As the Top 25 Under 25 started adding more depth, we’ve separated those outside the Top 25 into different categories. The players in this article, ranked 35-31, are still long shots, but there is slightly more optimism about this group.
All of these players have qualities that not only got them drafted or signed to contracts, but gives them some upside in the organization. However, there are also deficiencies, question marks, or both.
These are the biggest young projects in the Montreal Canadiens system.
35. Joni Ikonen - C - 21 - Ilves (Liiga)
There is a lot to say about Joni Ikonen, but nothing from the recent past. This is the reason for his drop down the rankings. The prospect who entered the organization with so much hope did not play any games in the 2019-20 season, and only 13 over the last two seasons. Now, while the Liiga season has started, Ikonen remains on the sidelines with another injury.
Ikonen’s cumulative drop from 11th to 35th is the largest in T25U25 history, and his year-to-year fall from 20th last year to 35th is second-highest in history.
The things that make Ikonen a prospect are the same things that had him ranked ahead of Ryan Poehling when they joined the organization together in 2017 in that year’s Top 25 Under 25. The problem is those are so far away that we have no idea what he will look like when he finally makes it back on the ice. It should be noted that in his 13 games in 2018-19, Ikonen had five goals and five assists.
The community was the highest on the forward, ranking him at 25th. Matt and myself were next at 28. Patrik, who is the most familiar with the prospect, had him lowest of all, and he explains in reasoning in the accompanying podcast that will be added at the end of this article.
For me, I am skeptical of his chances of even getting an NHL contract at this point, but he is still 21 years old. His offensive upside is higher than a lot of players ranked ahead of him, but there is no indication if he will even come close to reaching it. The missed game action definitely hurts his development, and that’s reflected by where he ended up in the rankings.
34 - Alexandre Alain - RW - 23 - Laval Rocket
Alexandre Alain is entering the third year of his entry-level contract after being signed from the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. In 60 games, he had 11 goals and 13 assists, slightly better production on a per-game pace than his eight goals and 20 assists in 72 games the year earlier.
Alain is a player whose upside tops out in a bottom-six role if he ever makes the NHL. He played in every situation for Joël Bouchard’s Rocket. His shot from the circle is what made him a great scorer in the QMJHL, and it’s something that has shown it can play at the AHL level as well, especially on a second power-play unit. He’s responsible defensively and kills penalties.
It would be smart for Alain to look at his Rocket teammate Alex Belzile’s path to the NHL, because that path is there for the 23-year-old. His play on the Rocket’s third line over the last two years with Lukas Vejdemo made them a fun line to watch, and at times would lead the Rocket in ice time because of their strong play.
It’s not surprising that most of his highest votes are from people who have seen Alain play a lot in the AHL. His stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, and he doesn’t have a pedigree of being a draft pick, but he does things to help you win hockey games and those guys are players who have a chance to move up to the NHL.
The chances of him making an impact at that level is low, and there are many players ahead of him on the depth chart. That is reflected in his rating.
33 - Arsen Khisamutdinov - LW - 22 - Laval Rocket
Khisamutdinov played 45 games between the KHL and the Russian minor league last year. He had a goal and two assists in 31 KHL games, adding nine goals and four assists in 14 VHL games.
What changes things for Khisamutdinov is the fact that he has signed his entry-level contract with the team and is set to make his North American pro debut this season. The 2019 sixth-round pick will have to wait because of the pandemic situation and the delay to the start of both the NHL and AHL seasons.
Khisamutdinov’s strength is his offensive game. He moves well on his skates, and has puck skills to match. He also has size (6’3”, 203 lbs.) that allows him to be strong against defenders and a presence in front of the net.
He will need to improve some aspects of his game like most projects on this list, but the team has obviously seen enough to warrant signing him to a contract, and if he gets a chance to play this season, his ranking will have a chance to move up going forward.
32 - Blake Biondi - C - 18 - University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Coming from the Minnesota high school ranks is not inspiring a lot of confidence from the voting panel. Biondi, the 108th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft, makes his debut at #32. Familiarity is a major issue here, as the data is just not that reliable.
He scored 37 goals and 39 assists in just 25 games in 2019-20, and offence is a major part of his game. He was also Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey, which is a big honour in the State of Hockey. However, there are a lot of questions to how that will progress at the NCAA level, and past that the professional level.
His skating has issues, and his footwork affects how he can shoot the puck as well. He does move a lot and his reaction is good. It allows him to jump opponents’ passes and create chances.
Biondi was ranked 122nd in EOTP’s consensus rankings, and had four rankings inside the top 100, including Bob McKenzie’s. At Minnesota-Duluth, he will have an opportunity to raise the level of competition he will face and provide everyone with a better ability to project his potential going forward.
31 - Jack Smith - F - 18 - Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Picked just seven spots ahead of Biondi, Smith slots one spot ahead of his Minnesota high-school counterpart in the T25U25. Smith’s offensive numbers were also impressive, split among his high-school team, and an elite high-school hockey league.
Smith was ranked by NHL Central Scouting but found himself behind Biondi in that ranking, and none of the sources of EOTP’s consensus rankings had him ranked. He is set to play this season in the USHL before enrolling at the University of Minnesota-Duluth alongside Biondi, likely for the 2021-22 season.
He is coming off of a season where he battled injuries, limiting the ability for many people to view him. The Canadiens trusted their viewings that they had the previous two years, and saw a player worth taking a chance on.
Smith can attack the offensive zone with speed, and can be deceptive with passing lanes. Like Biondi, he will be entering a league that will provide him with a significant boost in competition, and everyone will get a better feeling for what he can provide going forward.
There is a history of players in this range making significant jumps forward based on what they are able to show. Most of the time, these players have at least made an appearance at the team’s development camp where fans can catch a glimpse of the player, but that was not possible this year, and Smith and Biondi’s rankings were affected as a result.
After looking at some of the players at the bottom end of the list, Saturday we profile the five players who just missed making the the cut for the Top 25 Under 25.
Patrik and Anton discuss this group of players in podcast form, and you can listen below.