By acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning just days before the 2017 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens added a young offensive forward to the organization who should be a lock in the top six for many years to come.
The cost of that move was the Habs’ top junior-aged player, Mikhail Sergachev, whose loss left the prospect pool rather thin, especially on defence.
The Canadiens addressed some of those deficiencies when the draft came around, adding two centres in the first two rounds, and four defencemen over the two-day event.
The 2017 draft was perhaps the best the team has enjoyed since it had six picks in the first three rounds in 2013. Factoring in how good their returns were in a 2016 draft without a second-round pick, it’s been a good two years for the amateur scouting department.
Those two years have given a much-needed injection of talent into the prospect group, even if they don’t have a blue-chip player to show for it. It made for some tough decisions as we attempted to rank the Canadiens’ young players, comparing the potential of the new guys to what the older prospects have already achieved.
We’ll recap how those decisions have played out in this summer’s Top 25 Under 25 so far.
#25 — Cale Fleury
The first of four players selected in June to crack the list is Cale Fleury. The Kootenay ICE defenceman had a very good year on a very bad team, and the latter may explain why he was still on the board when the Canadiens made their selection late in the third round.
Kootenay has seen a major overhaul in their coaching and management staffs since the end of the season. That should result in a significant turnaround for the team, which will only help Fleury to show off his talents.
#24 — Josh Brook
Brook was the first of two selections made in the second round this year, though he ranks just one spot ahead of Fleury, chosen a full round later. He has some intriguing skills, including an aggressive approach to the defensive game, but with some question marks around his skating and offence, he doesn’t rank as highly in his debut as you might expect for a second-rounder.
#23 — Lukas Vejdemo
Vejdemo debuted in 21st after he was selected in the third round in 2015. He rose to 18th last year, but fell to 23rd after a tough season offensively. He did take on a centre role between two very young wingers, which can explain some of the struggles to find the scoresheet. He’ll hope to build on that experience to be able to play a strong defensive game while also chipping in some offence in 2017-18.
#22 — Daniel Audette
Audette had slowly crept up the rankings each year since being drafted thanks to strong offensive output on what was a poor Sherbrooke Phoenix team. His first year of professional hockey didn’t come with a similar level of success, and he drops a few spots as a result. He is a good playmaker and should thrive in offensive situations, so it’s possible he will have a bounce-back season for the Laval Rocket.
#21 — Martin Réway
A mid-round pick in 2013, Réway really made a name for himself when he and goaltender Denis Godla carried Slovakia to a surprise bronze medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship. After a tumultuous season the next year that saw him without a team and moving around to different countries looking for playing time, he finally earned his entry-level contract and prepared to fly to North America for the 2016-17 season.
Unfortunately, a life-threatening heart condition grounded those plans, and held him off the ice for the entire year. He’s worked hard on his recovery and is now ready to give it a second shot, scheduled to come over for the Canadiens’ camps.
Whether he’s recovered from the ailment, or even if he ever will be, is a big concern for voters, and he dropped nine spots from his 2016 placement. Hopefully he can show that the health concerns are in the past and reclaim a place among the organization’s top prospects.
#20 — Joe Morrow
Morrow was one of the off-season acquisitions of the Canadiens, and someone who’s had previous experience as a charge of Claude Julien. Morrow was never able to impress Julien enough to earn a regular roster spot with the Boston Bruins, but you have to think the head coach was consulted before Marc Bergevin made the decision to add him to the organization.
Morrow has a promising set of skills, and perhaps Julien still holds out hope that the defenceman can put it all together in a new environment.
#19 — Jeremiah Addison
Addison was one of the last selections made in 2015 as the Habs spent their final pick on a player who showed good work ethic in the OHL. This spring, he displayed pretty good offensive instincts as well, being one of the Windsor Spitfires’ top offensive players on their way to a Memorial Cup.
That performance raised his stock quite dramatically, seeing him finally make the Top 25 in his third year of eligibility. He’ll now head to Laval to join the AHL team and try to have the same kind of impact in the professional ranks.
#18 — Brett Lernout
Lernout was drafted for the strong set of abilities he possessed, and since 2014 we’ve seen flashes of his strong skating, puck-moving, and offensive skills. He hasn’t yet put them all together, but voters have liked how he’s transitioned to the AHL enough to keep him marching steadily up the rankings.
#17 — Simon Bourque
Bourque is an intelligent offensive defenceman who wrapped up his junior career with excellent performances across two different teams in his final year. He was part of the strong Saint John Sea Dogs squad that claimed the QMJHL championship to earn a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament.
He’ll now take his talents to Laval, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts in his first season of professional hockey.
#16 — Jake Evans
Evans is about to play his senior year for the University of Notre Dame, and will then be looking to sign a contract to begin his professional career. He has grown from a one-dimensional offensive player into a strong two-way centreman over the course of his collegiate tenure, and should take an even bigger step toward an NHL future in 2017-18.
