It’s time to begin Eyes On The Prize’s 12th annual Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25!
Editor’s note: Since Jesperi Kotkaniemi was lost via offer sheet partway through the project, we moved everyone who ranked behind him up a spot from the initial results, and had 41 players ranked.
The series focuses on the top young talent in the organization, projecting their skills to identify who will compete (or not) for places on the NHL roster in the future, slotting them in among those who have already made it. Any player born after September 15, 1996 — the cutoff date for the 2015 NHL Draft — was eligible for inclusion.
Two regular features of the Top 25 have graduated from the project. Lukas Vejdemo and Jake Evans have been part of the official list since 2015 and 2016, respectively, with Vejdemo getting as high as 17, and Evans cracking the top 10 for the first time in 2020.
A success story for the slow, steady approach to long-term prospects, Evans has gone from a seventh-round pick in 2014, through his full university term and earning a business degree, to a year of developing in the AHL, and finally earning a place on the roster and playing important minutes during the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final earlier this summer. As the roster stands, he’s set to play a key shutdown role for the Canadiens when the new season beings. Vejdemo, meanwhile, has a new contract to stay in the organization, and he will push for a fourth-line position.
The main feature of last year’s list was the number of young defencemen who ranked in the top 15, a real pipeline of talent that would keep the blue line stocked for years to come. Over the course of the previous season, three of those defencemen were claimed by other teams.
|Victor Mete||7||6||4||12||19||-||Lost on waivers|
|Cale Fleury||11||13||15||25||-||-||Lost in expansion|
|Noah Juulsen||12||10||9||8||13||17||Lost on waivers|
|Alexandre Alain||34||38||35||-||-||-||Contract terminated|
|Hayden Verbeek||41||37||37||-||-||-||Traded to DET|
It began in the pre-season with the Florida Panthers taking Noah Juulsen off waivers as the Habs tried to give Juulsen some needed playing time after a serious injury impacted him in the previous campaign. In the end, he was only able to play nine games last year: four for the Panthers and five in the AHL.
Victor Mete, one of the highest-ranked defencemen on our list for several years, was stuck in limbo in 2020-21, playing just 14 games by the time the trade deadline was rolling around. Marc Bergevin tried to get him through waivers to free up some cap space for the deadline, but the Ottawa Senators snatched him up.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the expansion draft, with Carey Price’s availability being one of the top stories leading up to the reveal of the selections. In the end, the Seattle Kraken opted to take Cale Fleury, our 11th-ranked player last year, uniting him with brother Haydn on their inaugural roster.
There was a contract termination for Alexandre Alain as he pursued different career opportunities, and a trade of rarely used Hayden Verbeek to the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline.
Several drafted prospects were also left unsigned and free to join other organizations. Jacob LeGuerrier and Kieran Ruscheinski never ranked high on our list in their two years under the Habs umbrella, but Joni Ikonen did, starting out at #11 in his draft year before settling into a spot at 20.
Ikonen’s story is an unfortunate one. A centreman who had clear top-six talent, he couldn’t stay healthy as he developed in Europe. He played a total of 41 games in the previous three seasons and had a disappointing five points in 23 games last year.
Losing so many defencemen, and being skewed heavily toward those who shoot left among those who remained, there was an obvious effort to add right-handed defencemen to the organization during the 2021 entry draft, with three of the nine selections playing that rarest of skating positions.
|Logan Mailloux||2003-04-15||18.4||RD||2021 #31 pick|
|Riley Kidney||2003-03-25||18.4||C||2021 #63 pick|
|Oliver Kapanen||2003-07-29||18.1||C||2021 #64 pick|
|Dmitri Kostenko||2002-09-25||18.9||RD||2021 #87 pick|
|William Trudeau||2002-10-11||18.9||LD||2021 #113 pick|
|Daniil Sobolev||2003-03-03||18.5||RD||2021 #142 pick|
|Joshua Roy||2003-08-06||18.1||RW||2021 #150 pick|
|Xavier Simoneau||2001-05-19||20.3||C||2021 #191 pick|
|Joe Vrbetic||2002-10-24||18.8||G||2021 #214 pick|
Drafting late in most rounds after the surprise playoff run, the quality of prospects in a relatively weak draft was going to be low. With that as the stage, the organization made the controversial decision to select Logan Mailloux with its first-round selection. There was a range of opinions when the selection was made, and that has carried over to this project, which we’ll look at when his ranking comes up in the reveal.
We also saw the additions of right-shooting defencemen Dmitri Kostenko and Daniil Sobolev, and the left-handed William Trudeau to fill out the defence.
The second round was dedicated to adding some centremen, with Riley Kidney and Oliver Kapanen coming on board. The final three picks Montreal made were for winger Joshua Roy, 20-year-old centre Xavier Simoneau, and goaltender Joe Vrbetic, whose poor numbers the organization is banking on being the result of the bad team he played for and not his underlying ability.
That’s 10 departing players from last year’s ballot and nine new drafted prospects, dropping the list of players from 43 a year ago to 42 in 2021. The players considered for this year’s ranking were:
|Player||DOB||Age||Pos||Eligible for 2022|
|Player||DOB||Age||Pos||Eligible for 2022|
To determine the order, EOTP staff members were offered individual ballots, and two members of our community were chosen based on the number of comments that had been posted in our weekly prospect articles throughout the 2020-21 season, with past participants and those with poor moderation histories passed over to find our selections. Joining eight of our contributors on the voting panel are lunchboxgarcia (listed as “garcia“ for short on the series’ voting graphics) and Jlevy88, whose ballots carried just as much weight in determining the order.
A final vote came from the hundreds of members who submitted a ballot. We received 449 responses this time around between staff and readers, so thank you to everyone who took the time to evaluate players and participate in the project.
I removed the individual panellist’s ballots from the sample. From those that remained, I disregarded any ranks that went beyond the number a person said they had ranked (e.g. ranks 38-42 for someone who answered “37” for the length of their list).
Rankings for each player were averaged across all ballots that had the player in question ranked, and those averages were sorted from lowest to highest to make the community vote.
The same procedure was ultimately used to determine the 2021 order from the 11 total ballots included.
If you didn’t save your list and would like to follow along as the players are revealed, make a request in the comments, and we will send it to you.
Now that you know how we went about making the list, we’ll begin revealing it right away. Tomorrow we start the countdown with a look at the players who ranked from 42 to 31.