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2018 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The Long Shots (45-31)

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Our flagship series begins with a look at the players who ranked the lowest, making cases for those who deserved to be higher.

Victoria Royals v Vancouver Giants Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images

With so many players and prospects, some very good ones can miss the cut. This is a big change from the last few seasons, and a welcome one. The fact that the rankings were as hard to complete as they were is also a great sign for the future of the organization.

While this section of our Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25 is titled “The Long Shots,” that doesn’t mean that all players below are marked as non-NHL prospects. Far from it, especially in this year’s edition. There might be lower expectations for them, as they were often drafted later or haven’t been under the spotlight as much, but those prospects still often have great tools that could have them rocket up next year’s list.

Notes: in the voting graphics in this article, and all articles in this series, the “EOTP” vote is the average rank from the 391 ballots from the community. Members joepocket and canadianboy12345 (listed as “canadian”) are also included. Moderator and contributor Marc-Antoine Lévis is listed by his preferred name, “Marc.”

45. Arvid Henrikson - Defenceman - 20 - Örebro HK J20 ‘‘A’’

Henrikson is a 6’4” defenceman who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft. The Habs traded (as they often do) to get a pick to use on the defender, taking a gamble on his big frame and physical game.

The progress hasn’t been there for Henrikson. Despite his physical maturity, he hasn’t been called upon to play with the Swedish pro organizations all that much. He had two games in the Allsvenskan last year and one in the SHL for Örebro HK, otherwise spending another season in the U20 development league waiting for his chance.

His skating and play with the puck seem to be what is holding him back, and he is also not solid enough defensively to really earn pro minutes with those glaring weaknesses.

Still, joining Örebro HK seems to have been a positive experience for him, even if it was just for limited presences in one game. It gave him a taste of what will be required of him to make the jump out of the junior league. Where that will be, however, remains the question, as he doesn’t seem to have a contract to play this season.

44. Nikolas Koberstein - Defenceman - 22 - University of Alaska Fairbanks

Koberstein had the best statistical season of his NCAA career last year. He recorded 12 points in 36 games and had a good showing when his team, the Alaska Nanooks, faced the powerhouse that was the St. Cloud State Huskies earlier in the season.

The defenceman was drafted for his handling abilities and decent mobility. He caught the eye of the scouting staff unexpectedly for those elements while they were patrolling the AJHL.

Unfortunately, those qualities haven’t materialized in any kind of offensive upside for Koberstein through the years. He can distribute the puck in an effective manner while facing the play, but isn’t creative by any stretch of the imagination, and his shot is lacking despite his size.

His defensive game is where he shines more. He has a good reach that serves him while defending one-on-one, and he can lay the occasional huge hit, making opposing forwards think twice about attacking on his side of the ice. He still needs to stay on his feet, as to not get walked around by opponents faking shots on him, but he has found a role he can fill effectively on the penalty kill.

Koberstein has a year remaining at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he will have a chance to play for what could be a lower-league professional deal.

43. Brett Stapley - Forward - 19 - Vernon Vipers

Brett Stapley played the entire year in the BCHL, a Junior A league, where he put up good numbers — 59 points in 52 games — but was also an over-ager when it came to the NHL draft, and very likely not on many radars besides the Habs’. From Trevor Timmins’s comments, it seems that the organization liked him in 2017, too. He was one of the players they had left on their board. When they got a chance to draft him again this year, they didn’t let him slip.

Stapley is a long-term project. He will go the NCAA route, which is perfect for the organization as they retain his rights until the end of his scholarship and get a chance to see him develop.

Watching him, despite the knocks of age, smaller size, and the fact that he played in a lower level of competition, there are some clear qualities to his game. He is a good playmaker who can open up passing lanes with fakes and by challenging defenders. He also uses the space that is given to him quite effectively, and can make you pay by attacking the slot for a shot.

He also flashes some one-on-one ability at times. Like this great sequence at the Junior A Challenge in December.

He will have to work on his skating to handle the faster-paced game of the NCAA, but his skill with the puck could have him put up some points down the road.

42. Antoine Waked - Forward - 22 - Laval Rocket

Waked was coming out of the QMJHL as an over-ager. The AHL is often a big step to take in the first year, and the prospect struggled. He was the full package offensively, with shooting and passing skills in his last Junior year, but he didn’t manage to show much of that in the professional game where the play is faster and more physical. Waked was also a victim of a few injuries during the season.

