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2019 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The biggest rises and largest drops

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A slew of new prospects and another year to evaluate the old ones has plenty of players on the move.

Kontinental Hockey League: CSKA Moscow vs Ak Bars Kazan Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images

Wrapping up our annual Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25 each year, we look at the players who made the most movement in the organization from the previous year.

This summer things are a bit different because we introduced a new ranking method, so players may have gone up or down simply by considering what they offer the organization in a different light. Despite that likely playing a role, there are some interesting cases and themes to discuss.

Biggest Rises

Alexander Romanov

2018: #26 → 2019: #9

Romanov is one player who may have benefited from both the change in procedure and a major step in his development. He jumped ahead of several highly regarded defencemen who will be challenging for NHL spots later this month.

Not really knowing how what to think about the Russian defender when he was drafted, he landed just outside the Top 25 in his first year of eligibility. A 2018-19 season played in the KHL gave us a much better idea, and an exceptional showing at the World Juniors ensured he was going to make a major move in the rankings.

Despite the prospect pool being arguably as stacked as it’s ever been in the 10 years of this series, he still made one of the biggest advances we’ve witnessed. From the outside looking in to slotting among potential top-four and top-six players and prospects, it could be the most impressive jump, even if not the largest.

Year-to-year rises

Player Rank (Year) New Rank (Year) Change
Player Rank (Year) New Rank (Year) Change
Martin Réway 33 (2013) 14 (2014) 19
Cayden Primeau 36 (2017) 17 (2018) 19
Sven Andrighetto 26 (2013) 8 (2014) 18
Charles Hudon 28 (2012) 10 (2013) 18
Alexander Romanov 26 (2018) 9 (2019) 17
Michael McNiven 29 (2016) 13 (2017) 16
Dustin Tokarski 29 (2013) 13 (2014) 16
Jake Evans 35 (2015) 20 (2016) 15
Morgan Ellis 25 (2011) 11 (2012) 14

Brett Stapley

2018: #43 → 2019: #31

Another relative unknown (as most seventh-round selections are), there wasn’t much reason for voters to strongly consider Stapley for last year’s list. Selected in his second year of eligibility after playing Junior A hockey, we needed to see something before moving him ahead of more known quantities.

The response from the centreman was to post 19 points in his freshman year with the University of Denver. Good habits offer some hope that he can become a true NHL prospect down the line.

A promising start to his collegiate career was enough to raise him 12 spots, but he’ll have to continue to make progress in his time at Denver to challenge for a place in the Top 25.

Cole Fonstad

2018: #36 → 2019: #27

A point-per-game effort in his draft year wasn’t enough to get a fifth-round selection very high on our list in 2018, especially with so many peers added in the same draft. While increasing his goal total last year, his points total stayed flat. That wasn’t enough for him to really make a big impression to stand out from the rest of the pack.

His coach lauded his efforts during Prince’s Albert’s Memorial Cup run. We’ll see what more the forward can muster in his fourth WHL season as he attempts to earn an entry-level contract.

Jack Gorniak

2018: #39 → 2019: #32

Continuing the trend (a common one every year), Gorniak makes it four 2018 draftees with the four biggest jumps up the rankings. A rise of just seven places gives him a long way to go yet before earning a Top 25 spot.

He should have some more eyes on him with so many Habs fans paying attention to the University of Wisconsin this season to watch Cole Caufield’s performance. Perhaps sharing the same ice with the top goal-scoring prospect in Montreal’s system will help accelerate his development.

Josh Brook

2018: #16 → 2019: #11

Brook’s post-draft rise was eight spots last year, despite being injured at the beginning of his 2018-19 campaign and having some issues on defence. His final season with the Moose Jaw Warriors was a story of him overcoming his inconsistency to be a major factor each and every night.

As he gets set to begin his professional career, he leaps up to a position just outside the Top 10, and not far behind Romanov and Noah Juulsen for the title of top defence prospect in the organization. He’s not going to make it an easy decision at training camp to assign him to Laval, especially if he puts his vaunted power-play skills on display in the pre-season for a team that struggled mightily in that situation last year.

Cayden Primeau

2018: #17 → 2019: #12

Primeau and Brook moved up the list together in 2019, both increasing their ranks five positions. That comes on the heels of what was tied for the largest year-to-year jump in 2018, with his advancement of a total of 24 places the most ever seen for a player in this project.

Career rises

Player Rank (Year) New Rank (Year) Change
Player Rank (Year) New Rank (Year) Change
Cayden Primeau 36 (2017) 12 (2019) 24
Charles Hudon 28 (2012) 5 ('15, '17, '18) 23
Morgan Ellis 34 (2010) 11 (2012) 23
Jake Evans 35 (2014) 12 (2018) 23
Brendan Gallagher 24 (2010) 2 ('14, '15, '16) 22
Daniel Carr 28 (2014) 7 (2016) 21
Martin Réway 33 (2013) 12 (2016) 21

There’s nothing to suggest that Primeau has reached his highest point in these rankings. A season in Laval with similar performance to what he showed over the past two years could help him build his edge atop this leaderboard.