#15 — Will Bitten
Bitten was a steal of a third-round selection in a good 2016 draft for the Canadiens, with enough ability to have been taken in the second round. He wasn’t able to replicate the offensive success he had enjoyed with the Flint Firebirds after his trade to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL, but the underlying numbers point to an otherwise solid follow-up. He should have a much better season this time around, and erase any doubts that may have begun to creep into projections for his future.
#14 — Ryan Poehling
This year’s first-round pick makes his appearance at 14th. He holds the distinction of being the youngest player to play in the NCAA last year, which likely played a huge part in projecting him as an early pick.
For all the praise of his playmaking skill, he produce seven goals and just six assists over a 35-game season, and that lack of offence raises some concerns about his ability to develop into an impactful NHL player. If he can increase his point totals in a meaningful way in his sophomore year, he will jump up to near the top of this list in 2018.
#13 — Michael McNiven
McNiven experienced just such a jump after a 2016-17 season that saw him claim not only the Goaltender of the Year award in the OHL, but the entire CHL as well. At various points of the season he was virtually unbeatable, and carried that performance over long stretches at a time.
There were also some lapses on the year, which had a negative impact on his stats, but the overall result was still an excellect season for the free-agent signee.
That contract he signed in 2015 will begin this fall when he takes his place between the pipes in a professional league. Whether that is a backup role in the AHL or a starting role in the ECHL is yet to be determined.
#12 — Victor Mete
Mete cracked the top 20 after begin selected in the fourth round, with the biggest demerit on his scouting report being his small stature. Since then he’s shown that his lack of size doesn’t prevent him from being an impact player as he excels at both offensive and defensive aspects of the game.
He has one more year of junior hockey with the London Knights before his professional career begins, and he could very well finish the season as one of the top defencemen in the CHL.
#11 — Joni Ikonen
Ikonen was Montreal’s third pick this summer, but came out as the top addition in our 2017 rankings. His exciting offensive skills project him as a top-six player, and that earns him a high spot in his debut.
His NHL future isn’t assured, but if he can show improvement in the other aspects of his game, he has a very good shot of becoming a roster player for the Canadiens.
#10 — Jacob de la Rose
De la Rose had seen time among the very best players on this list after getting significant NHL experience as a 19-year-old. His numbers weren’t spectacular but most of his shortcomings were chalked up to his difficult deployment and young age.
The next season he got into 22 games with the Canadiens, and his offensive production took a major step backward, with just a single assist. His offence didn’t see the large increase in the minor leagues you would expect from a player whose rightful place was in the NHL, and therefore he dropped back down to the middle of the pack in 2016.
This year he had a consistent season playing a defensive role for the St. John’s IceCaps, with decent production that reached its peak in the latter part of the season. There is now more hope that he can develop into an NHL player than there was at this point a year ago, and he jumps back up into the top 10 as a result.
#9 — Michael McCarron
McCarron has seen similar offensive success in fewer NHL games than de la Rose, and also has the rather obvious benefit of being a massive presence on the ice. Both have the ability to turn into third-line players, whether that be at centre or on the wing, but McCarron just edged out his fellow 2013 draftee in the confidence voters had in his ability to reach that potential.
#8 — Noah Juulsen
Juulsen had a good season with the Everett Silvertips to finish his CHL career, overcoming injury to post a decent amount of points while playing a top-pairing role on a defensive team. That defensive acumen will be a big help when he joins a team in Laval that struggled in that area last season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be given the brunt of the duties in his own end shortly after his rookie season begins.
Juulsen has the abilities to be an NHL player, and that has him slotting into the top 10 for the first time.
#7 — Nikita Scherbak
The Russian had debuted at #6 after being a late pick in the first round of the 2014 draft, and had been as high as fourth in these rankings. His final placement at #7 is the lowest he’s ever been, and while still among the very best the organization has, there are now more doubts about his ability to become a top-six offensive contributor than there were three years ago.
Scherbak has the tools to be a key component of the Canadiens in the future, but he needs to show some progression in his development to maintain his lofty status among the organization’s best prospects.
#6 — Charlie Lindgren
Like McNiven, Lindgren was signed as a free agent by the Canadiens, and the two now serve as the top goaltending prospects in the organization. Lindgren has already seen success at the NHL level, with three victories on his resume, and has one AHL season and a playoff round under his belt as well.
He’s an athletic netminder, a fierce competitor, and has quite sound technical ability, and that a very strong set of attributes for a goaltender at any level.
There aren’t many who believe he won’t be able to make the NHL, and he could earn a backup role with the Canadiens relatively soon. Whether his future is with the Canadiens or another NHL team, he still holds a lot of value in the organization.
We’ve reached the top five players under the age of 25 in the Canadiens organization. These are players with the best chance of making it in the NHL — if they haven’t already. We’ll begin counting them down from #5 on Monday.