Next year is where we see if he can morph into a dependable player for the Rocket, one who can better fill in when needed in the top six of the team. He has the skill to do it, but like many others, needs to find consistency.

41. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - 20 - Sarnia Sting

It was a great start to the season for Pezzetta, when he made a lot of people change their opinion of him. He showed some good offensive contribution, scoring some great goals with the help of his shot and his ability to get himself in front of the net to tip pucks in. Through all of that, he mostly stayed away from the things that earned him suspensions in the past.

It wasn’t a completely clean season for Pezzetta, but still a step forward in becoming the leader he can be. This change of attitude and his on-ice contribution sparked the interest of the Sarnia Sting, who traded for him to help their playoff run.

Unfortunately, his time with the Sting wasn’t as much of a success for Pezzetta. Away from the team he had known for all of his OHL career, he couldn’t perform to the same level despite the much better supporting cast he had.

The best scenario for Pezzetta is him growing into a useful checking forward with some refinement of his defensive game, but that won’t happen without some hard work at the AHL level. Next year in Laval, he will have to utilize his skating ability and hard-nosed style to find some offence and be a disturber away from the puck if he wants a regular place in the lineup.

40. Samuel Houde - Forward - 18 - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Samuel Houde only scored at around 0.60 points per game in his draft year; lower than most other drafted forwards. It’s undeniable that he has some good hands that he can use to pull off moves on defenders, but his lack of ability to separate from them due to his skating is a problem, and likely why he couldn’t put up a better production.

He has the label of playmaker, and he is a good puck-distributor, but he shines more on the power play due to his shot. He has a good wrister that he can fire through traffic, creating enough room with his hands to fire and have the puck brush defenders, but still make its way to the net to beat goalies.

He needs to put on weight and turn his offensive tools into a better offensive output next season. That being said, his playoff performance of five points in six games is encouraging.

39. Jack Gorniak - Forward - 18 - West Salem High

Gorniak was one of the youngest players in the draft last year, turning 18 the day before the cutoff. He went undrafted in 2017, but is virtually the same age as prospects like Brady Tkachuk and Jesse Ylönen, so his over-age status isn’t much of a concern looking forward. The level of competition he faced — playing in a High School league — could be, however.

Gorniak is a real athlete. It’s likely what made the Canadiens so interested in him. He finished at the top of many categories at the scouting combine and, on the ice, is an explosive skater who can put up a lot of speed with the usage of quick cross-overs. His speed alone was no match for a lot of the opponents he faced this year, which helped him dominate. He has offensive talent, but doesn’t impress with great hands or vision.

He will join the University of Wisconsin this season. This should be a challenge for him due to the much higher level of competition, but Gorniak is an intense worker who could find success in a checking role with his relentless energy even in his first few steps with the Badgers.

38. Scott Walford - Defenceman - 19 - Victoria Royals

Walford is about the same player as he was at this time last year. He is relied upon with the Victoria Royals, getting his minutes on the penalty kill and even featuring at the point on their first unit of the power play, but he doesn’t stand out on the ice very often.

He is a safe defender who can distribute the puck, but won’t attempt many plays with it. He has good mobility and there’s the odd offensive pinch, but he is not a player you can count on to push the pace of the game or spark something on the attack for his team.

This description paints the portrait of a defensive defenceman, but Walford also has some deficiencies away from the puck as well. He can box out opponents, but he is often too passive and doesn’t have the awareness necessary to carve out a career as a defensive stalwart. He will have to become more solid on this side of the game to distinguish himself from the other WHL defencemen drafted last year, who all have either greater potential or made bigger strides in their development.

37. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - 20 - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Verbeek is an exceptional skater. He is undersized, but his great two-way game should have him remain a pivot even at the professional level. He has found ways around his smaller stature, using his feet to pick the pocket of much bigger forwards, turning away from them, and exploding to the open ice with a couple of pushes.

He has good hands that can work well with the incredible speed that his feet can generate, and he could be a candidate for a breakout in his offensive game, especially because he scores many of his goals right at the doorstep by jumping on loose pucks as he flies in and out of the slot.

Unfortunately, history plays against Verbeek. He was never drafted and didn’t register many points in his OHL career until this season: his over-age one. He has an elite skill in his skating ability, but the chances of him making the NHL remain slim. That being said, his work ethic makes him an easy player to root for.

