It’s been a strange year for hockey — a strange year all around. Our annual ranking of the Montreal Canadiens players under the age of 25 is usually what keeps our hockey craving satisfied in July, as we’re just getting over the excitement of the Stanley Cup Final and the finger-crossing NHL Draft before counting down to September’s training camp, and then the pièce de résistance, hockey season!
Technically, we’re following the same format this year. We did just finish the playoffs and the draft and we’re kicking off the Top 25 Under 25 ... in November.
The voting closed on October 31, 2020, but before we start revealing this year’s rankings (that process begins tomorrow), let’s take a look at who is no longer eligible, those who are no longer in the organization, and the eight newbies.
Love him or be frustrated by him, Jonathan Drouin had landed in the top three every year since he joined the team. Ever since he started sporting the bleu-blanc-rouge, Drouin has been under a microscope with expectations running high. He started off strong at the start of the 2019-20 season before being taken out by a wrist injury that required surgery. Before that incident, he had seven goals and 15 points (7G, 8A) in 17 games.
When injury struck again during the playoffs, this time for Brendan Gallagher with a broken jaw (not to mention his hidden hip injury), Drouin picked that momentum up again. He found chemistry with Nick Suzuki and was rewarded with four points in two games. Although the team didn’t beat the Philadelphia Flyers to move to the next round, Drouin proved he can indeed show up for his team in key situations, and ended his playoff run tied with Suzuki for team lead in playoff scoring with seven points in 10 games. I suspect if Drouin were still eligible for the T25U25 this year, he would still be ranked very high.
I can’t count how many times I’ve said, heard, or read “poor Lehkonen” these last few seasons. It must be at least once per game. The determined winger gives it all he has every night but rarely sees his name on the scoreboard despite his many, many close calls. That being said, it was Lehkonen who scored the game-winning goal in Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the qualifying round to clinch the Canadiens’ first playoff berth in three years. So, there’s that.
Some people tend to focus on this one particular aspect of his play, but when it comes to controlling shot attempts and puck-possession, that’s where the Finnish winger shines.
Lehkonen had been a part of our T25U25 for the past seven seasons, and for the majority of those years he landed in the top 10, twice even seeing the third spot, so it would seem that at least not everyone is thinking “poor Lehkonen.”
Olofsson was only in our T25U25 for one season and just made the cut, tying with Jordan Harris for 25th place. Olofsson was acquired in 2018 from the Minnesota Wild in return for William Bitten, and has spent the majority of his time with the Laval Rocket, with a short three-game NHL stint that resulted in 8:06 of ice time.
For the 57 AHL games that the defenceman played during the 2019-20 season, he finished with 16 points. The puck-mover’s main talent isn’t all about finding the back of the net, it’s about helping his teammates do that. He may have only suited up with the Habs for three games, but he is no stranger to the NHL, with a total of 59 games under his belt between the Canadiens and Wild. This experience is what makes him a good leader at the AHL level for the youngsters and he gets the job done, which is why the Canadiens re-signed him to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2020-21 season.
Two other players would have been included among the graduates had they remained in the Canadiens’ system, but Max Domi and Michael McCarron were traded between the start of the 2019 rankings and these ones.
Domi was our #1 player under 25 a season ago, and things were looking very promising after a 72-point first year in Montreal. He didn’t find that same magic in the second and final year of his bridge deal, and with two younger players forcing him down to a fourth-line role, the decision was made to swap him for winger Josh Anderson as a way to complement the young pivots.
McCarron had been a contentious addition to the system since he was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Sticking around for all seven years of his eligibility, he rose as high as ninth in 2017 but plummeted to 29 last year to fall out of the Top 25 for the first time. He was traded to the Nashville Predators for Laurent Dauphin, who looked good enough in his brief time with Laval last year to earn a new one-year deal.
Outside of those two, several players who had eligibility remaining in this series also departed the organization. With so many prospects now in the system, there were several players with only slim chances of making the NHL who weren’t brought back for another season, or not signed to contracts at all.
|David Sklenička||36||28||-||-||-||-||-||Contract terminated|
Out of the four CHL forwards that were selected by the Canadiens in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, there was just one left standing with an entry-level contract: Cam Hillis. This left Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad, and Samuel Houde back at square one.
