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2019 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: A Difference of Opinion — EOTP staff vs. community

Highlighting some of the largest divides between the writers and the readers.

NHL: JUN 26 Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In recent years, we’ve been following up the reveal of the Montreal Canadiens’ Top 25 Under 25 with a comparison of how the Eyes On The Prize staff voted versus the community’s view on the young players in the organization.

There are usually a few players near the top whom the two groups regard differently. This summer, however, with a new ranking procedure based on which players you’d rather lose (or not lose), there was general agreement on who belonged in not only the top five or 10, but the top 15, and where. While individual ballots may have had players higher or lower than their final spot, there were only four players at the top with different rankings for the staff and community, and all of those were by one spot.

The biggest discrepancies in 2019 came lower down in the order, in the range from 16 to 25, as we all weighed raw potential versus current performance to varying degrees. New prospects and professionals who haven’t yet put all their tools together all vied for spots in a tightly contested region of the rankings. This article highlights the largest disagreements we saw, and looks at some of the arguments on all sides of the debate.

First of all, the table below separates the rankings of the two groups (10 members of the staff, and 663 ballots from the community, including the two representatives who served on our panel for the series), for a simple comparison of the rankings. You can sort the columns to see each group’s order (with the actual average used to determined the lists in parentheses), or click a player’s name to go to his T25U25 profile.

2019 Rankings

Player Official Rank Staff Rank Community Rank Difference
Player Official Rank Staff Rank Community Rank Difference
Domi, Max 01 01 (1.60) 01 (1.73) 0
Kotkaniemi, Jesperi 02 02 (1.90) 02 (1.95) 0
Drouin, Jonathan 03 03 (4.00) 03 (4.05) 0
Poehling, Ryan 04 04 (5.90) 04 (5.12) 0
Suzuki, Nick 05 05 (6.10) 05 (6.04) 0
Mete, Victor 06 07 (6.60) 07 (7.00) 0
Caufield, Cole 07 06 (6.40) 06 (6.05) 0
Lehkonen, Artturi 08 08 (6.90) 09 (8.58) -1
Romanov, Alexander 09 09 (9.20) 08 (8.37) +1
Juulsen, Noah 10 11 (11.20) 10 (10.48) +1
Brook, Josh 11 10 (10.70) 11 (10.89) -1
Primeau, Cayden 12 12 (11.50) 12 (11.64) 0
Fleury, Cale 13 13 (13.40) 13 (14.62) 0
Ylönen, Jesse 14 14 (14.30) 14 (14.98) 0
Evans, Jake 15 15 (14.90) 15 (16.02) 0
Norlinder, Mattias 16 17 (19.70) 22 (23.24) -5
Vejdemo, Lukas 17 19 (20.6) 19 (22.02) 0
McNiven, Michael 18 16 (19.40) 23 (23.56) -7
Olofsson, Jacob 19 18 (20.50) 21 (22.90) -3
Struble, Jayden 20a 21 (23.10) 17 (18.95) +4
Ikonen, Joni 20b 22 (23.60) 16 (18.03) +6
Leskinen, Otto 22 23 (24.20) 24 (24.80) -1
Pitlick, Rhett 23 20 (23.00) 30 (28.95) -10
Teasdale, Joël 24 24 (25.00) 18 (21.49) +6
Olofsson, Gustav 25a 28 (26.70) 26 (25.95) +2
Harris, Jordan 25b 26 (26.10) 20 (22.84) +6
Fonstad, Cole 27 25 (25.60) 27 (26.14) -2
McShane, Allan 28 27 (26.40) 25 (25.03) +2
McCarron, Michael 29 29 (27.80) 28 (26.40) +1
Hillis, Cam 30 31 (28.90) 29 (26.71) +2
Stapley, Brett 31 30 (28.80) 31 (29.23) -1
Gorniak, Jack 32 33 (32.20) 33 (30.73) 0
Fairbrother, Gianni 33 35 (34.00) 32 (30.69) +3
Harvey-Pinard, Rafael 34 32 (31.90) 36 (34.51) -4
Khisamutdinov, Arsen 35 34 (33.90) 38 (34.72) -4
Sklenička, David 36 36 (34.30) 34 (33.23) +2
Verbeek, Hayden 37 37 (36.10) 37 (34.63) 0
Alain, Alexandre 38 38 (37.10) 35 (34.21) +3
Houde, Samuel 39 39 (38.50) 39 (35.08) 0
LeGuerrier, Jacob 40 41 (38.90) 40 (36.26) +1
Pezzetta, Michael 41 40 (38.60) 42 (37.90) -2
Nissen Dichow, Frederik 42 42 (39.60) 41 (36.99) +1
Waked, Antoine 43 43 (40.00) 43 (38.73) 0
Ruscheinski, Kieran 44 44 (43.40) 44 (39.83) 0
Koberstein, Nikolas 45 45 (44.10) 46 (41.34) -1
Henrikson, Arvid 46 46 (44.40) 45 (40.79) +1

