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2020 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: A Difference of Opinion — EOTP staff vs. community

Highlighting some of the most significant divides between the writers and the readers.

NHL: JUL 14 Canadiens Training Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following up our reveal of the annual Top 25 Montreal Canadiens players under the age of 25, we look at some of the discrepancies between how those of us on the Eyes On The Prize staff ranked the list compared to those of the hundreds of community members who participated. There are always a few notable divides between the two groups, and this year was no different.

While everyone reached a general agreement on most of the players under consideration — 31 of the 43 were ranked two or fewer spots apart by the two groups — there were a few whom we are more bullish on, or some for whom the community sees more promising futures. In this article, we’ll look at six of the most significant gaps to be found in the results, with the voting broken down to get a clear picture of how each player is regarded.

The table below separates the rankings of the two groups (11 members of the staff, and 421 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 determine the lists in parentheses), and click a player’s name to go to his T25U25 profile.

2020 Rankings

Player Official Rank Staff Rank Community Rank Difference
Player Official Rank Staff Rank Community Rank Difference
Suzuki, Nick 01 01 (1.00) 01 (1.23) 0
Kotkaniemi, Jesperi 02 02 (2.09) 02 (1.95) 0
Caufield, Cole 03 03 (3.27) 04 (4.06) -1
Romanov, Alexander 04 04 (3.91) 03 (3.67) +1
Norlinder, Mattias 05 05 (5.64) 07 (8.96) -2
Primeau, Cayden 06 06 (7.27) 05 (6.68) +1
Mete, Victor 07 07 (7.73) 08 (10.00) -1
Guhle, Kaiden 08 08 (9.55) 09 (10.25) -1
Poehling, Ryan 09 10 (10.27) 06 (8.74) +4
Evans, Jake 10 09 (10.18) 11 (10.81) -2
Fleury, Cale 11 12 (12.64) 10 (10.72) +2
Juulsen, Noah 12 11 (12.36) 12 (11.16) -1
Ylönen, Jesse 13 13 (12.91) 16 (15.07) -3
Brook, Josh 14 14 (13.63) 14 (14.55) 0
Struble, Jayden 15 15 (14.45) 13 (14.22) +2
Harris, Jordan 16 16 (16.91) 15 (14.95) +1
Vejdemo, Lukas 17 18 (18.00) 18 (19.89) 0
Mysak, Jan 18 17 (17.91) 17 (17.34) 0
Hillis, Cam 19 19 (20.55) 20 (21.60) -1
Stapley, Brett 20 20 (20.91) 29 (28.10) -9
Farrell, Sean 21 22 (22.64) 23 (24.12 -1
McNiven, Michael 22 23 (23.27) 26 (25.90) -3
Leskinen, Otto 23 21 (22.09) 24 (24.47) -3
Tuch, Luke 24 25 (24.91) 19 (20.13) +6
Olofsson, Jacob 25 26 (25.00) 21 (23.06) +5
Pitlick, Rhett 26 24 (24.18) 30 (28.39) -6
Gordin, Alexander 27 27 (27.00) 27 (27.26) 0
Teasdale, Joêl 28 29 (28.91) 22 (23.81) +7
Fairbrother, Gianni 29 28 (27.00) 28 (27.38) 0
Harvey-Pinard, Rafaël 30 30 (30.45) 31 (29.53) -1
Smith, Jack 31 33 (32.73) 32 (31.35) +1
Biondi, Blake 32 32 (32.45) 33 (31.54) -1
Khisamutdinov, Arsen 33 34 (32.91) 34 (32.08) 0
Alain, Alexandre 34 31 (31.55) 37 (34.32) -6
Ikonen, Joni 35 35 (34.91) 25 (25.28) +10
LeGuerrier, Jacob 36 39 (36.91) 35 (32.81) +4
Dichow, Frederik 37 36 (35.82) 38 (34.47) -2
Gorniak, Jack 38 37 (36.18) 36 (33.42) +1
Dobes, Jakub 39 38 (36.91) 40 (36.71) -2
Pezzetta, Michael 40 40 (37.36) 41 (37.55) -1
Verbeek, Hayden 41 42 (39.36) 39 (35.84) +3
Ruscheinski, Kieran 42 41 (39.18) 42 (38.15) -1
Henrikson, Arvid 43 43 (42.09) 43 (38.99) 0

As you can see, the gaps tend to be larger in the middle where the maximum range is possible, and smaller toward either end of the list. Even so, there are some differences located near the top.