36. Cole Fonstad - Forward - 18 - Prince Albert Raiders

Fonstad is a player who doesn’t belong this low. If he was just an inch taller and a dozen pounds heavier, he would have likely been drafted more than 50 picks earlier. But not every player can make it into the top 25, and his status as a fifth-rounder didn’t help his case.

The Prince Albert Raiders forward was a point-per-game player this season, and for good reason. He has a precise shot, great puck skills, and is a pretty good playmaker, able to run the power play from the half-wall.

He also has an unexpectedly good defensive game, especially off the rush. He is very good at reading breakout routes from the opposition and cutting plays as they try to transition through the neutral zone. Those turnovers he creates contribute to creating even more offence for his team when he is on the ice.

Fonstad is a smart player who could become extremely dominant with added muscle mass and a little work on his skating (a common trend for the 2018 CHL drafted forwards). He is a fine skater currently, but would be able to beat defenders more easily by combining his great hands with a separation gear.

35. Alexandre Alain - Forward - 21 - Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Alain has the development curve of a typical over-ager. His production increased year by year as he matured and learned from his experience in the league, but also as he transitioned to being one of the older players in the league playing against younger prospects, culminating with his 87-point and 44-goal season for the Armada in 2017-18.

Nevertheless, as he had the trust of Joël Bouchard in the QMJHL, he should find himself in a positive situation this year as he makes his transition to the AHL. He is well known by his coach, and will continue to improve under someone who immediately knows his strengths and weaknesses and how to best deploy him from the outset.

Alain doesn’t stand out in any particular aspect of his game, except for his ability to get open to release his shots. He is a good defensive forward, but not an exceptional one. He can contribute on the offence, but won’t drive most plays himself, instead requiring a good setup man. He will need to find a niche if he wants to get to the NHL, and this is the kind of thing Bouchard can help him with.

34. Daniel Audette - Forward - 22 - Laval Rocket

If Daniel Audette had more consistency, we could see an NHL offensive upside emerge. This was again a problem for him last season, along with his defensive game. That being said, he still recorded around a point every other game, improving on his production from 2016-17.

He’s a good playmaker who shows flashes of creativity in the offensive zone. This season, he will be able to set up and now mentor some of the influx of youth in Laval. It is too early to write Audette off, but he needs to have a breakout performance to show management that he is on an upward curve in his development. This could be rewarded with some NHL time for the 2014-drafted centreman.

33. Jeremiah Addison - Forward - 21 - Laval Rocket

Addison was injured in the Rookie Tournament last off-season and missed nearly the entire season as a result. It is then hard to evaluate him on the six games he managed to play. He scored a great goal in his first game, but didn’t manage to do much afterward.

Next season will be the real start of Addison’s pro career, where we hopefully get to see the clutch goal-scoring that he brought to Windsor on their path to a Memorial Cup victory.

32. Jarret Tyszka - Defenceman - 19 - Seattle Thunderbirds

Another player who should be higher than his final ranking, Tyszka had one of the best progressions of any Habs prospect last season. His defensive game, in particular, grew immensely. After struggling to find his marks away from the puck in 2016-17 and having difficulty with gap control, the defenceman turned into a much more solid defender both off the rush and with in-zone coverage.

He also had a transformation when in possession of the puck. He always displayed confidence, but this quality turned into some good puck-moving capabilities, showing poise in possession in his zone and an ability to play against the forecheck, creating good zone exits for his team even in difficult situations. There is still a tendency for him to do too much, but the skill is there. He just needs to refine his attempts and improve his decision-making, better selecting when to make simpler plays.

Tyszka will be back with the Seattle Thunderbirds this season, where he will be their number-one defenceman. If he continues the upward curve in his development, he could easily surpass Josh Brook as the best puck-handling defenceman in junior hockey for the Habs.

His offensive creativity is not on the same level as the Warriors defender’s right now, but Tyszka possesses a great wrist shot that could have him put up double digits in goals this season.

31. Michal Moravčík - Defenceman - 23 - HC Škoda Plzeň

The older of the two defenceman brought over from HC Škoda Plzeň, Moravčík has size and experience in a pro league. It remains to be seen how he will adjust to North American hockey, but he could challenge for a depth role with the big club during the season after, in all likelihood, starting the year with the Rocket.

Moravčík played almost 20 minutes a night (19:37 TOI) in the Czech league, including time on the power play. He looks to be a versatile defender who tends more toward the defensive side of the game.


The countdown continues tomorrow, with the five players who finished just outside the official Top 25 Under 25.