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Midterm under-25 prospect report: Forwards

The forward ranks are stocked with interesting prospects that should be on the Canadiens roster sooner rather than later.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2015-2016 season began, Habs Eyes on the Prize ranked the Top 25 Prospects Under 25 in the Montreal Canadiens organization. With the season more than half done, how have these prospects fared thus far, and are they meeting expectations? We review their progress and offer an early opinion on whether they will rise or fall in this summer's rankings.

The Canadiens' organizational strength lies in its talented offensive prospects, with several new names expected to appear in the next edition of the T25U25 to replace some of the graduates.

New Arrival - Max Friberg (RW)

Contract Status: RFA 2016-17

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

Max Friberg arrived to the St. John's IceCaps in the middle of the season as the returning part of the trade that sent Dustin Tokarski to the Anaheim Ducks' AHL affiliate: the San Diego Gulls. Friberg had 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 25 games with the Gulls, and has notched another eight (two goals, six assists) in 15 games with the IceCaps, putting him on the same pace as Nikita Scherbak and Lucas Lessio.

The winger needs to get settled in and find a steady rhythm, but that has been difficult for any IceCap player this year with the constant injuries and call-ups to the NHL squad throughout the year. He could very well make an appearance in next year's T25U25 due to his offensive potential.


New Arrival - Lucas Lessio (LW)

Contract Status: RFA 2016-17

Current Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL), St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

Lucas Lessio is new to our list of prospects, as he was obtained during the season for Christian Thomas. By making the trade, Marc Bergevin obtained a more offensively gifted player with NHL experience, and swapped a pending unrestricted free agent for an asset with another restricted year on his contract.

Lessio has impressed greatly in the AHL, playing on the first or second line for the IceCaps. He's an interesting prospect with smooth skating ability and a decent shot, and projects well as an NHL-calibre winger if he continues to develop. His play in St. John's earned him a call-up to Montreal, but unfortunately he was injured in his first game, and didn't really get a chance to showcase his skills.

Expectations are that he will rank in the T25U25 next season because of his NHL experience and decent upside.


N/R - Jake Evans (C)

Contract Status: August 15th, 2018

Current Team: University of Notre Dame (NCAA)

The seventh-round pick in 2014 is slowly started to turn heads with his NCAA performance this season, scoring at just under a point-per-game pace and becoming his team's top faceoff man. With two more years of college eligibility, the Habs may decide to let him develop there before they try bringing him over to the AHL; a path similar to defensive prospect Mac Bennett.

Projecting as a disruptive forward, he has some fringe NHL potential with strong skating and good hands. For the time being his ranking may remain low due to it being early in his development.


N/R - Jeremiah Addison (LW)

Contract Status: June 1st, 2017

Current Team: Ottawa 67's (OHL)

Primarily known as a defensive player, Addison is slowly rounding into a complete two-way forward. In last year's playoffs, he went on a tear and collected 10 points in six games. This season Addison is currently third in scoring on the Ottawa 67's, while being counted on to play a significant amount of short-handed minutes.

He has previously been compared to Mike Richards, which is quite the compliment for a player who still has one more year of junior eligibility before making the transition to professional hockey. He should be ranked for the first time in the next T25U25.


N/R - Matt Bradley (C)

Contract Status: June 1st, 2017

Current Team: Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

There were a lot of question marks surrounding Bradley's exclusion from the rookie tournament this season, however it was later revealed that he underwent successful surgery to remove a benign tumour in his nasal cavity, and missed a couple of months of the season as a result.

Once he returned to action, he showed the high hockey IQ that got him noticed by the Canadiens in the first place. He is known for his complete three-zone game, and has earned his coach's trust in playing the tough minutes.

Offensively he is having a career year, adding to his already full toolbox of skills. His tenacity and never-quit attitude have been translating to offence, and those are just the kind of characteristics that will get him noticed by the organization.


N/R - Joonas Nättinen

Contract Status: RFA, Rights Retained until June 30th, 2018

Current Team:  Jyväskylän Palloilijat (Liiga)

It is fitting that the Finnish centre graduates T25U25 on a high, after turning 25 in early January.

