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Time to look ahead: Which young players deserve a spot next season?

With the Habs officially out of playoff contention for the 2015-16 season, it's time to look ahead toward next year, and which prospects deserve a spot with the big club come October.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens had a season marred by injury. While this year has been a tough pill to swallow, the good news is that fans were witness to the playing styles of a few talented prospects in the NHL. In addition, some prospects have really stood out at the lower levels. So let's take a look at who deserves a shot at a more regular spot in Montreal come the 2016-17 season.

Sven Andrighetto

Other than a short reassignment to the St. John's IceCaps, Andrighetto has been with Montreal the entire season, playing the majority of the games. He even saw some time on the top line alongside Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, as well as earning some power-play minutes. In his first 38 games with the team, Andrighetto scored six goals and added eight assists.

He was a bright spot on right wing during his time in the AHL and I have enjoyed watching him this year in Montreal. Obviously, with the injury to Brendan Gallagher, there was a big hole to fill in the Canadiens' lineup. I'd like to think that Andrighetto made a claim for why he deserves to stay up with the club next season. He is headed for restricted free agency at the end of the year, so we'll see how Montreal handles that situation.

Michael McCarron

McCarron spent most of the season in St. John's, amassing 34 points in 54 games with the Canadiens' AHL affiliate, launching 115 shots on goal in that span. That shooting rate has carried over to the NHL, where McCarron has had 37 shots in just 17 games. The fact that he isn't afraid to shoot the puck — and works to get in position to do so — is one of the main things that I love about McCarron.

He is a strong, physical force who can play both centre and right wing. He has genuinely grown into his hulking frame, and his skating is clearly improving as he develops. Not one to shy away from dropping the gloves and defending his teammates, he seems to only get involved when necessary, McCarron is one of my absolute brightest stars from this season.

Mark Barberio

Barberio is another one of those players who has no qualms in shooting the puck and trying to create some offence. Losing him to injury in mid-March was a little extra painful seeing as our blue line had already been so diminished. Add to that his ten points and disciplined approach, I'd argue he has been the biggest surprise on defence this season.

Some prospects take that extra time to fully develop. At 26 years of age, I think Barberio could make an excellent permanent addition next year, depending on Marc Bergevin's moves during the off-season. Barberio is also an RFA at the end of year. With the status of Tom Gilbert and Victor Bartley as unrestricted free agents, Barberio is a likely candidate to receive an extension for at least the next year. The likelihood of that will depend on what Greg Pateryn is offered, and whether or not Montreal keeps Alexei Emelin once his no-trade clause switches to a more limited version come July 1.

Charles Hudon

I'm really not sure what else Hudon has to do to earn a secure spot in Montreal. He played a mere three games with the Habs this season and had two assists. In St. John's this season, Hudon has been unstoppable: 26 goals and 24 assists in his 62 games. He drives the offence, but is able to completely control the speed of the game as soon as he gets possession of the puck. He's mesmerizing to watch.

Over the past few years, he has experienced a strange trend with his shooting percentage and shots per game.

Statistic Year 2 (17) Year 3 (18) Year 4 (19) Year 5 (20) Year 6 (21) - as of March 27, 2016
Shots 199 269 289 165 166
Shots per Game 3.4 4.8 5.1 2.2 2.7
Shooting % 12.6 11.2 9.0 11.5 15.7
Goals 25 30 26 19 26

As you can see from the table above, Hudon's shots per season was elevated while he was in the QMJHL (years 2-4) and dropped when he began playing in the AHL (year 5). However, he's had a nice upswing in shooting percentage over the last few seasons, with a big increase this year. It will be interesting to see where he ends the season, but this is a good look at just how valuable he is on offence.

Often likened to fan-favourite Gallagher, Hudon absolutely deserves a look at a permanent position in 2016-17.

Honourable Mentions

Nikita Scherbak

Scherbak was an absolute steal in the 2014 NHL Draft when the Habs picked him up 26th overall. He is, plain and simple, one hell of a skater. How he manages to read the ice and maintain such a pace during a game is just beyond me. In 41 games in an injury-shortened rookie season, he has 21 points.

His skill and mobility allow him to easily transition to either wing, though he seems stronger on the right, with his left-handed stick open for making plays through the middle of the ice. As he continues to mature, Scherbak further grows into his lanky frame, and that added strength is significantly improving his ability to protect the puck.

With some injury setbacks this season, Habs fans may not have been able to watch him as much as they would have liked. I still think you will see him in St. John's for most of next season, but I do believe he will earn a call-up at some point during the next year.

Artturi Lehkonen

Lehkonen was drafted by the Canadiens 55th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. He is one of our prospects who has taken the time to develop in Europe. For the last two seasons, Lehkonen has been playing in the Swedish Hockey League with Frölunda and he has been — in a word — unreal.

On the smaller side, Lehkonen will not tower over many opponents, but what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for with offensive talent. He put up 16 goals and 17 assists in 49 games this season, and an additional eight points in a five-game quarter-final series victory.

European development is a whole different beast, so keep in mind that Lehkonen is currently playing at quite a high level, hopefully making his transition to the NHL a bit easier.

I know the season has been a tough one, but knowing how strong our prospect pool is helps to remain positive about the future of the Canadiens. The biggest issue is still our defensive pool, so I have to wonder if the club will draft another defenceman in the first or second round of June's draft. Regardless, some big decisions must be made this summer in order to prepare for another year.

The talent is waiting in the wings. It's time to put it in the spotlight.