Fonstad, a member of Prince Albert Raiders at the time of drafting, was selected by the Canadiens in the fifth round, 128th overall. That year he joined our T25U25 at #36, and the following season, after becoming one of the CHL’s hottest scorers, easily jumped nine spots to #27 in our 2019 poll.
Despite averaging over a point per game in the WHL and posting a career high in points, Fonstad’s 2019-20 season just wasn’t enough to get him a contract offer from the club that drafted him. Thus, he’ll be continuing on with his latest WHL team, the Everett Silvertips.
For his two entries in our poll, McShane hovered in the 29th and 28th spots, respectively. There was no big leap for the centerman, not really due to his lack of talent, but instead falling victim to the other talent that surrounded him.
McShane is a playmaker who has consistently kept his point-per-game tally going for his last three seasons with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, holding steady in the 65-plus points range. He was really picking up his production during last season, so it’s a little surprising as to why he wasn’t offered a contract. Seems the pattern is that the Canadiens’ brass may not be fans of point-per-game players?
Houde was selected in the fifth round after tallying 32 points in 54 games for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL. He was a slightly better goal-scorer than Fonstad and, in his fourth year of Junior hockey, finished second on the team in scoring. Yet, Houde didn’t really stand out and needed a strong showing in order to earn the coveted contract. Putting up 52 points in 44 games would be strong enough in most years, but as we’ve noticed above....
Antoine Waked was one of eight restricted free agents who were awaiting qualifying offers, but that never came. Probably due to his lacklustre performance and total of 10 points during his two seasons with the Laval Rocket.
It was a short run for David Sklenicka, who played 75 AHL career games, all with the Laval Rocket. The defenceman fell victim to solid depth on the blue line and was placed on unconditional waivers. But don’t worry, the termination was mutual. So, all good.
|Kaiden Guhle||2002-01-18||18.8||LD||2020 #16 pick|
|Luke Tuch||2002-03-07||18.7||LW||2020 #47 pick|
|Jan Mysak||2002-06-24||18.4||C||2020 #48 pick|
|Jack Smith||2002-07-06||18.3||C||2020 #101 pick|
|Blake Biondi||2002-04-24||18.5||C||2020 #108 pick|
|Sean Farrell||2001-11-02||19.0||LW||2020 #123 pick|
|Jakub Dobes||2001-05-27||19.4||G||2020 #135 pick|
|Alexander Gordin||2001-07-31||19.3||RW||2020 #170 pick|
From last year’s 14 newcomers, eight players made the cut for the Top 25, with half of them being from the 2019 Draft. This year, we only have eight newbies, all from the 2020 NHL Draft.
Defenceman Kaiden Guhle was the first-round pick. His talent lies in constantly moving his feet and picking up such speed and force that he regularly limits his opponents’ offence. The fact that he’s upped his points game from 17 in 2018-19 to 40 the following season, in the same amount of games, doesn’t hurt. He was also recently named as one of 15 defencemen invited to Team Canada’s camp for the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship, with the tournament being held in Edmonton starting December 25.
As we’ve watched Marc Bergevin put his puzzle together these past few weeks, it’s evident that part of his master plan is to add size to the group. So, even though it was a surprise that he was selected at #47, the addition of 6’2”, 203-pound Luke Tuch during the second round seems pretty fitting.
Immediately after Tuch came on board, Bergevin selected Jan Myšák, which was less surprising. While a tad smaller than Tuch, coming in at 6’0” and 181 pounds, Myšák is a well-rounded player, especially for his age. According to our own Anton Rasegård, Myšák is a “goal-scoring machine” with plenty of pro experience heading into the draft, and “the crown jewel of this year’s Czech draft class.” With 25 points (15G, 10A) racked up last year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Anton isn’t pulling our leg.
The draft class was rounded out by high-schoolers Jack Smith and Blake Biondi, and USHL forward Sean Farrell in the fourth round, goaltender Jakub Dobes in the fifth round, and winger Alexander Gordin in the sixth.
Now that we’re all up to speed ... let the countdown of EOTP’s 2020 Top 25 Under 25 begin!