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2021 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The biggest rises and largest drops

The shifts weren’t as large as we’ve seen in previous years, but there were still some significant moves up and down the list.

NHL: SEP 21 Canadiens Rookie Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the final look at EOTP’s 2021 ranking of the top 25 Montreal Canadiens players under 25, we’ll look at the biggest movers on the list from last year.

We often get major jumps from talented players who were hard to project the previous year, or big drops from those who prove their last season was simply an outlier. Despite a lot of high-ranked players from 2020 leaving the organization, the repositioning this time around is fairly tame.

All the big moves were seen among the forwards in the organization, and no one’s stock improved more than a player who got to make his professional debut after a great career in the QMJHL.

Biggest Rises

Rafaël Harvey-Pinard

2020: #30 → 2021: #18

There could be no argument about Harvey-Pinard’s effectiveness at the Junior level in 2020. He has put up impressive numbers with two different teams the previous two years, and also served as captain of both clubs. The concerns were how much of that production was the result of being an over-age player in the league, and how well that physical style of play would translate to the professional level as a smaller player, though our community was less worried.

He answered all of those questions by playing the same brand of hockey with the Laval Rocket, being one of the team’s most important players as they spent much of the season atop the league standings. He didn’t turn heads with his 20 points in 36 games, but forced defenders to have theirs on a swivel with his relentless forecheck. He’ll always be engaging with bigger players if he does get as far as the NHL, but he’ll force the odd breakdown to win the puck and earn his chances.

Sean Farrell

2020: #21 → 2020: #10

If he hadn’t been 5’9”, there’s no way Sean Farrell would have been available with the last pick of the fourth round in 2020. He had just finished a season of nearly one assist per game and added 15 goals, ranking seventh overall in the USHL scoring race and third among players to play at least 20 games in points per contest.

For a follow-up, he put together the greatest offensive campaign the Chicago Steel franchise — one of the top development programs in the United States — had ever seen. He won the league championship, took home the award as USHL MVP, and was named USA Hockey’s top Junior prospect.

He’s now preparing to play for Harvard Unversity in the NCAA, where his playmaking talents will be put under the microscope. There are sure to be more challenges than he had in the USHL, but he should figure them out as his freshman season goes on.

Luke Tuch

2020: #24 → 2020: #14

The size and pedigree was enticing in his draft year, but Luke Tuch’s low production given his physical gifts in the USHL raised some concerns from our panellists in 2020. Despite being taken in the middle of the second round, he barely made the Top 25 last year.

In 2020-21, he put up about the same rate of production, but this time in the NCAA. Freshmen often take a year or even two to get up to speed, but Tuch’s 11 points in 16 games were quality production. He’ll have several more years with Boston University to work on his game and likely rise further up the list as his game comes together.

Joël Teasdale

2020: #28 → 2020: #19

Teasdale was another of the QMJHL players whom the community had higher regard for a year ago than the EOTP staff. As it was in Harvey-Pinard’s case, you can all claim that your projection of his talents was the more accurate.

Despite missing the full 2019-20 season and getting into just 26 games for the Laval Rocket last year, Teasdale posted 18 points; one of the highest points-per-game rates on the team.

The injury bug bit Teasdale once more to cut his 2020-21 season short, but the good news is that he’s attending the Canadiens’ training camp, even if it turns out that’s just to be evaluated by the training staff. At this stage, his health may be more of an obstacle to some NHL time than his skill set, so hopefully he will get to play a significant number of games this year and truly show what he can do in the pro ranks.

Gianni Fairbrother

2020: #29 → 2021: #21

Fairbrother spent a few years on the fringes of our list in the two years after being drafted. We knew about the overall game and saw a bit of offence, but he didn’t really stand out from a pack of similar defencemen added in recent years.

We heard more about how good his defensive game was last season, and also saw him get closer to the professional ranks with a short stint in the AHL while the Western Hockey League was in a holding pattern.