Experiencing a rather unsuccessful attempt at North American hockey, he has gone home and captained the Jyväskylä team, impressing Finnish National Team Head Coach Kari Jalonen with his play. He first earned a call-up to Team Finland for the Baltica Cup (formerly Izvestia Tournament), then got a second call for the World Championship tuneup games vs Sweden this weekend.

While never realizing his potential playing for Canadiens (only seeing a few minutes of time in his one NHL game), it is great to see Nättinen thriving at home and enjoying ice hockey again.

(Zeb is the European correspondent for Habs Eyes on the Prize, writing frequent updates on the progress of Habs prospects abroad in his weekly series European Prospect Review.)


#29 Mark MacMillan (LW/C/RW)

Contract Status: RFA 2018-19

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL), Brampton Beast (ECHL)

On the heels of a solid senior year at the University of North Dakota, Mark MacMillan earned himself a two-year entry-level contract, and ranked at #29 in the T25U25 prospect ranking in the summer.

Despite starting the season in the ECHL, MacMillan has found regular ice time centring the IceCaps' fourth line, playing sparse five-on-five minutes but getting time on the penalty kill. He's also played a few games on both wings, also on the fourth line. Offensively he hasn't been much of a factor, unable to find the scoring touch he had in the NCAA, but defensively he does the job, playing protected minutes.

Although he is a rookie this season, and normally would be given time to develop, he only has one more year on his entry-level deal, so he needs to show as more than 'acceptable AHL fourth liner' if he wants to earn a contract extension. For the purposes of the T25U25, MacMillan will be hard pressed to rank among a deep group of talented prospects.


#23 Gabriel Dumont (C/RW)

Contract Status: UFA, 2016-17

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

The second-year captain of the AHL farm team has made his final appearance in our Top 25 Under 25, as he turned 25 in the fall.

His ranking at number 23 reflected the overall perception that his window of opportunity was slowly closing, as the fifth-round pick from the 2009 draft has been passed over by a bevy of new blood ready to audition for spots on the Canadiens. However this did not discourage Dumont, as he is currently tied for second in scoring on the IceCaps with 28 points, despite receiving a defensive deployment, and has greatly reduced his penalty minute totals.

This has been a great season thus far for Dumont offensively, and he should be in the conversation for a call-up to the Habs as a fourth-line player, though the glut of bottom-six forwards will make it difficult for him to get another opportunity.


#21 Lukas Vejdemo (LW/C/RW)

Contract Status: Unsigned, Rights retained until June 1st, 2019

Current Team: Djurgardens IF (SHL)

Vejdemo has impressed with his mature play in the SHL, dressing for every game so far for his Stockholm team. He currently sits in fifth place among under-20 players in the Swedish league during his rookie season.

His play is very good, mature and strong, but his biggest weakness is his shot, which trails the otherwise promising set of skills he offers.

The unknown selection of the 2015 draft has taken huge steps forward and has become a reliable SHL player. Things are looking good, and it will be very interesting to see the progress of Vejdemo the second part of the season.


#20 Jeremy Grégoire (LW/C/RW)

Contract Status: RFA, 2018-19

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

As one of the youngest forwards on the IceCaps, Grégoire appears to be having a hard time adapting to the professional game, bouncing around all three forward positions, and generally finding himself limited to the fourth line on a stacked IceCaps team.

His versatility is serving him well in that role, as he is generally considered a defensively dependable forward, but Grégoire has failed to force his coach's hand to play him more. In fact, in recent weeks, Grégoire has found himself as a healthy scratch more often than not.

Generally speaking, not very much was expected from the rookie forward this season, so it is difficult to say that he is failing to meet expectations, but given the major influx of prospects into the pool, he is going to have an uphill battle to stand out from the pack.

Where he excels is his maturity and leadership ability, wearing a letter at every level of hockey he's played, and ultimately wearing the C for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in his final year of Junior hockey. He also won the QMJHL Scholastic Player of the Year (Marcel Robert Trophy) one two occasions.


