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Montreal Canadiens do not extend qualifying offers to Brett Lernout and Daniel Audette

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Hunter Shinkaruk joins the two drafted prospects as restricted free agents left unqualified.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

With several restricted free agents in the organization who need contracts before July 1, the Montreal Canadiens have decided to part with a few long-time members of the prospect pool. Two 2014 Draft selections — Brett Lernout and Daniel Audette — along with Hunter Shinkaruk did not receive the qualifying offers that would have allowed Montreal to retain their rights. They will therefore become unrestricted free agents on July 1, free to sign with another organization.

The Canadiens traded up in 2014 to get the 73rd overall pick to select Lernout. He was a big defenceman with good mobility, showing a lot of potential to become an intriguing prospect. The pieces never came together, and the Canadiens decided to leave a contract spot open rather than have him on an NHL deal to play in the minors.

Starting off his AHL career with double-digit production in his first two years, his 2018-19 campaign added just nine more points to his professional total. He dressed for 21 NHL games in his time in the Canadiens organization, none of which came last season.

Audette’s skill was too great for the Canadiens to pass on with their fifth-round pick in 2014. He took advantage of Junior defences in his time in the QMJHL to post some great point totals, but struggled to transition that to the professional ranks when the coverage became tighter.

Relatively flat offensive totals in his AHL career showed that his development wasn’t progressing on an NHL trajectory, and he often allowed just as much against as he helped generate for the team.

It was hoped that Shinkaruk could spark the game that made him a first-round pick in 2013. Like Audette’s, Shinkaruk’s production had flatlined in the AHL, working out to about 35 points per season.

Even that kind of output would have been beneficial to a goal-starved Rocket team this season. Instead, the club saw him reach a mere 10 points in 54 games.

Lernout’s departure opens up prime opportunities on the right side for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, giving Cale Fleury and Josh Brook plenty of space to develop in key roles.

The left wing for the Rocket gets depleted with the departure of Audette and Shinkaruk. The Canadiens would surely like to see some of the depth wingers on the NHL roster clear waivers and take those spots, but that plan went awry with waiver claims last season, and could happen once again. For that reason, a significant portion of Marc Bergevin’s work on July 1 could be bolstering the flanks of the AHL club.