-minded blue-liner despite the transition to smaller ice.
He hasn’t explored the offensive zone much this season, mostly settling for holding the blue line and looking for the first sign of trouble as his trigger to track back and be the last line of defence. This safe approach has led to him finishing the season fourth on the Spitfires in plus-minus with a plus-25, but without experimentation it’ll be increasingly difficult for Sobolev to develop the tools required to bring his offensive game up a couple of notches.
3/3 in the shootout from the @SpitsHockey!— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) April 8, 2022
Wyatt Johnston, Daniel D'Amico, and Daniil Sobolev scored all three goals in the shootout to lead the Spits past the Storm, taking the extra point on fan-appreciation night ️ pic.twitter.com/nzakLiiMj1
He appears in the shootout in the video above as the Spitfires’ third shooter, winning the game with a quick backhand-forehand move. His coaches seem to be on the same page as Sobolev in terms of exposing him to situations that will help develop new offensive skills, but the prospect’s habits haven’t followed.
The things he does well — his timing on hits, his defensive stickwork in his own zone, and his aggressive approach to rush defending — are tools that should help him find his footing in the AHL or the KHL, but if he wants to ensure an NHL future, he needs to gradually grow his arsenal of offensive tools.
He doesn’t misdirect opponents in possession of the puck, and seems keen on getting rid of it quickly, which doesn’t serve his above-average skating well. He has the footspeed and agility to make himself a threat with the puck in transition, but there’s a lot of hesitancy in his puck-carrying tendencies. Quick throws up the boards and delegating controlled breakouts to his defence partner are habits which take away from precious time on the puck for Sobolev.
Like Mailloux, however, Sobolev is still 19 years of age, and defencemen usually require a lot more time than forwards to bring their game up to pro-level standards. Both of them could take until their early- to mid-20s to play their first NHL games, and that’s okay. The Habs are stocked in prospect defencemen who are on the cusp, and can afford to take their time with their longer-term projects.
Individual skill categories ratings:
Puck retrievals/receptions: B-
Off-puck play: B+
Joe Vrbetic, G — North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Season grade: B
Vrbetic has had a decent post-draft campaign for the Battalion, as the prospect finished second in the OHL among drafted goaltenders and ninth overall in both save percentage (.906), and goals-against average (2.87). The Habs’ seventh-round pick in 2021 has a 29-10-6 record on the season as well, but has been outperformed by his backup in terms of raw stats. Dom Divicentiis has posted a 2.59 goals-against average and .907 save percentage through 27 games.
Big Joe was a brick wall in overtime! @CanadiensMTL prospect Joe Vrbetic with a flurry of saves beyond regulation for Thursday's @RealCdnSS #SaveoftheNight in an @OHLBattalion win pic.twitter.com/84vrqcLBzt— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) April 8, 2022
At 6’6” and 187 pounds, Vrbetic’s wingspan helps him cover a lot of ground and prevents him from needing to move around much in goal. Even from the butterfly position, his shoulders cover a good portion of the top half of the net, and his long limbs allow him to spread out and get to hard-to-reach pucks on cross-ice passes. He tends to struggle on shots that are closer to his body and is susceptible to deflections as a result, and his footwork needs some polishing. His calmness in the crease is noticeable, though, and should be a staple of his goaltending style moving forward.
Vrbetic is a long-term project who could yield great dividends if cultivated properly. The Habs’ development team has a preference for larger netminders, and between him, Jakub Dobeš and Frederik Dichow, the Habs most likely have a future NHL netminder in the ranks.
Individual skill categories ratings:
High-danger shots: B+
Low-danger shots: C
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!