While the Montreal Canadiens lineup looks to be fairly well set in stone, with maybe a few small moving pieces, there are still prospects playing for the Laval Rocket in the AHL who should be kept in mind for potential call-ups.
As we discussed yesterday, it is expected that some of the first-round picks in the organization will be impact pieces for upcoming seasons, but what about the late-round and undrafted prospects?
The Canadiens have bolstered the Rocket with their own drafted prospects in addition to a heavy dose of undrafted free agents. Despite their rookie status, some of those additions have professional experience from various leagues across Europe. So which from from the second tier of the minor ranks could see some playing time in the NHL this year?
Jake Evans - 2014 seventh-round pick
A star at Notre Dame in the NCAA, Jake Evans rocketed up many prospect lists over the course of his time in the NCAA. As a seventh round pick, the chances of him breaking into a professional lineup were slim, but his great playmaking and all-around ability guided him to an outstanding college career.
He’s a versatile forward, able to play down the middle or on the wing, which makes him a useful call-up if injuries should arise in the forward corps. He’ll be learning to play centre in the AHL, and he’ll have a great group of veteran AHL forwards and skilled prospects to insulate that development. With the ever-present need for centremen, Evans is likely right on the forefront for any potential NHL recall.
Daniel Audette - 2014 fifth-round pick
Much like Evans, Audette has the advantage of being a natural centre prospect, but with his speed he could also be utilized as a winger as well. He’s shown flashes of being a highly skilled player, capable of being a playmaker and a finisher on any line.
The issue has been that he’s been wildly inconsistent in his first two seasons. When he’s hot, Audette is nearly unstoppable. When he is in a slump, Audette has gone massive stretches without being a factor on offence.
If he can find and maintain a solid level of play, adding his speed and skill to the bottom six in Montreal would be a boon for the Canadiens.
Will Bitten - 2016 third-round pick
Bitten could be a sneaky call-up option for the Canadiens this year. He’s a skilled winger/centre with incredible speed, and a never-quit attitude on the ice. He’s drawn comparisons to being a “Brendan Gallagher lite,” and that alone should pique interest in what he could do this season.
If he gets off to a fast start he could take advantage of some early-season injuries in the Canadiens lineup. He’s defensively responsible, with an untapped offensive upside to his game, so it is not out of the question that Bitten could make his NHL debut in his rookie professional year. While it’s possible the team could opt for more experienced pieces, recalling Bitten for a few games wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Rinat Valiev - 2014 third-round pick (acquired via trade)
Valiev is more than likely going to push for an NHL spot right out of training camp, as he would have likely spent more time with the Canadiens last year had he not suffered an injury less than two games into his recall. He won’t blow anyone away with his talent, but he also isn’t going to harm his team on the ice. He’s a solid piece that Claude Julien can put in his lineup without much worry.
There’s a good chance that he will be the one that the Canadiens recall at the first opportunity for help on defence.
Michal Moravčík and David Sklenička - Undrafted free agent signings
Both of these signees are under 25 years of age, with Moravčík being 23 and Sklenička 22 at the time the season starts. Each brings a unique skill set to the lineup as well, with Sklenička being a fluid-skating puck-mover on the blue line. While he didn’t set the Czech Extraliga on fire in terms of scoring, he is still a developing player, which makes him an ideal AHL player this year.
However his skill set is one that meshes well with how the modern game is developing. He may be prone to mistakes, but in a season where rebuilding is in the cards, those mistakes are all part of the process.
As for his compatriot, Moravčík is more in the traditional mould of defender. Despite standing 6’4”, he’s able to be an offensive producer while keeping his penalty minutes down with his style of play. Possessing a good shot and a defensively sound game, he is a great candidate to break into the NHL this season. He has professional experience in the Czech Extraliga, and could very well form a great partnership with any of the Canadiens right-handed defenders.
Cale Fleury - 2017 third-round pick
This one is a major longshot as it stands right now. Fleury does not even have an entry-level contract with the Canadiens. Due to a unique situation, Fleury can play in the AHL or return to the WHL this year, and with the lack of right-side defencemen in the professional ranks he could slide right into a major role with the Rocket.
This is where things get interesting for Fleury, as the Canadiens will be missing their top-pairing right-handed defender in Shea Weber for the start of the season. This opens up a competition for the other spots behind Jeff Petry to start the year. If Fleury continues to play like he did with the Regina Pats in the WHL last year, he could surprise like Victor Mete did the year before. He still needs to sign that ELC to make that happen, but the door is wide open for Fleury to sneak into a big role in the Canadiens organization.
There’s no guarantee that any of these players will be called up, but each of these prospects brings a multi-faceted skill set, and they could easily slot into any role they’re placed in. If Montreal is going to be rebuilding or retooling, giving these prospects NHL experience will be invaluable in helping the whole process along.