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.
Each year we highlight the players who just missed out on making our official list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the Montreal Canadiens organization. This time, the five players span the range from newly drafted prospects with one glaring flaw to a player in his final year of eligibility who has decided to take his talents elsewhere.
30. Rhett Pitlick - Forward - 20 - University of Minnesota
Pitlick’s stock has been volatile ever since he entered the Canadiens organization as a fifth-round pick in 2019. He entered the ranking as the #23 player in 2019 as his skill and numbers were highly regarded. He dropped to #26 in 2020, mostly due to new additions, but this year dropped another five spots.
Now 20, Pitlick played his second full USHL season in 2019-20. He went from 17 goals and 25 assists (41 points) in 45 games to 13 goals and 21 assists (34 points) in 43 games and was traded for the second straight season.
Voters likely needed to see an improvement in his numbers to keep him in a higher range, and the fact that he stayed with similar totals, if not slightly lower, played a part in his ranking.
As he starts his NCAA career this year at the University of Minnesota, it will be interesting to see whether he’s able to take the next step.
29. Alexander Gordin - RW - 20 - SKA-Neva Saint Petersburg (VHL)
In terms of pure hand skills, you’re not going to find a better player in the Canadiens’ prospect pool than Gordin. He’s a solid playmaker who threads passes around the offensive zone, and an even better goal-scorer with a shot that’s deceptive, quick, and accurate.
He had 39 goals in his draft year playing in Russia’s Junior league, adding another 23 for the same MHL club in 49 games last year. He ended the campaign with three goals and three assists in five post-season contests.
Based solely on his offensive talents and instincts, you’d expect to find him much higher on this list. The problem is that his skating ability lags behind his other skills. It’s not just the usual below-average skating stride of your typical young player that needs a bit of tweaking, but a case of it needing a complete overhaul for him to be capable of having a positive impact at five-on-five. There are concerns about both his skating technique and his physical fitness that would need to see major improvements for him to become a legitimate NHL prospect.
This year will be an important one for him. After a few years in the Junior league, he will now be playing in the Russian system’s equivalent of the AHL, with hopes of getting some playing time in the KHL. If he has addressed some of the issues that have affected him so far and earns some minutes in Russia’s top league, his talent will boost him up this list in 2022.
28. Dmitri Kostenko - RD/LD - 18 - Khimik Voskresensk (VHL)
As part of Montreal’s plan to add right-shooting defencemen in the 2021 NHL Draft, they selected Dmitri Kostenko in the third round as the second of three players who met those criteria.
Kostenko actually played his draft season on the left side, and that hampered his developing defensive game. It meant he was defending zone entries with his stick to the inside, and in poor position to help his team on the breakout. A player can compenate for that with good positioning and awareness of his surroundings — plenty of defencemen play on their off-side at the NHL level — but Kostenko lacks those instincts, and often looks out of his depth in the defensive zone.
Offensively he benefitted from that off-side position to open up his shot, one he’s constantly ready to unload when the puck gets in his vicinity. He’s much more comfortable in the opponent’s end, and that earned him 40 games at the VHL level as an 18-year-old.
This season he’s moving to a new city with an eye on getting a chance to show off his offensive skills in the KHL. Like Gordin, how well that plan goes will determine whether he moves up our ranks, but getting that opportunity will only come if he can be more dependable in the defensive zone.
27. William Trudeau - LD - 18 - Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Despite being selected a full round later than Kostenko, William Trudeau slots one spot later in the countdown, and his average ranking is about two positions higher. A defenceman of the more common left-handed variety, Trudeau put up respectable offensive numbers in his draft year as well. Playing in the only league in the CHL that had a significant schedule in 2020-21, his 31 points in 40 games helped him stand out from the pack. He did happen to play on the top offensive team in the league, one that scored 197 goals in those 40 games, which is important context.
He also suffers from similar skating inefficiencies as Kostenko, which affected his ability to defend rush chances. Unlike his draft peer, he has an otherwise strong aptitude for the play in his own zone, with better awareness of the ice around him and therefore better overall positioning and more of an impact in the transition game.
In close-quarters battles he plays a physical game, leaning on opponents and limiting their space. He may not be able to keep up with players racing down the flanks, but when it’s a matter of a forward trying to get around him near the net, that’s a contest Trudeau wins most of the time.
Overall, there’s a good base of skills to build on, and while he may have been among the older first-year-eligible players in the draft, he has time to work on his weaknesses. Some improvement in his skating technique so he’s not so easily beaten by opposing forwards would be the biggest step for his development.
26. Otto Leskinen - LD - 24 - Jokerit (KHL)
Leskinen’s situation was a bit of an odd one for this project. It’s rare that a player who is still young enough to qualify leaves of his own accord to seek an opportunity elsewhere. Despite being named to Montreal’s expanded post-season roster, he signed a two-year deal with Jokerit of the KHL while the Habs’ playoff run was still ongoing. Montreal extended him a qualifying offer this summer to retain his rights, which keeps him on their reserve list.
He was one of the best defencemen on the team over his two seasons in the AHL, with 39 points in 85 games. He got a well-deserved five-game call-up in 2019-20, but played just one NHL game last year. He clearly felt he’d be better served by playing in the KHL, and perhaps building his momentum for another run at the NHL when that contract expires.
His talent was clear from the moment he was signed by Montreal, and he had a spot within the Top 25 in the past two years, debuting at 22 back in 2019.
Despite the departure, he still showed at least NHL replacement-level ability in his time with the organization. He adjusted to the pace of the North American game from his first year to his second, with his AHL penalty minutes dropping from 57 in 52 games in 2019-20 down to just 12 in 33 matches in 2020-21. He was one of the key players on a very structured Laval Rocket team that flirted with the AHL’s regular-season title.
His presence will certainly be missed in Laval this season, but it’s a safe bet that we haven’t seen the last of Leskinen playing hockey on this side of the Atlantic.
Due to Kotkaniemi’s departure, the 26th-ranked player moved up to 25th. Jacob Olofsson goes from the first spot in the “near misses” category to an official spot in the Top 25.
25. Jacob Olofsson - C/LW - 21 - Timrå IK (SHL)
Olofsson showed good potential in his draft year, with strong numbers in Sweden’s second tier in 2017-18. He was also a fixture on his national teams with good offensive totals at the under-17 and -18 levels.
In three years since his selection in the second round, he struggled to reach that same level of production. There have been injuries along the way, but difficulty adapting his offensive game to the SHL level is the biggest reason for his stagnant development.
Faith in him tapping into that potential is waning as the seasons pass, and this year he finds himself just making the cut once again.
He is most comfortable playing in the middle of the ice, but it has been hard for his coaches to justify him playing the centre position over more productive players. Attempts to transition him him to the wing have proven unsuccessful as he hasn’t been able to adapt to the play along the boards that move requires.
History of #25
|2019||Gustav Olofsson / Jordan Harris|
|2016||Max Friberg / Jeremy Grégoire|
A return to HockeyAllsvenskan helped him unlock some of his offence last year, and now that Timrå team has earned promotion, putting him back among SHL competition once more. Will things be different this time around for the 6’2” forward? It will be his last chance to impress the organization that drafted him before his rights expire on June 1, 2022.
Anton Rasegård and Patrik Bexell discuss the rankings and their own takes in the podcast attached below. In order to get a better understanding on Jacob Olofsson’s lack of development, they were joined by Jimmy Hamrin from EP Rinkside and HockeySverige.se.
You can follow Jimmy Hamrin on Twitter for more insights to Swedish hockey.