#19 Daniel Audette (C)

Contract Status: RFA 2019-20

Current Team: Phoenix de Sherbrooke (QMJHL)

Drafted by the Canadiens in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, Audette has been consistently showing offensive ability that makes him quite the exciting prospect to follow. Although his season was shortened a bit this year due to a shoulder separation, which probably also cost him a spot on Team Canada at the World Junior Championship this year, Audette returned and didn't miss a beat.

His smaller frame will probably be the one knock against him at this point, as his skating and shooting are already highly regarded. Whether he starts his professional career next season, or if he plays another season in the Q as an overager and let his contract slide a year, will be a decision left for Marc Bergevin. On the next T25U25 he should creep up a little due to meeting expectations this season.


#17 Tim Bozon (LW)

Contract Status: RFA 2017-18

Current Team: Brampton Beast (ECHL), St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

Bozon's rookie AHL season has been difficult as he started the year with a shoulder injury that kept him out for a few months at the start of the year. He struggled to get icetime upon his return to action, and ultimately has found a more permanent home with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL.

It's hard to say how much last year's life-threatening bout with meningitis and this year's shoulder injury delayed Bozon's professional development, but he is clearly struggling and is being passed in the depth chart by a deep prospect pool.

Given that expectations at the start of the year were that Bozon would be a potential call-up to the Montreal Canadiens, this year needs to be considered a disappointment, however there is still plenty of time for him to rebound and find the game which had him contributing at a point-per-game pace in his junior career.


#16 Daniel Carr (LW/RW)

Contract Status: RFA, 2016-17

Current Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL)

Taking a huge leap from #28 in 2014 to #16 in the 2015 Top 25 Under 25, Daniel Carr is sure to crack the top 10 next time around.

With 21 points (10 goal, 11 assists) in just 24 games with the IceCaps, it's no wonder why he was scooped up by the Canadiens when the injury bug started to spread. His talented hands helped him find the back of the net when he played his first NHL game on November 30th. Since then, he's contributed eight points (five goals, three assists) in 19 games played to a team where the veterans are struggling to score. 

As has too often been the case for the Habs this year, Carr is now out for the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. After his performance with both the IceCaps and the Canadiens this season, it would be very surprising if he has not earned himself a permanent roster spot for the Habs 2016-17 season.

(Arowe is an IceCaps correspondent for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can read her work in various articles related to the Habs farm team, including Game Previews)


#15 Devante Smith-Pelly (LW)

Contract Status: RFA 2016-17

Current Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL)

Pessimists may say that Devante Smith-Pelly ranked at 15 on the T25U25 only because of his NHL experience, which may not be entirely untrue. The rugged forward was disappointing at times last season, and sometimes completely invisible. Yet there have been certain flashes of talent that question whether it is a lack of consistency or whether he is still developing.

Last season it was determined that his physical conditioning was not up to snuff, so during the off-season he dropped 12 pounds, and has been noticeably quicker on his skates, adding speed to his toughness on the fourth line. He disappeared for large periods of time, sometimes several games in a row, so consistency remains a concern.


#14 Christian Thomas (RW)

Current Team: Springfield Falcons (AHL)

This was a season of last chances for Christian Thomas, in his final season before hitting unrestricted free agency. Although he was a valuable player for the St. John's IceCaps, Thomas appeared to be capped as a bottom-six player for the Canadiens in the NHL, and because the Habs had a glut of such players already available, Marc Bergevin decided to trade Thomas to the Arizona Coyotes for the younger, quicker Lucas Lessio.


#13 Martin Réway (LW/C)

Contract Status: Unsigned, Rights retained until June 1st, 2017

Current Team: Fribourg-Gottéron (Swiss NLA)

The season started in Prague for the eccentric Slovak, and, after some contract negotiations, he ended up in Fribourg-Gottéron in Switzerland's National League A.

Réway has taken up the challenge and adapted quickly to the new surroundings. While his play has been stellar in both the Czech Extraliga and the NLA, it is with Slovakia's national team that he has performed the best this year. While his production has been relatively low by his standards, his overall play has been strong, and his compatriots awarded him with an "A," making him the youngest Slovak ever to have that honour.

