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2019 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The Long Shots (46-36)

Our flagship series begins with a look at the players who ranked the lowest, making cases for those who deserve more recognition.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Last year, we started this instalment by saying that although those prospects are deemed long shots for the purpose of the exercise, a lot of them could easily rocket up the list in the next year, making a case for themselves with a productive season. The difference in this edition is that the Montreal Canadiens have continued to add even more prospects to their pool, and a few that are highly considered.

The talents at the top of the list will be hard to dislodge. The players below have interesting qualities that led them to be drafted or signed, but will have their work cut out for them to climb the depth of the organization.

Notes: In the voting graphics in this article, and all articles in this series, the “EOTP” vote is the average rank from the 659 ballots from the community. Members Cheminot11 (listed as “Cheminot”) and The JD Man (“JD Man”) are also listed along with the 10 EOTP staff members.

46. Arvid Henrikson - Defenceman - 21 - Des Moines Buccaneers

The three defencemen who start our countdown all share great physical attributes. Arvid Henrikson stands at 6’5”. His towering presence and impressive reach made him a project worth taking on for Montreal in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft. His size allowed him a one-game stint in the second-tier Swedish professional league in his draft year, and scouts envisioned him becoming an effective shutdown presence as he matured and adapted his play to the professional game.

Despite a couple of other very short stints with limited minutes in Sweden’s top leagues, Henrikson never really evolved from the player he was in 2016, his skating and puck-handling not allowing him to be effective enough at the next level.

This season, he flew over to play for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL in preparation to play NCAA Division I hockey with Lake Superior State University in 2019-20.

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

At the conclusion of his NCAA career with the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks, a season he finished as the captain of the team, Koberstein moved on to play a few games with the Kansas City Mavericks in the ECHL. The Mavericks likely valued his ability to play a physical brand of defence, as the blue-liner can close on attackers fiercely along the boards and even sometimes for big hits at the blue line.

With some time, he could become an effective defender for such a professional team. But despite being drafted partly for those perceived abilities, Koberstein lacks a transition and offensive game that would make him a positive impact player at higher levels.

His rights expire on August 15, and Montreal will not be giving him a contract.

44. Kieran Ruscheinski - Defenceman - 18 - Calgary Northstars Midget AAA

Rushcheinski shares the size advantage of Koberstein and Henrikson, standing at 6’6”, but he is perhaps a better skater than both of them. He is not very agile, in that he can’t turn as well as his smaller counterparts, but he can coordinate his longer limbs well enough to have the speed necessary to keep up and even get past opponents.

The hope for Rushcheinski’s development is that his potential has been hidden by the learning curve associated with adapting to his size, as he played the last season in Midget AAA in Alberta — a level far below where players are usually drafted from. If he were to make it to the NHL, the defenceman would certainly have followed a unique path to the league.

Next season, Rushcheinski will play for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the BCHL. Junior A will be quite a big step up in competition for him and it will give us a chance to showcase his abilities.

43. Antoine Waked - Forward - 23 - Laval Rocket

Waked is an interesting case compared to many others in this section, namely because he was not a draft choice of the Canadiens, but signed as an undrafted free agent following his final season in the QMJHL.

There were some red flags, namely that his production jumped from 38 points to 80 in his final season and that he wasn’t showing major flashes of being a late-blooming talent. Two lacklustre seasons in the AHL have him sitting on 16 career points, and show that he would benefit massively from a stint in the ECHL to develop his game.

He shows some high-end talent, using speed and some nice hands to create his chances, but these moments are few and far between. On a team that was thin on players due to injuries this past year, Waked had a major chance to step up and failed to really do so in a meaningful way.

Things are not going to get easier for the third-year pro next year as it looks like the Rocket are going to be inundated with players at the forward position. If Waked goes back to Maine in the ECHL, he has to work on finding consistent offence and turning some of his skill into regular points or he could be finding himself on the outside looking in for AHL playing time this year.

42. Frederik Nissen Dichow - Goaltender - 18 - Vojens IK

Pekka Rinne is one of the better success stories in the NHL. He didn’t play much for his team in his draft year and was mostly scouted in warm-ups and practices before being drafted in the eighth round. This is to say that, even if we really don’t know much about Nissen Dichow and it is quite hard to judge the prospect with such limited information, it can often be best to bet on athletic attributes for netminders, since they are so hard to project. Good news: this particular one seems to possess those qualities.

He will be a very interesting prospect to follow and could move up this list as we learn more about him.

41. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - 21 - Laval Rocket

If the NHL were still in the early to mid 2000s, it feels like Michael Pezzetta would be a slam dunk to make the Canadiens. He’s a physical, feisty player who has no issue throwing off the gloves if challenged. He isn’t the largest player, but he most certainly plays like it every single shift. He throws the body well, plays with energy, and does this every single night.