Mattias Norlinder

The gap from the staff vote may have only been two, but the difference in average ranking for Norlinder was greater than three places, and that’s quite large for a player finishing in the top five. That remains about the same as it was last year — even if it occurs 11 spots higher in the countdown this time around.

However over the graphics in this article to move the slider and see each graph

Despite the differences, both groups of voters had fifth place as the most common landing spot for the defenceman, with nearly 20% of the community votes placing him there and about 40% ranking him sixth or higher. His average on the community ballot is moved lower by the majority of votes tailing off to as low of 30th, while the staff’s are concentrated in the fourth-to-sixth range.

As one of the panellists to have him at fourth, I believe he has a strong chance of becoming a top-four defenceman at the NHL level, especially if paired with a complementary defensive-minded player (of which there are several coming up through the ranks) to best use his transition abilities. Many of the voters clearly held similar views, though that obviously wasn’t the prevailing projection among the community.

I find this ranking ... kinda crazy? — jp_three

[A]ll he’s proved is that he is able to compete in the HockeyAllsvenskan league, and he’s not been impressive thus far in the SHL. — VolcanoMan

I had Mattias at 8, giving him room to move up the board again next year! — FlowerPower60

Yes the future is bright for Montreal defensive positions. — Paul Kavanagh

Anybody else thinking Andrei Markov? — Dale Campbell

In 2020, I and many other people decided there were few if any other defencemen in the system they would rather hold on to than Norlinder. He and (to a greater extent) Alexander Romanov are regarded by those of us on the staff as the future of the Montreal blue line, the cream of a very strong crop of nine defencemen who cracked the top 16.

Ryan Poehling

When I first looked into Poehling ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft, my impression was that his ceiling was a third-line role. His main value was the fact that his floor wasn’t a whole lot lower, and an NHL career was virtually assured. While prospects with such a projection are sought at the draft, I hold players with at least a decent chance of becoming top-six forwards or top-four defencemen in higher regard.

To close out his 2018-19 season, it seemed Poehling’s projection was growing from that original development path. A hat-trick performance toward the tail end of the 2019 World Junior Championship, and an incredible three goals and the shootout winner in his NHL debut forced a re-evaluation of that third-line ceiling.

In 2019-20, however, after sustaining a concussion in the NHL pre-season, he never showed any glimpses of that debut performance. He had just two points in 27 games with the Canadiens, and a disappointing 13 points in 36 contests in Laval. From can’t-miss status to a brief period of hope for a middle-six role, a key spot in an NHL lineup may not be as automatic as previously assumed.

My ranking of 14th (one behind Jake Evans) may have been the lowest among the staff, but our average ranking did drop six places from 2019, with no vote higher than sixth after he rose to fourth on the list a year ago.

Our community wasn’t as concerned with the rookie-year struggles as we were, dropping him just two places on the EOTP ranking. There’s a lot more faith that his 2019-20 season was just a hiccup in his trejectory that will see him carve out an effective career.

I think 9 is way too low for him. I had him at 5. — Dale Campbell

The talent is there, the drive is evident. The points will come. — Pbis

I think the consensus ranking is right (and a couple spots above where I placed him….) — Zdog

Right now, his floor of a 4th line C is very underwhelming — Silvertip

[...] I am not hopeful about his chances of being a regular NHLer [...] — KyloRen758

Despite his performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 6, 2019, it seems there’s more work to be done than some people thought, and that group may include Poehling himself, who likely thought an opening-day spot was his for the taking last year.