Réway currently sports a point-per-game average for all tournaments he played so far, though most of those points come on the power play, and that raises questions about his versatility.

He is determined to improve his overall play, as he stated in our interview with him earlier in the season. While he is intent on going to North America next season, there will be teams all over Europe monitoring his success in the Montreal organization.  Réway is currently recovering from what is a suspected concussion.


#12 Artturi Lehkonen (LW/RW)

Contract Status: Unsigned, Rights retained until June 1st, 2017

Current Team: Frolunda (SHL)

It is no surprise that the young Finn has virtually exploded into the spotlight during this SHL season, with a current 0.75 points-per-game rate. Even after losing gifted linemate Mattias Janmark, who moved on to take a permanent role with the Dallas Stars, Lehkonen places 22nd on the SHL's scoring list.

This season has been a display of a wide range of skills, from solid two-way play at five-on-five, to power-play production, and shutdown penalty-killing minutes, the Finnish youngster does it all.

He has signed a one-year extension with Frölunda, and while there is most likely an NHL clause in it, he seems more intent of being able to make the team out of training camp, like Janmark did in the fall. With that goal in mind, he probably feels that another year in the SHL can benefit him more than playing in the AHL.

Lehkonen has been picked to represent the Finnish Lions twice so far, and will make a strong case to represent Finland in the World Championship.


#11 Michaël Bournival (LW)

Contract Status: RFA 2016-17

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

It has been a difficult year for Michaël Bournival, who has been dealing with post-concussion syndrome. He failed neurological testing at training camp and was placed on the long-term injured reserve. For a while there were fears that his hockey career was in jeopardy, but eventually he started skating again, and by mid-December was back in the IceCaps' lineup.

Since his return, he's been highly utilized by Sylvain Lefebvre, playing important minutes on a line with Dumont, and has been wearing the 'A' on his jersey as one of the more experienced players on the team.

More of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, Bournival had slowly rounded back into form before a new injury sidelined him once again. As a result of these injuries he will probably drop down the rankings at the next T25U25.


#10 Michael McCarron (C/RW)

Contract Status: RFA 2018-19

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

McCarron has exceeded expectations in his rookie season, playing centre on the IceCaps' top line, and putting criticism of first-round selection on hold for the time being.

Imposing size and strong stick-handling ability is a very promising combination, and although McCarron was dubbed a "project," he is well ahead of the curve that term would suggest. Once he improves his skating, he will be NHL ready, as he is essentially immovable from in front of the net.

He earned a quick audition with the Habs this season, but wasn't really given an opportunity to adapt to the game before being sent back down to the AHL. You can expect him to rise in the T25U25 given his tremendous rookie season, and ability to take a regular NHL roster spot as soon as next year.


#8 Sven Andrighetto (LW/RW)

Contract Status: RFA 2016-17

Current Teams: St. John's IceCaps (AHL), Montreal Canadiens (NHL)

Sven Andrighetto has developed quickly for a small speedy winger, but still struggles in earning Michel Therrien's trust on the ice. At this point in the season he still teeters between the NHL and the AHL, although with the long-term injuries to Carr and Brian Flynn, he's likely to stay in the NHL for a while longer.

He's great with the puck, able to perform controlled zone entries and create offence with little space, but probably holds on to the puck a little too long at times. For him to be effective he will need to play on an offensive line, not a fourth line, and have complementary offensive talent to be an effective NHLer.


#7 Zack Kassian (LW)

Current Team: Edmonton Oilers (NHL)

Kassian arrived with a reputation as a player not fully committed to his hockey career, but was generally seen as a great prospect with a lot of power forward potential, hence why he ranked so high on the Top 25 Under 25. However, nobody expected his time in the organization to be so short.

Just as the pre-season was winding down, Kassian was involved in an automobile accident and placed in the NHL Substance Abuse Program, and suspended by the team. When he was finally cleared by the League and eligible to return, Montreal immediately placed him on waivers, and then dealt him to Edmonton in return for goaltender Ben Scrivens.