(Note: Displacing the community representatives from the staff list turned what was a slight edge for Victor Mete over Cole Caufield for sixth place into a similarly minuscule edge for the 2019 first-rounder in this split ranking. The two were nearly inseparable by this method or the one used to create the official list.)

Looking at the averages, you can see a rather striking cutoff at the agreed upon top 15, but also significant drops from Cayden Primeau at 12 to Cale Fleury at 13, the ninth-ranked Alexander Romanov to the 10th spot occupied by Noah Juulsen, and our tightly contested top two of Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to third-place Jonathan Drouin, will all of those steps being around two positions in the average rank for both groups.

Mattias Norlinder

The first big difference is seen at 16th with Mattias Norlinder. Indicating just how much disagreement there was in this section of the ranking, neither side actually had him — or even the player one spot lower in the actual Top 25 — at 16.

The Swedish defenceman’s position was distributed from about spot 19 in the staff vote, with just one of us leaving him out of the Top 25. While the main portion of the community vote actually centres on a similar spot, a tail extends all the way to the bottom of the rankings, with a significant numbers of votes at each position, and that serves to tip the scales to a lower average.

I totally mistakenly overlooked this player in my list. Guy seems promising. Canadiens seems stacked for the future at every position now. Still though, it’s hard to project any of these LD prospects as future bonafide top-two LD. With Jordan Harris, Norlinder, Struble, Fairbrother ... who else am I missing? Let’s just cross our fingers. — FrancisGa

This is a meteoric rise for Norlinder … having not been drafted in first year of eligibility, playing in second division, drafted in the third round but yet being rated our #16 prospect. I love the potential described in this writeup, but I’m wondering if it’s a little too optimistic. — habit

Unrated: Let’s see, does crow taste better if you saute it in garlic and ginger flavoured oil first? However a number of prospects sounded close to NHL until they arrived, let us see. — Pbis

I like Norlinder. The more I read about and look at his highlights, the more I like him. — theptbnl

As the staff member who ranked him the highest, I obviously see a lot of potential in Norlinder to become a key member of the organization. I like his offensive game and the skating that lends itself to the transition game, and see an easier path to an NHL position that for other players in this region of the list. Another year in Allsvenskan will tell us more about his projection, and it will be interesting to see where those voters who were left undecided in the bottom third of the rankings place him at this time a year from now.

Michael McNiven

McNiven’s second year as a professional in the organization was better than his first, but with a save percentage just over .900, not quite as good as predicted when he ranked 13th in 2017. However, a nightly highlight-reel save served as a reminder that he still have the talent to become something more.

A cluster of votes around 15th helped McNiven claim our 16th spot, though the staff range reached to the outside of the Top 25. The community chart shows a similar tail to what was seen for Norlinder’s votes, and again pulled his position down about one spot, but he has a more normal distribution centred around the early 20s without a grouping higher up the order.