The last year also saw some key defencemen leave the system. Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, and Cale Fleury were all poached by other teams, and one of the NHL replacement players, Otto Leskinen, decided to head home to Finland. With the pool of blue-liners draining, some of the lower options were bound to move up, and Fairbrother was the main beneficiary.

All 2021 rises

Player 2020 Rank 2021 Rank Change
Player 2020 Rank 2021 Rank Change
Harvey-Pinard, Rafaël 30 18 12
Farrell, Sean 21 10 11
Tuch, Luke 24 14 10
Teasdale, Joël 28 19 9
Fairbrother, Gianni 29 21 8
Harris, Jordan 16 9 7
Mysak, Jan 18 12 6
Dobes, Jakub 39 33 6
Ylönen, Jesse 13 8 5
Struble, Jayden 15 11 4
Pezzetta, Michael 40 36 4
Guhle, Kaiden 8 5 3
Poehling, Ryan 9 6 3
McNiven, Michael 22 20 2
Dichow, Frederik 37 35 2
Henrikson, Arvid 43 41 2
Caufield, Cole 3 2 1
Romanov, Alexander 4 3 1
Norlinder, Mattias 5 4 1
Brook, Josh 14 13 1

Biggest Drops

Jack Smith

2020: #31 → 2021: #40

It was difficult to know what kind of player Smith was after a draft year played in the Minnesota high-school system. The offence was great, especially in the playoffs, but he ended up in the ‘wait and see’ section of the ranking.

The USHL offered a better platform for him to show his talents, and the results weren’t promising. Following his three-points-per-game draft year, he notched one point every three games with the Sioux Falls Stampede, and put up 60 penalty minutes in 47 games. If you discount Arvid Henrikson who can hardly be regarded as a prospect anymore, Smith slipped right to the bottom spot of the rankings.

Cam Hillis

2020: #19 → 2021: #24

Injuries and low point totals hampered Hillis in his first few years in the countdown, but then a spectacular final year in the OHL put his defensive and offensive talents on display. He showed some great playmaking abilities and seemed well on his way to being a key contributor for the Laval Rocket last season.

Those points never materialized, netting just a goal in 18 games. With less room and fewer scoring options to work with in the AHL, he had a difficult time making an impression and even getting ice time.

As the year went on he began to get more comfortable, and we saw some good backchecking and transition play at this year’s rookie camp. He’ll be more prepared for his second professional season, and should get his name recorded on the scoresheet much more often.

Arsen Khisamutdinov

2020: #33 → 2021: #37

Khisamutdinov had two key skills that got him selected late in the 2019 NHL Draft: his size, and his shot. He put those to good use in the lower tiers of Russian hockey, then made his North American debut a year ago.

It turns out those two traits alone weren’t enough to lead to success at the AHL level, getting into just 15 games and having only one assist to show for them. Add in the fact that he’s 23 years old, and there isn’t a whole lot of faith that he will round out his game with other abilities.

Rhett Pitlick

2020: #26 → 2021: #30

Despite being a fifth-round pick, Pitlick debuted inside the Top 25 in the summer of 2019. His point totals in his draft year were solid, and his underlying abilities hinted at more to come in his future. His point totals the next season were good, but not overwhelming in the USHL as he prepared for his collegiate career, and missed out on making the official countdown by one spot in 2020.

The pandemic delayed his start in university hockey, and that should have given him a year to really build up his offensive confidence by taking control of games in the U.S. Junior system. Instead his point-per-game pace dropped ,with fewer goals and an underwhelming 34 points in 43 games. He’ll be turning 21 partway through the upcoming season, and will need a big campaign with the University of Minnesota to put himself back on the radar.

All 2021 drops

Player 2020 Rank 2021 Rank Change
Player 2020 Rank 2021 Rank Change
Smith, Jack 31 40 -9
Hillis, Cam 19 24 -5
Khisamutdinov, Arsen 33 37 -4
Pitlick, Rhett 26 30 -4
Leskinen, Otto 23 26 -3
Stapley, Brett 20 23 -3
Biondi, Blake 32 34 -2
Gordin, Alexander 27 29 -2
Primeau, Cayden 6 7 -1