All 2019 rises

Player 2018 Rank 2019 Rank Change
Player 2018 Rank 2019 Rank Change
Romanov, Alexander 26 9 17
Stapley, Brett 43 31 12
Fonstad, Cole 36 27 9
Gorniak, Jack 39 32 7
Brook, Josh 16 11 5
Primeau, Cayden 17 12 5
Vejdemo, Lukas 22 17 5
Harris, Jordan 30 25 5
Kotkaniemi, Jesperi 6 2 4
Poehling, Ryan 7 4 3
Fleury, Cale 15 13 2
Olofsson, Jacob 21 19 2
Domi, Max 2 1 1
McShane, Allan 29 28 1
Houde, Samuel 40 39 1

Biggest Drops

David Sklenička

2018: #28 → 2019: #36

The arrival of a young defenceman to the prospect pool via free agency was great news in 2018. Hopes were especially high considering that he had played on the Czech National Team in the World Championship, looking like a much-needed quality left-handed defender for the organization.

He was able to play nearly the full year in Laval, fitting into his new surroundings quite well (much better than his compatriot, Michal Moravčík, who had his contract terminated midway through the season). However, he didn’t really stand out in any way, and doesn’t project to be a better option than many of the drafted prospects who were already in the system. Joël Bouchard will be happy to have him back on his blue line, but the soon-to-be-23-year-old won’t be one of his top options.

Michael McCarron

2018: #23 → 2019: #29

McCarron had risen up the ranks in the first few years of his time in the Canadiens’ system, getting as high as ninth in 2017. A substantial drop followed as he often looked disinterested in the 2017-18 season campaign, and seemed to be on his way out of the organization.

With a new one-year extension signed in mid-September, he was back in the AHL, using a more developed skating stride and the instruction of Bouchard to put together a great start to his campaign. He was on pace to match the point total from his first pro year in St. John’s, but was forced to take time off to have shoulder surgery.

He’s been brought back on another one-year deal, this time for the NHL minimum of $700,000. It’s becoming less likely that he’ll turn into an everyday roster play for the Canadiens, but not everyone is prepared to give up on him just yet.

Artturi Lehkonen

2018: #3 → 2019: #8

Lehkonen was perhaps the player most affected by the change in ranking procedure. The new method increased the chances of a quality prospect moving up the list, and therefore mid-tier NHL players were the ones to drop down to make room. Therefore, not all of his five places can be attributed to a change in his perceived talent.

However, some of the five-place drop was definitely the result of people losing some confidence in his offensive ability after an 11-goal season. It doesn’t help that he’s such a strong possession player that he gets plenty of opportunities for goals, and racks up glaring misses as the season goes on.

Despite the inability to finish off the play, he still finished with a new career high in points, and once again showed that he was able to hit his offensive stride more toward the end of the season. There are other prospects in the system eyeing the middle-six spot he currently occupies, and it will be hard to fend them off at his current conversion rate, but he’ll still have a positive impact on the team no matter where he ends up playing in the future.

Alexandre Alain

2018: #35 → 2019: #38

The drops weren’t nearly as pronounced as the rises; the order generally tended to just shuffle down to allow the top prospects to claim their places higher up. Yet even toward the bottom of the list, one of the largest falls came from Alexandre Alain, who failed to really make an impression with an eight-goal, 28-point season in the AHL.

There’s a lot more hope for most of the other prospects in the system, and even several later-round picks from the 2019 Draft. Alain will need to show a major progession to see a rise next year.

Cam Hillis

2018: #27 → 2019: #30

An early third-round selection in 2018, Hillis’s game impressed enough people to get him some consideration for the official list, but he was just a few spots away from making it. A style of play that seemed to have him right on the verge of a breakout was a factor for those of us who granted him one of the higher slots.

The breakout didn’t come. In fact, his offensive game actually dropped substantially, from a 0.98 points-per-game average in his draft year to a mere 0.67 in an injury-shortened 2018-19 season.

He’s been named the captain of the team that recently claimed the Ontario Hockey League championship. Hopefully his year in Guelph plays out much better than the last.

Jake Evans

2018: #12 → 2019: #15

Jake Evans put together a very good year after turning pro, posting 45 points for the Laval Rocket in 67 games as one of the top centremen. Yet he witnessed top prospects Romanov, Brook, and Primeau all overtake him in the past year, while Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield also made top-10 debuts.

The drop can’t really be attributed to any lapses in Evans’s play, and he’s still one of the top forwards on the list for a call-up from the minor leagues this season. Small steps are needed in his progress to keep himself relevant in a growing prospect pool, but even then there are several players with better tool kits who could continue to surpass him in the future.

All drops

Player 2018 Rank 2019 Rank Change
Player 2018 Rank 2019 Rank Change
Sklenička, David 28 36 -8
McCarron, Michael 23 29 -6
Lehkonen, Artturi 3 8 -5
Alain, Alexandre 35 38 -3
Hillis, Cam 27 30 -3
Evans, Jake 12 15 -3
Mete, Victor 4 6 -2
Drouin, Jonathan 1 3 -2
Henrikson, Arvid 45 46 -1
Koberstein, Nikolas 44 45 -1
Waked, Antoine 42 43 -1
Ylönen, Jesse 13 14 -1
Juulsen, Noah 9 10 -1