For whatever reason, he couldn’t find his game in the AHL, and in hindsight it probably didn’t help that the coaches in the organization offered excuses for his play, with even Julien saying that some players perform better in the NHL than they do in the minors. That vote of confidence didn’t have the desired effect on Poehling’s game, and now the centreman has to prove himself that much more after the head coach stuck his neck out for a player who didn’t vindicate his comments.

Brett Stapley

The third seventh-rounder to rank inside the top 20, Brett Stapley can now claim one of the largest rises from his debut in this series. All three of those last-round selections can be found at the top of that list (which will be introduced in the next article that looks at the rises and drops from 2019).

His rise is thanks to a strong sophomore season at the University of Denver in which he came close to the point-per-game mark, showing off some great playmaking skills . It’s that passing ability that some of us feel could give him the edge over players he would be competing with for final roster spots in the future.

Seven members of the staff have Stapley comfortably within the Top 25, seeing a good chance of him making the NHL. Readers are more skeptical, with only 30% granting him a place on the official list.

[... I]f he can learn the same way Evans did then I can see him becoming a solid third- to fourth-line C — Ctc55

I had him at 20. I was impressed with him after his first season and wrote in my notes that he could be another Jake Evans. — The JD Man

I think a ranking of 20 is too high. I had Stapley at 25 and have Tuch, Leskinen, Farrell, Khisamutdinov and Pitlick ahead of him. — habit

Some of us see Stapley falling in the same group as Evans, Poehling, and possibly Lukas Vejdemo, players who could take bottom-six centre roles at the NHL level, and that thinking was reflected by those in the community who had him ranked quite high. There’s a good base of skills to work with in his case, which could lead to a good career.

Unlike in previous years, there is now a bit of faith that the lagging aspects of a prospect’s game can be developed once he gets to the AHL. For a long period of time, it seemed that no improvement was made by prospects once they entered the minor-league system, but we’ve recently seen Cale Fleury, Alex Belzile, Evans, and Vejdemo makes solid big-league debuts after being moulded by Joël Bouchard in Laval. At least for bottom-of-the-lineup players, there’s mounting evidence to suggest that they don’t need to be finished products when they turn pro to have a shot, and it’s possible that Stapley will fit that bill.

Luke Tuch

With a chance to impress on a depleted U.S. National Team Development Program squad, Luke Tuch didn’t really jump to the top of the list of prospects on what has become one the top sources for NHL talent. Several of his teammates scored more goals and had more points, so his numbers versus fellow teenagers didn’t scream “power forward” as his most optimistic projections suggested.

Given that performance, not many on the EOTP staff were overly impressed with his selection, and he ended up behind fellow second-rounder Jan Mysak as well as fourth-round pick Sean Farrell. His spot at 24th is the second-lowest debut for second-round selection in the 11 years of this project.

Second-round debuts

Player Draft year (#) T25U25 Debut
Player Draft year (#) T25U25 Debut
Sebastian Collberg 2012 (33) 10
Joni Ikonen 2017 (58) 11
Artturi Lehkonen 2013 (55) 13
Jesse Ylönen 2018 (35) 13
Dalton Thrower 2012 (51) 16
Jacob de la Rose 2013 (34) 17
Jan Mysak 2020 (48) 18
Jayden Struble 2019 (46) 20
Jacob Olofsson 2018 (56) 21
Zachary Fucale 2013 (36) 22
Josh Brook 2017 (56) 24
Luke Tuch 2020 (47) 24
Alexander Romanov 2018 (38) 26

Fortunately for him, our initial ranks don’t always predict the path a prospect will take in the organization. The player sitting last in the table above is the only one so far to not make the Top 25 in his debut, and it’s possible that Alexander Romanov will become one of the top prospects this project has ever seen. The player just above him, Josh Brook, who also debuted at 24, has been as high as 11th in the years since, and now thought to have a decent shot at an NHL career.

While the staff vote was distributed from around his spot at 24, the community had his votes centred around the 19-20 spot, which would put him closer to an average inaugural placement for a second-rounder. There are a few votes that trail off into the late 30s from readers even less convinced that he’ll reach his ceiling than we were.

