The bottom part of the Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25 is always a mixed bag of players who are playing out their time on the reserve list, new prospects who are trying to work their way to a professional contract, and players who are working to take the next step toward the NHL.
It can be a place where the story starts for some players, including the most recent success stories of Jake Evans and Cayden Primeau who have played key roles for the organization at the professional level. For others, their time with the Canadiens organization will end here.
Last year’s list included Michael Pezzetta, who made his NHL debut that season, among several players who moved up on this year’s list. The current group also includes someone who already played one NHL game.
Notes: In the voting graphics in this article, and all articles in this series, the “EOTP” vote is the average rank from the hundreds of community ballots. Members “black61” and “theptbnl” are also listed along with nine EOTP staff members.
52. Arvid Henrikson - Defenceman - 24 - Lake Superior State University
The gamble on the 6’3” Swede in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft didn’t pay off like it did with others taken in that range, including Evans and Primeau. Henrikson had his best season at the NCAA last season, with five assists in 35 games at Lake Superior State University. He’s entering his senior season, but is still looking for his first goal.
Henrikson may have a future in professional hockey ahead of him, but as he enters his final year of eligibility for this list, it won’t be in Montreal.
51. Alexander Gordin - Forward - 21 - HK Sochi
Perhaps a combination of the uncertainty surrounding Russian players and a lack of success saw Gordin fall 22 spots in this year’s ranking. After two years at 27th and 29th, his drop may also be the result of a much stronger and deeper prospect pool.
Gordin played most of last season in the MHL, the Russian Junior league. He had 12 goals in 30 games plus eight assists, but it was his least productive season when he was among the oldest players in the league. He was also traded from SKA Saint Petersburg to HC Sochi, going from a top club to a smaller club in the KHL.
The Canadiens’ sixth-round pick in 2020 did make his KHL debut, scoring one goal in 14 games. A strong season in that league may see him make another push in these rankings.
50. Jack Smith - Forward - 20 - University of Minnesota-Duluth
After being a fourth-round pick in 2020, Smith has seen his stock fall in the eyes of the panel. He drops another 10 spots in this year’s list, but passed Gordin. Smith has yet to make his NCAA debut, which was expected last year but the pandemic affected the amount of players who stayed with the school.
Last year in the USHL, he had two goals and one assist in 10 games. With a strong season this year, his stock still has time to rise.
49. Jack Gorniak - Forward - 22 - University of Wisconsin
Gorniak is another player at this end of the list who sees a drop of more than 10 spots from a year ago. He will be entering his fifth year of NCAA eligibility as a graduate student, thanks to the NCAA allowing student-athletes affected by COVID to have an additional season. Gorniak was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, and had five goals and 10 assists in 37 games last season.
He will likely need to take a significant step up in order to secure an NHL contract with the Canadiens, and with the depth of the pool it seems quite unlikely at this time.
48. Emmett Croteau - Goaltender - 18 - Clarkson University
Croteau was the Canadiens’ sixth-round pick (162nd overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft, and is the lowest-ranked of the 18 players to debut on the list this year. The 6’4” goaltender had an .899 save percentage in 35 games in the USHL, but improved that to .913 in six post-season games. With a limited track record, he will have every opportunity to rise up this list. In fact, it’s the same path that Cayden Primeau, Frederik Dichow, Jakub Dobes, and Joe Vrbetic have taken in recent years after finding themselves in this tier.
The success that those other goaltenders can show the Canadiens have had success with these late-round picks, but that may work against him as he will always be judged against them.
47. Daniil Sobolev - Defence - 19 - Windsor Spitfires
Sobolev debuted on this list at #31 a year ago but sees a steep fall in his second year. In his draft year, he didn’t play due to the Ontario Hockey League’s shutdown coinciding with him coming to North America from Russia. He used that year to skate and work with coaches on his own.
In his first OHL season, he didn’t have the offensive numbers to maintain his higher ranking. He had two goals and 15 assists in 62 regular-season games, and had two assists in 24 playoff games as the Spitfires made the OHL Final. It’s hard to get a read on most of the 2021 Draft Class, and Sobolev will have to show signs of improvement as he gets older.