I was excited when we landed him, but I think the lack of consistency and the shine of Primeau has caused me to (perhaps unfairly) sour on McNiven. — HFX-HabFan

I had McNiven at 19 so in the ballpark. He’s in tough with the quality of our other prospects at his position. — VVV

McNiven could easily be our (or someone else’s) [Jordan] Binnington. — Gdionne45

As HFX-HabFan points out, the surprise arrival of Primeau to the pro level doesn’t help McNiven’s preceived value to the organization. However, McNiven will be feeling that as well, and will use it as motivation in his attempt to outperform the star prospect this season. The Laval Rocket should be the ones to benefit from two netminders determined to prove that they are the number-one, and we’ll find out if McNiven (and Primeau for that matter) really does have what it takes to be regarded as a top-15 prospect once the season is over.

Joni Ikonen

This is the third year this analysis has been performed, and Ikonen has featured each time. In 2017, his top-six potential was regarded as more valuable than the third-line projection Ryan Poehling seemed to have, and so the second-round selection was placed a few positions ahead of the player chosen 25th overall, something not replicated by the community. A surprising exit from one of the top development clubs in Europe and the difficult season that followed led us to scale back our expectations quite substantially, while the readers maintained that his potential as a top-six forward kept his value in the system high.

The positions of each side remained unchanged this year, with both essentially repeating his placement from a season ago. Injuries are becoming a big concern for his development, but the small portion of the season he was able to play came with an enticing amount of offence.

I was ready to give up on him and then he really impressed during his brief return. The fact that he came back stronger showed a commitment to improve. — Barneyboy

This is the prototypical boom-or-bust pick in the second round many posters crave. — HabitualCups

I see Ikonen as dropping huge. I had him in the high 20s if I recall. — Cfunk89

His five goals and five assists in a mere 13 games showed everyone that the top-six talent we were excited about after he was drafted is still there. He won’t turn 21 until the 2019-20 season is complete, so he’s far from the end of his development window. The staff is largely in the position now that we need to see progress to believe in the potential, but the community is holding fast to his ability to achieve big things. I think we can all agree we’d welcome a healthy season to let him focus on the promising game he has.

Rhett Pitlick

Fifth-round picks hold little value in a draft. Many NHLers come from the opening two rounds, with those selected later generally regarded as long shots with critical flaws that are deemed insurmountable by most professional scouts. A team taking a chance on a player this late in a draft is tossing a penny into the fountain, hoping that this player can beat the odds stacked against him.

The Canadiens have one such player in Brendan Gallagher, whose work ethic let him overcome his smaller stature to not only make the NHL, but become one of its most effective wingers. The team will hope it has landed an eventual roster player again with Rhett Pitlick in 2019.

There’s a lot to like about Pitlick’s base game. He’s a great skater who seems to glide wherever he wants in the offensive zone, all with his head up looking for options. He may have just finished high school, but some of us are very intrigued by the playmaking game those skills could lead to.

Nothing, in my opinion, not even his skating, justifies being placed in the top 25. — Hard_Habits

I ranked Pitlick at 27, if he reaches his ceilling he could easy become a player in the mould of a Paul Byron with better hands and a better shot. — joepocket

I liked what I saw in dev camp and videos enough to put him at #21 already. — Going To ReHab

We like him enough to place him at 20th, but the community is not nearly so bullish. Only about 25% of readers gave him a place in the Top 25, with his landing spot at 30. The 10-place difference is not only by far the largest this year, but the most in the three years of doing this comparison.

Pitlick has already impressed in a brief stint in the USHL, posting five points in seven games at the end of last season. With a full year in the pre-collegiate league, we’ll see if our ranking well within the Top 25 was justified, or if he’s just another late-round pick with little chance of becoming an NHL player.

Joël Teasdale

Teasdale was passed over in two drafts before signing on with the team that had just brought in his QMJHL head coach a few months earlier. His offensive totals steadily increased in his time in the Q, to a career-high 80 points in his fourth and final year. He capped it all off with an incredible post-season, amassing 34 points in just 20 playoff games as he helped Rouyn-Noranda capture the Memorial Cup, named the tournament MVP for his efforts.