Surprised that he’s so low and that the staff votes were so consistent. — mersecan

If you’re truly ranking based on who you’d rather not lose, then I put this type of player above other players in the system that are currently ranked ahead of him. — Cheminot11

I had him a bit higher than this but I’m not outraged to see him at 24 — Pinkoir

[... T]his seems more of a McCarron pick rather than say a Josh Anderson pick ... — Habitants9

With his distrubution among the larger community sample ranging from eighth to 31st, there is no clear idea of what he will be able to provide in the future. We also haven’t been able to adjust our initial impressions based on his play in the NCAA, as his collegiate career has been delayed by the pandemic, with Boston University yet to play a game in 2020-21. Once that changes (the team’s season is currently scheduled to start on January 1 versus Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble’s Northeastern University), we can begin to revisit our evaluations.

Joël Teasdale

Another member who is on this list for a second year running, it seems we just aren’t as confident in Teasdale’s ability as our community is. Last year we had him at 24 versus the readers’ placement at 18. After a full year away from the game with a serious knee injury, both groups have dropped him down about five spots as everyone else has taken steps, and he’s been knocked out of the Top 25.

There was a small bit of support for Teasdale to make the list on our end, as four staff members had him at 25, but that’s not close to the 59% of community respondents who had him 25th or higher.

I’m surprised that Teasdale didn’t make the top 25. — 24 Cups

I am not a believer in his talent but 1.5 years away will do that to any prospect. — The JD Man

Book it: Teasdale will play in the NHL in Montreal and be a serviceable bottom-six power forward good for 15 goals a year. — Veilleux8

His last action was an incredible post-season run with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in his final year of Junior, a performance that he hoped to carry into his professional career. After an unexpected sabbatical, he will be even more motivated to prove his game translates to the AHL, and he should have a good year with the Laval Rocket when the minor-league team gets rolling.

Joni Ikonen

We’ve put this article together for the past four years, and Ikonen has featured in every one of them.

Back in his draft year of 2017, the controversy wasn’t so much about placing him three spots higher than the community had him, but ranking him above that year’s first-round pick, Poehling. Ikonen was seen to have top-six potential, and Poehling, while more likely to reach his ceiling, projected as a bottom-six NHLer.

The next year, Poehling moved up five spots on the EOTP ranking, but Ikonen didn’t consolidate his lofty debut after leaving Frölunda to play in Liiga, where he had a disappointing 14 points in 52 games. It dropped him from 11th to 21st on our list, though only to 15th among the community, who held out hope for his top-six talents.

Despite playing just 13 games since that draft-plus-one season, our readers still place some hope in his skills, while most of us on the staff have written off his chances of making it to the NHL.

Not a single member of the staff had Ikonen in the Top 25; two votes at 28 were the extent of the faith in his future. However, 51% of readers had him in the Top 25. It’s not as though our members aren’t beginning to sour on him, however, as that number was 91% in 2019.

The kid can’t stay on the ice for 6 minutes without being injured. — Naslund 26

His play is NOT 35th. — krob1000

A pity, because the raw talent is there, no doubt about that at all. — Stefan70

If he plays an almost full (since he’s still injured) season and produces well, he will climb back up. — VinceHABS

Had him ranked #21 on my personal list. The talent & potential is there, if he can stay healthy. — Habosaurus

In the gallery below, you can see confidence in an NHL future slowly waning from a community that has been very patient with Ikonen as he works though a plague of injuries. A more widespread distribution is clinging to a spot at 25 this year as we still await a return to hockey action.

If he can recover from the latest injury he’s sustained, he has the ability to remind everyone of his clear offensive skill. He did that in a mere 13 games in 2018-19, a tantalizing, frustrating glimpse of the talent at his disposal. It won’t take much for him to begin to re-establish a place on our list, but even one game of action is proving a difficult ask of him at the moment.

The best feature of this project is that we get to re-evaluate the players every year, and placement in one season has little bearing on where they’ll end up the next. At 21 years of age, there’s time for Ikonen to turn his career around and put himself back on the radar as a prospect to watch. Many of us, however, have turned our gaze elsewhere.