46. Brett Stapley - Forward - 23 - University of Denver
Stapley has the biggest drop in this year’s list, falling 23 spots from his place within the Top 25 last year, at #23. In his senior season, he set career highs in goals with 18 and points with 43 in 41 games. So why did a player with over a point per game drop so steeply in the rankings? Well, because it appears unlikely he will sign a contract with the Canadiens.
Due to the NCAA rule change, he was eligible for a fifth NCAA season, which would have given the Canadiens another year with his rights. It appears he has not taken that option, however, and those rights have expired.
Stapley is a smaller forward, and there are a lot of them in the Canadiens organization. He has talent, and we’ll see if he can earns himself a contract with another club.
45. Dmitri Kostenko - 19 - Defence - Khimik Voskresensk (VHL)
Clearly being too good for the MHL, the defenceman was moved to the VHL to play in the second league in Russia, which was a good move for the 87th pick of the 2021 NHL Draft. While Kostenko’s play was sufficient to play at that level, he was more or less on the third team when it came to Russia’s U20/WJC program. He has some tools — he’s big, skates well for his size, and can shoot and pass on the power play — but the negative is that he reads the game slowly.
Combining the Russian situation with a game that isn’t up to speed made Kostenko fall 17 spots in this year’s ranking.
44. Petteri Nurmi - 20 - Defence - HPK (Liiga)
An interesting late-round pick with a positive trajectory from Finland debuts at #44 in this year’s ranking.
The big safety-first defender has risen through the Finnish system slowly but steadily. Last season he played both in Mestis (the second division) and Liiga, where most of his games came. The Canadiens’ scouting staff praised his ability to transition the puck up ice and playing in the top division as a Junior player drew attention as well.
The voting took place before the World Juniors this year, and it would have been interesting to see how the tournament would have affected his ranking. While he started the tournament as one of Finland’s top defencemen, he has missed the last few games.
Entering his second year in the top Finnish league will give him an opportunity to make strides up the order.
43. Lucas Condotta - Left Wing - 23 - Laval Rocket
Condotta’s ranking might be slightly lower due to the fact he was missing on early ballots, but in the grand scheme of things, it likely wouldn’t have been enough to knock him out of this range.
After finishing his season with UMass-Lowell in the NCAA, he was assigned to the Laval Rocket where he made his professional debut with one assist in seven regular-games before becoming a regular in the post-season. He played 10 playoff games with two goals and two assists and didn’t look out of the place.
With an off-season to work on things and a full professional season, Condotta will look to solidify a spot in the Rocket lineup, and potentially make his way up the depth chart.
42. Jared Davidson - Forward - 20 - Seattle Thunderbirds
In his third year of NHL Draft eligibility, Davidson finally heard his name called in 2022. Davidson came on strong for the Thunderbirds, who made the WHL Final against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
After 19 points in 23 games during the shortened COVID-19 season, he exploded in 2021-22 with 42 goals and 47 assists in 64 games. He added 13 goals and 16 assists in 25 WHL playoff games. Both led the team, and his 89 regular-season points were 23 more than anyone else on the team.
How you feel about him as a prospect — and his trajectory — will depend on whether his last WHL season was just because he was one of the older players in the league, or if there was significant development in his game.
41. Cam Hillis - Forward - 22 - Laval Rocket
Hillis played at three different levels last season, and in the process became the first member of the ECHL’s Lions de Trois-Rivières to play an NHL game. Hillis played one match when the Canadiens were hit hard by COVID-19.
As he enters his third full professional season, he has yet to establish himself at the AHL level, although there are clear signs of improvement. He put up nine points in 14 ECHL games, and the same amount of points in 24 AHL games, both career highs.
He dropped in part because of his lacklustre production in the minor leagues, but also because he is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle among the number of skilled forward prospects the organization now has.
Cracking the Canadiens roster as a regular would be an impressive feat for any of these prospects. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at 10 players who have a bit more projectable upside in the organization.