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Canadiens 2017 Top 25 Under 25: The Near Misses (30-26)

The players who just missed out on getting a spot in this year’s Top 25.

(Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast) 20161030 Fucale 3 Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast

When ranking the prospects in the Montreal Canadiens organization each summer, there are some players who are highly regarded by some voters but don’t get enough support to claim a spot on the list of the Top 25. Each of the five players featured in this article earned at least two votes of 25 or higher.

The players falling into this category are sometimes new additions to the organization whose status as unknowns places them behind more familiar names. Last year, Jeremiah Addison and Michael McNiven were among that group, finishing just a few spots off our list before making it this time around.

There is one new player in this group this year, as Antoine Waked finished in 29th spot after being signed upon the completion of his over-age QMJHL season. Otherwise, the 2017 near misses are players with a longer history in the organization who need to show more of their potential to gain the attention of voters.

30. Hayden Hawkey

Image credit: EliteProspects

Hawkey has been a member of the project since he was drafted in 2014. Ranking 37th that year, his 30th-place finish is the highest he’s slotted during his time as an organizational prospect.

After a final year in the USHL and a freshman NCAA season spent as the backup, he received the starter’s job in 2016-17 for Providence College, playing more games than in any previous season. His numbers weren’t spectacular in his first year as the #1, with a save percentage of .907 in Hockey East conference play ranking eighth of the 12 eligible goalies. He was tied for second in shutouts with two, and added an assist to his sophomore season stat line.

With a few more promising goaltending prospects in the system, Hawkey will have a difficult time making an impression on voters, and that is compounded by the fact that there aren’t many opportunities to see him play. A strong junior season between the pipes in Providence could put him on the radar for 2018.

29. Antoine Waked

Image credit: EliteProspects

Until the 2016-17 season, Waked’s amateur career had been fairly pedestrian. With a high of 15 goals in the QMJHL before returning to Rouyn-Noranda for his over-age season, there was little to suggest a future in professional hockey.

Then he exploded for 39 goals — nine better the second-best scorer on the team — and 41 assists in his final season of junior eligibility. Twenty-seven of his goals were scored at five-on-five, ranking him eighth in the Q in that category.

He wasn’t able to help the Huskies on their playoff run, getting into just one game while recovering from a wrist injury.

He’ll play the 2017-18 season with the Laval Rocket in the AHL, just minutes from his home. Whether that one great season was a sign of a burst in his development or simply an anomaly resulting from playing with younger competition will be one of the main questions asked regarding the prospect pool this year.

28. Max Friberg

Image credit: EliteProspects

Friberg joined the team in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks two seasons ago, and just made our Top 25 last year by finishing in a tie for the final spot. He spent the entirety of his tenure with the organization in the AHL, where he was a solid defensive centre who could contribute some timely offence.

His all-around ability and professional approach to the game earned him the captaincy for the 2016-17 season, in which he played 71 games and was a critical piece in gaining a rare playoff berth for the Canadiens’ farm team.

At the end of a short post-season run, Friberg decided to return to Sweden to continue his professional career, joining Artturi Lehkonen’s former team, Frölunda HC. He did receive a qualifying offer from the Habs, allowing them to retain the services of a capable centreman, leaving the door open for a return in the future.

27. Jeremy Grégoire

Image credit: EliteProspects

Selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Grégoire looked like a steal when he posted 69 points in his next QMJHL season. An afterthought on the 2013 rankings, he jumped 11 spots to claim 25th place in 2014’s Top 25 Under 25, and rose to 20th in 2015.

The offensive game never followed him to the AHL, as he posted a disappointing 11 points in his rookie year with the St. John’s IceCaps, and followed that up with just 12 this past season. The high penalty minute totals have remained intact, however, turning him from a solid two-way centreman with a mean streak to simply an undisciplined prospect who never lived up to his potential.

He tied with Friberg for the final spot in 2016, and still has two more years of eligibility for the rankings. Unless there’s a drastic improvement in his AHL performance, there’s little reason to think he’ll feature among the Top 25 again.

26. Zachary Fucale

Image credit: EliteProspects

Fucale has seen a lot of success in hockey for a man who just turned 22 in May. He has won a QMJHL Championship, converting that into a Memorial Cup victory. He was part of a Team Canada squad that broke a six-year gold medal drought by winning the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2015. Last season he hoisted another international trophy as Canada won the Spengler Cup, with Fucale turning in a 40-save performance in the final.

Based on the size of his trophy case, you would expect him to be one of the top prospects in the organization. However, his career has been marked by periods of inconsistency, and he has rarely had a season with numbers you’d expect from a high-quality goaltender.

His WJC performance split what was a very difficult final junior campaign, hitting his stride with neither the Halifax Mooseheads nor the Quebec Remparts. His transition to professional hockey didn’t go as he planned, either, allowing more than three goals per game in his first AHL season and just cracking the .900 save percentage barrier.

A plan to give him an easier time by sending him to North America’s third-tier league seemed to backfire as Fucale’s regular-season numbers with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast were even worse than from his time in the AHL. However, he did rebound in the post-season with a sparkling .939 save percentage as the Beast got as far as the second round.

Fucale alternates between an exceptional athletic netminder with a penchant for crucial saves and one who seems disinterested in trying to stop the puck — sometimes on the same shift. This is the first year Fucale hasn’t featured among the Top 25, as faith that his game will find the consistency it needs for him to become an NHL goaltender slowly wanes.

Stats via EliteProspects, Prospect Stats, and USCHO

On Monday we’ll begin revealing the Top 25 in descending order, with an in-depth profile on a person making his debut among the Canadiens’ best players under the age of 25.