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2020 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The Long Shots (43-36)

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

Montreal Canadiens Headshots

Few prospects ever escape this category of the Top 25 Under 25. They go through their college or junior career without fixing the critical flaws in their game that made them long shots from the start. They appear in a few editions of this article until their rights expire and they leave the organization.

But there are always exceptions.

A couple of players followed exceptional development paths, like Jake Evans, and proved our original evaluations completely wrong. We also learned more about a few others, which allowed us to slide them up the next year. The unknown quantities are often goalies. After debuting at 35 in the T25U25 in 2017, Cayden Primeau imposed himself as the netminder of the future for the Habs. Maybe others listed below follow a similar development path.

Notes: In the voting graphics in this article, and all articles in this series, the “EOTP” vote is the average rank from the 400-plus ballots from the community. Members “be yours to hold it high” and “Stefan70” are also listed along with the 11 EOTP staff members.

43. Arvid Henrikson - Defenceman - 22 - Lake Superior State University

Henrikson won’t ever join the Canadiens on the ice, but the team still holds his right due to the college path he has chosen. By moving overseas to play in the USHL, and then enrolling into Lake Superior State University, Henrikson has changed his status. Like many of their other prospects, he will remain under the Habs’ banner until the end of his college career — three more years— or until he turns 25.

The defenceman is a bet on size that didn’t pan out. He didn’t manage to build any kind of NHL projectable game around his exceptional 6’5’’ frame. His natural physique advantages still serve him well on the ice with Lake Superior, but his lack of puck skills limit his role. He is a pure shutdown defender and the professional leagues have evolved past that type of blue-liner.

Still, even if Henrikson can’t really be considered a prospect anymore, he still earned himself an education out of his hockey talents. It remains a great accomplishment.

42. Kieran Ruscheinski - Defenceman - 19 - Calgary Northstars Midget AAA

With their seventh-round pick of the 2019 draft, the Montreal Canadiens went far off the board. So far that they probably even had a few regular Western Canada NHL scouts googling the name Kieran Rusheinski. With their selection, they reinforced the adage that says that no matter where you are playing competitive hockey, someone is watching and taking notes.

Did Montreal manage to give hope to a thousand more draft-eligible kids playing in lower-level leagues with that pick? Yes. Did they outsmart the rest of the NHL? Probably not. Seventh-round picks are historically projects, players who scouts absolutely adore even if they don’t see as likely NHLers.

Ruscheinski is definitely not a likely NHLer. A lot has to break right for him to even reach a professional career. But at least his tool kit is more interesting than Henrikson’s. He has speed, some quickness and handling ability to complement his 6’6’’ size. Turning quickly still poses as a problem for the prospect, but he can follow the play up and down the ice and uses his large range to disrupt the play and catch the puck.

The defenceman is another player bound for college. The Habs will also get to oversee his athletic development for many years.

41. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - 23 - Laval Rocket

Verbeek is a rocket on skates, but he is the typical story of what happens to a prospect when he loses his natural advantage over his peers.

In the OHL, he used to fly past everyone else to grab loose pucks, rush up ice, and reach teammates. He created breakaways and didn’t let the opposition have an ounce of space. He was consistently on their heels, taking away their stick, and tracking back hard to deny them any opportunities to organize their offence.

Verbeek can still do all of that, but a lot less effectively. In the AHL, everyone is fast — almost as fast as in the NHL — and there aren’t many loose pucks to weaponize. To succeed in that league, you need fast feet and mind to create offence or even to hold a role as a defensive specialist.

The forward had a successful season with the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL last year, scoring 19 points in 21 games, but he just turned 23. At this point of his career he will probably bounce around lower professional leagues in North America and/or Europe.

40. Michael Pezzetta- Forward - 22 - Laval Rocket

At his best, Pezzetta makes the other team forget their game plan with his unrelenting physicality. But at his worst, it’s his own team who breaks down from his lack of discipline.

Basically, not much has changed for Pezzetta since his junior days. He controls himself better (although he still has moments where he loses the focus of the game and commits dangerous offences), weaponizes his body a little better, and has adapted his scoring game somewhat to the professional game.

His only standout skill, however, is his deflection ability. He can hit pucks mid-air and redirect them past the goalie, or create dangerous rebounds that teammates can pounce on. He also has a powerful release but it lacks the quickness and the deceptive elements necessary to make the forward a more consistent scorer.

Pezzeta is a player Joël Bouchard likes. The coach relies on him as a checking presence in his bottom six, but it’s hard to see him play that role or make any kind of positive contribution to an NHL team due to his vanilla skill set.

39. Jakub Dobeš - Goaltender - 18 - Omaha (USHL)

Dobeš was born in the Czech Republic but moved to the St. Louis region in the United States for the 2017-18 season. In the last year, he played a few games in the NAHL and then moved up to the USHL. The Omaha Lancers, Rhett Pitlick’s team before he was traded, tried him between the pipes.

His numbers dropped after his move to the higher league, but that’s expected considering the sudden increase in level of competition. He will spend another year getting accustomed to the USHL speed of play, and sometimes spotty defence, before joining Ohio State University.

Like most goalies selected in the later rounds, Dobeš has a lot of work ahead of him to round out both the technical and mental aspects of his game. Fortunately, there is a reason why Montreal likes to select goalies going the NCAA route. Netminders usually take longer to develop and the team will be able to oversee Dobeš’s progression over five years instead of two if he had moved to the CHL.

38. Jack Gorniak - Forward - 21 - Wisconsin Badgers

Gorniak joined the Wisconsin Badgers last season as a fast and skilled player. But so far in his two years with the team, he has only used the first of those two qualities. His game has been all about speeding up ice on the forecheck and creating turnovers. On the fourth line of the Badgers, that’s how he has generated the bulk of his offence. He seldom showed the rushing ability that made his success in high school.

I think it was Mike Babcock who said: ‘‘If you check for a couple of seasons, you check for a career.’’

It could happen to Gorniak. If he can’t develop his vision, scoring, and playmaking ability and generally show more of his offensive talents in his Junior season with the Badgers, he might end his NCAA days as a complementary bottom-six forward. And if that’s the case, a professional contract won’t await him.

37. Frederik Dichow - Goaltender - 19 - Sudbury Wolves

With Malmö last season, the tall Danish goalie struggled a bit with the mental game. It is tough to be left alone defending and it happened quite often over the course of the year. The move to Sudbury might be a needed fresh start for the goalie, and an occasion to experience North American hockey.

Dichow still has to hone his technique; he has a tendency to fall down low into the butterfly stance which has left some gaps up high. He should stay standing longer, at least until he fills out.

With the goalie situation in Montreal, he is on the outside looking in for now, but a good year in Sudbury might change that next year.

36. Jacob LeGuerrier - Defenceman - 19 - Soo Greyhounds

LeGuerrier is a serviceable bottom-three defenceman in the OHL. His skating allows him to shadow quick Junior attackers and push them out of dangerous areas. But besides his shot, which had him utilized as a half-wall threat on the powerplay of the Greyhounds, LeGuerrier doesn’t bring any offensive or transition value.

His physical advantages, experience, and the increased ice-time could help him increase his production next season. But, unless a massive transformation happens, it would be surprising to see the defenceman earn a contract at the end of the next season. The prospect pool is already overflowing with good to great left-shot defencemen and LeGuerrier’s game isn’t projectable to the NHL. He will likely play an extra overage year for a Junior team somewhere or go the U Sport route.

Cracking the Canadiens’ roster would be an impressive feat for any of these prospect. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at five players who may come a little closer to making the cut.