The regular season draws to its end for the Montreal Canadiens, and it will be an early summer as the team most likely will not make the post-season after a cataclysmic collapse down the standings. At this point the team is merely playing for pride.
It is now time for the team to shut down any players who have some lingering health issues, and allow the prospects of the team to shoulder some of the heavy minutes to gauge their progress, and plan towards next season.
The Habs have already used up three of their four allowed call-ups after Trade Deadline Day on paper transactions for McCarron, Ellis, and de la Rose. The Habs now have one more regular (i.e. non-emergency) recall they can use over the remainder of the season, as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Below is the list of candidates, in ascending order, who deserve to be the last player to join to parent club in 2015-16
The list leaves out prospects who are injured (Michaël Bournival), as well as players who are already with the Habs (Mark Barberio, Greg Pateryn, Sven Andrighetto, Jacob de la Rose, Lucas Lessio, Michael McCarron, and Morgan Ellis).
#7 Darren Dietz (D): Currently in the last year of his entry-level contract, Dietz surprised many last season when he was one of the final cuts at training camp.
#Habs: Michel Therrien décrit Darren Dietz comme l'une des plus belles surprises du camp.— J-F Chaumont (@JFChaumontJDM) October 2, 2014
After being cut, Dietz spent the year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and has spent this season with the St. John's IceCaps in the AHL. His play with them this year has been described as spotty, so consistency remains a problem, but he has become one of Sylvain Lefebvre's go-to guys on defence, and projects as a lower-pair defender.
Giving him a couple of games with the Canadiens could be a good way of gauging his development, and determine whether he is capable of playing top-pair minutes next season in the AHL, or whether the Habs will need to look to free agency to bolster their farm team ranks.
#6 Gabriel Dumont (C/RW): Next season will be Dumont's final year of restricted free agency, but he will need to renew his contract with the Canadiens this summer. He's been part of the Habs organization since the 2010-11 season, but has only played 18 games with the Habs in that time. He is the second-year captain of the AHL team, where he's on pace for a season high in points, and is arguably having his best professional season.
He projects no higher than a fourth-line player in the NHL, and the Habs are well known to be completely stacked at that position. Yet the Habs might want to decide whether to cut ties with Dumont over the summer by not offering him a contract, and Dumont might want to prove that he is at the same level as guys as Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, and Mike Brown. Giving him a couple of games to reward his time with the youngsters in the organization, as well as giving him his annual call-up, might reveal a surprise for the team.
#5 Nikita Scherbak (C/RW): It's been a difficult season for the rookie first-round pick from 2014, as he has dealt with several injuries in his first year of professional hockey. Since returning in mid-January he hasn't missed a beat, and, in fact, has been transitioned to the centre position, where he has seen his engagement and shot count increase as he slowly gains confidence in the pro ranks.
Although he is not ready for a long-term call-up, the Habs might give him a game or two at the end of the season, just to see where his defensive play is at in the face of undeniable offensive skills, and prepare a development plan for him for the summer.
#4 Max Friberg (RW): Obtained from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Dustin Tokarski in January, Friberg has fit in well with the IceCaps, playing as a two-way forward on the wing of either Dumont's or 's line, and faring quite well.
He is coming to the end of his entry-level deal, and the team may want to give him a look at the NHL level to see what he is capable of. He has shown flashes of offensive skill, and also moments of inconsistency. Spending a week with the Habs and getting some practice with NHL-level athletes will do wonders to prepare him for next season.
#3 Ryan Johnston (D): Impressing greatly during the pre-season rookie tournament with his speed and stick-handling, Johnston was subsequently injured, and missed the entire first half of the season as a result. It was a tough blow for the undrafted rookie who signed a two-year deal with the Canadiens, but he returned in January, showing no slowdown in his game.
His controlled zone entries are among the best for all IceCap defenders, and possesses offensive creativity rarely seen from a blue-liner. He would be an interesting prospect for the Habs to watch closely, and a call-up could help him tone down the riskiest parts of his games while also comparing his offensive strengths to those currently on the NHL squad.
#2 Bud Holloway (RW): The only point-per-game player for the IceCaps this season, Holloway has been a constant offensive threat, playing top-line minutes, and helping everyone around him get better. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Habs would be wise to take a hard look at him to see if his offensive prowess can be transferred over to the NHL level.
He had a very brief one-game audition earlier this season, but that's probably not enough to truly evaluate a prospect.
#1 Charles Hudon (LW): Hudon is the undisputed leader of prospects that the Habs should take a long, hard look at. In his second professional season, he has done nothing but score. He is a consistent threat whenever he has the puck, scoring at a pace of 0.73 points per game, and has scored at least 20 goals in every season at every level he's played.
Hudon is being projected as part of the starting line-up next season by many analysts, and yet the Habs saw something in him that they must not have liked during his brief two-game call-up this season, because he has not returned. If there was ever a chance to develop him and see if he fits into next year's team, the franchise now has a perfect opportunity to find out.