However, there is more to being a good prospect than just toughness and hustle. You have to combine astute defensive play or solid offence in addition to that tenacity. For Pezzetta, that remains to be seen consistently over the course of his career, and this past season in the AHL was no exception.

Ten points in 55 games on a struggling Rocket side isn’t bad, but when you’re given power-play time and the lineup is lacking regular players, it has to be expected that you will produce more than that. He has skill to make plays happen around the net, and with his willingness to battle he has the ability to be a nuisance in front of opposing goalies every night. There isn’t any problem with fighting in defence of a teammate or in the heat of the moment, but to reach his top potential it might be wise for Pezzetta to pick his spots better, and focus on the things that show up on the scoreboard instead.

40. Jacob LeGuerrier - Defenceman - 18 - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

LeGuerrier plays a simple game; he is at his best away from the puck. That said, his size and skating combo make him quite interesting. The defenceman stands at 6’3”, and has the agility, speed, and quickness of a smaller player. There isn’t a lot of potential for him to become impactful offensively from what he has shown to this point, but that isn’t why he was drafted.

His path to the NHL will come from continued improvements to his puck-moving. He showed an affinity for it last season, even if it isn’t as big a strength in his game as for some of the other defencemen in the prospect pool. If he can become even more effective in finding outlets in his zone by carrying the puck, and more importantly with short passes, he could be valuable down the road on Montreal’s blue-line.

39. Samuel Houde - Forward - 19 - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Houde is a skilled handler who hasn’t taken the next steps production wise. He has the talent to be a dominant player in the QMJHL, especially since he seems to have added another gear to his skating last off-season. That said, he hasn’t shown the offensive elements that would allow him to fully use his assets: combining his dangles with quick bursts of speed to separate from the defence, using deception to best open plays for himself and others, and making better use of his supporting teammates.

The centreman will need a very strong year to earn a contract from Montreal. His release should make him a threat both at five-on-five and on the power play and easily allow him to score more than the 16 goals he managed last season. Chicoutimi will look to him to be one of their key offensive contributors in 2019-20.

38. Alexandre Alain - Forward - 22 - Laval Rocket

Unlike some of his AHL teammates on this list, Alexandre Alain was a jack of all trades for the Laval Rocket last year. With 28 points he didn’t have a bad year, in fact he was in the top six in scoring, which shows how badly the Rocket offence struggled last year.

With the trust instilled in him by Joël Bouchard and a fresh infusion of young talent, Alain is a candidate to have a breakout season with the Rocket. He did well creating chances around opposing nets and has skill to keep up with players like Nick Suzuki or Joël Teasdale. At the same time, he uses all of his 6’2” frame to battle for pucks and drive to the net to create his chances when needed.

His season was a building block to something bigger. Even if he isn’t the flashiest of players, Alain has the talents to become a surprising prospect in a very deep pool for Montreal.

37. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - 21 - Laval Rocket

Verbeek is fast — like Paul Byron fast. And much like Byron when he first came to the Canadiens, Verbeek’s feet are two steps ahead of his hands in many circumstances. Once he’s flown by a defender, he’s usually gone too deep and taken himself out of a scoring area.

With seven points in 48 games, Verbeek was a victim of a Rocket offence that could not get out of the gate most nights, but there are tantalizing skills in his game, namely that he played almost exclusively in a penalty-killing/bottom-six role this past season. He has the hustle and speed to make opposing defenders think twice when the puck is on his stick, because one misstep and Verbeek will be flying past them.

It sounds slightly strange, but slowing down just a bit would serve Verbeek well, allowing him more time to read options, whether it be picking out a passing lane or getting off a more quality shot on a breakaway. His speed can get him far enough, but he will need to improve some other facets of his game to keep pace with other prospects.

36. David Sklenička - Defenceman - 22 - Laval Rocket

A Czech-born defender with puck-moving talents and a willingness to play physically, David Sklenička became an immediate staple in the Rocket top four last year. He was originally signed alongside countryman Michal Moravčík, but only Sklenička’s play was worthy enough to keep him in the lineup regularly.

Noted for being a solid skater with some offence to spare, he put together a modest rookie season in the AHL. He moved the puck very well on a defence that lacked energy some nights, and when given the chance showed off a laser beam of a slapshot.

Perhaps what is most surprising about him is that despite the fact he stands under 6’0” tall and weighs in at 181 pounds, there is no one that Sklenička wouldn’t take on out on the ice. Doling out devastating hip checks and throwing down with opponents in fights, he was a routinely feisty member of the Rocket.

The left side in Laval this year has a huge number of players, including the newly arrived Otto Leskinen, so Skleničíka, much like Alain, will need to build on the positives from his rookie season and take a big step forward.

The chances of any of these players ever playing for the Montreal Canadiens are quite slim, especially with 35 players regarded as better just among the under-25 crop. Tomorrow we take a look at the next five, all of whom have the potential to make a big leap in 2020.