#6 Jacob de la Rose (LW/C)

Contract Status: RFA 2017-18

Current Team: Montreal Canadiens (NHL), St. John's Icecaps (AHL)

It's been a disappointing season thus far for the Swedish forward. After playing 33 games in the NHL to finish the season last year, de la Rose was cut from the team in training camp and started the season in the AHL, with the mandate of improving his offensive game.

Unfortunately rather than completing his development, de la Rose seemed to regress, providing little offensive support for the IceCaps. Then in mid-November he blocked a shot with his ankle, and missed 10 games as a result.

In Mid-January, amidst the Canadiens historic collapse, he was called up to try and add some jump to the offence, but instead showed up flat for three games. Afterward, he was returned back down the IceCaps where he has shifted between playing center and left wing all season.

It was expected that he would play third/fourth-line minutes for the Habs this season, so he has fallen well short of this target. If he starts to produce regularly for the IceCaps he might earn himself another call-up.


#5 Charles Hudon (LW/C/RW)

Contract Status: RFA 2017-18

Current Team: St. John's IceCaps (AHL)

After being stalled at #10 in both the 2013 and 2014 Top 25 Under 25, Charles Hudon cracked the top five in the latest edition.

Hudon was selected in the fifth round, 122nd overall, during the 2012 NHL Draft, and was on GM Marc Bergevin's radar during this season's training camp. He was projected to be a top-six forward and to possibly be included in the 2015-16 NHL roster. Although he didn't find a permanent spot, Hudon did earn a call-up on December 9th. He dressed for two games and made his presence known with two assists.

Currently the second-highest scorer for the IceCaps with 30 pts (14 goals, 16 assists), Hudon also sits in second place in penalty minutes with 56. With the turnover rate in the Habs locker room this season, Hudon is knocking on the door, and the team would be smart to answer.


#4 Nikita Scherbak (C/RW)

It has been a season littered with injuries for the first-round pick, who was entering his first professional season with some rather high expectations. However, after suffering three separate injuries so far, being able to evaluate his true progress amongst professionals has been difficult at best.

When he does play, there are flashes of offensive brilliance which come as advertised. If his development took a hit this year, so might his standing on the T25U25 as other players have made more of an impressed in 2015-16, and are likely to benefit at Scherbak's expense in the rankings as a result.


#2 Brendan Gallagher

Brendan Gallagher's importance to the Montreal Canadiens cannot be understated, as he is a limitless source of energy that has caused endless irritation to opposing team goalies.

He has quickly become a leader on the Habs, and that's why he was ranked second in the Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking in the summer of 2015. His constant and unwavering presence in front of the net was sorely missed when he was out with a broken hand in November, missing six weeks while recuperating from the required surgery. His absence was potentially the catalyst for the Habs historic fall as the offense all but disappeared without him.

One can find very few faults in his game. If I had to dig it would be that he gets tagged for too many goaltender interference calls (resulting in waved-off goals, if not penalty minutes in recent times), however that's more due to his reputation, as referees appear quick on the whistle when he's creeping toward the blue paint.

When healthy, Gallagher has played regular minutes on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. If his season and his impact on the team continue in its current trajectory, it might be sufficient to earn top honours during the next edition of the T25U25 in the summer of 2016.


#1 Alex Galchenyuk

The former first-round pick in 2012 is having quite the frustrating season. It began with great promise as he was finally moved to centre, piloting an offensively dynamic line with Lars Eller and Alexander Semin. But soon the line was dismantled, then Semin was sent packing, and finally Galchenyuk was shunted back to left wing.

Although he did end up ranking first in the Top 25 Under 25 prospect ranking in the summer of 2015, his defensive game was identified as a weakness that he needed to improve on this season, and although there is a slight improvement, generally speaking it remains the part of his game in greatest need of attention.

In order to keep his ranking, he will need fight his way back into the centre role that he lost during the season, and earn some regular minutes on his line, as a defensively responsible offensive threat.