Two members of the staff placed him at 16th, but over half of us placed him lower than 25th, not convinced that the offensive game he showed can translate to the NHL, especially with a skating technique that limits his ability to get where he needs to go.

The community has no such qualms. On that ballot, he was ranked six positions higher than we had him, well into the Top 25. There’s clearly more confidence that he will be able to take his game all the way to the Canadiens’ roster in due time.

He just turned 20, is trending up, showed a ton of improvement this year in his game. — jp_three

I don’t see his ceiling being higher than a bottom-six forward right now but he’ll have ample time in Laval to change my mind. — Going To ReHab

Unfortunately, Teasdale won’t be able to carry the high of his championship season directly into a new campaign. He sustained a significant knee injury in training, and his recovery is expected to be nearly the entire 2019-20 season. But there may be a silver lining in the injury: rehabilitating the knee may actually come with benefits to his skating stride, with more efficient motions. That would help him develop what many see as the biggest obstacle to an NHL career.

Jordan Harris

Harris was a third-round selection in 2018, but the sixth player Montreal took on draft weekend. In a year when even second-round pick Alexander Romanov couldn’t crack the Top 25, there was little chance of a player chosen a full round later to make it.

A solid freshman season, playing on the top pairing for Northeastern University and posting 13 points, increased his stock even in a growing prospect pool, allowing him to make our list — even if it did need to be extended by a spot to fit him in.

Harris received four staff votes at 21 or higher, and six at 27 or lower. It was a sizable gap in our voting alone, leading to a rank of 26; where he (essentially) landed on the official list. A significant portion of the community had him slotted around 20th as well, with another, though smaller, peak closer to 25th, and a familiar trailing tail through the 30s and 40s. Piling up more votes at the front of his distribution led to a much higher position for the community, even if the averages were only a few positions apart.

If opponents score very little five vs. five when he’s on the ice and he almost never takes penalties, that’s a darn effective D to me. — dmn_habs

Had him at 25! I quite like the kid though and expect him to take a big step this season. — be yours to hold it high

I had him at 39 why? Because all I saw was good skating. — luckypete1972

Harris will be a critical piece of a Northeastern team that saw a lot of turnover at the end of last season, with the loss of Primeau to the Canadiens’ pro ranks and Harris’s defence partner, Jeremy Davies, to the Nashville Predators’ system. He will be relied upon for defensive, transition, and offensive duties. With Jayden Struble joining him for the year, Habs fans have plenty of reason to keep an eye on the program once again.

Michael McCarron

McCarron doesn’t fit into the main theme of this article; the staff and community had him at 29 and 28, respectively. Instead, he’s the player who saw the largest standard deviation of all 46 in the project, and since this is his final year of eligibility, we’ll delve into his case a bit.

McCarron has been around long enough that he doesn’t have any “undecideds” among the voters. Every one of the 663 community voters has had six years to form an opinion (even change it several times) since he was selected in the first round in 2013.

As he prepares for his fifth season of professional hockey, there are plenty of people who have abandoned any hope of him becoming a roster player. Many have him ranked well outside the Top 25 and even into the 40s, with every outside position represented. Yet his average sits just outside of 25th, and he still has plenty of support to be ranked higher than that, with quote a few people slotting him at 20th or higher.

We know exactly what Big Mac is. No amount of training/coaching is going to fix that gas tank. — GHABSG

Honestly, he could fit on a majority of NHL rosters as a fourth-line plug. — VolcanoMan

McCarron, was, and is, too slow to play in the NHL. — 71thebestyear

I have yet to give up hope on McCarron. — Kraemer_17

McCarron made major strides in his skating (ironically, by taking smaller steps) last off-season, and was starting to put that into practice a season ago, but a nagging shoulder injury cut his campaign short.

At 6’6”, he can get by with some abilities being slightly limited, and it’s the promise of a big forward who can show a bit of offence that keeps many from writing him off. If he is fully recovered from his surgery, and can clear waivers (a pocket of Habs fans aren’t the only ones intrigued by his potential), we’ll see how a member of the old guard fits into a pool constructed around a more modern game.