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2022 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: The Projects (40-31)

Profiling some prospects with standout skills, but a way to go with other aspects of their game.

Toronto Marlies v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The depth of the Montreal Canadiens’ Top 25 Under 25 group means that there are even more players that find themselves on the outside looking in. The players in this article, ranked 40 through 31, are still long shots, but there is slightly more optimism in this tier.

All of these players have qualities that not only got them drafted or signed to contracts, but gives them some upside in the organization. However, there are also deficiencies, question marks, or both that made the panel put more players ahead of them.

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.

40. Adam Engström - Defenceman - 18 - Rögle BK (SHL)

The third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft starts off at #40, interestingly behind two players who were drafted after him. He has already looked solid in pre-season play in the SHL with Rögle, one of the best organizations in Europe.

He is in a fight to make Sweden’s World Junior team for the December tournament, and it will be interesting to track his progress this season. Last year, in Djurgården’s U20 program, he had eight goals and 20 assists in 45 games, plus two goals and five assists in six playoff games.

He made his SHL debut with one appearance in the senior league. While he is joining a better team this year, he has played in both of the SHL club’s pre-season games and should see an increase of time at that level this year, especially as Rögle plays in both the SHL and the Champions Hockey League).

He has good rush defence, and makes a good first passes, two traits that seem to align with a lot of the blue-liners in the organization. While he is unknown to a lot of the panel, and one of the newest members of the organization, he has all of the tools to make a steady climb up this list next season.

We have more thoughts on Engström in the podcast below.

39. Nate Schnarr - Centre - 23 - Laval Rocket

Schnarr joined the organization after being acquired from the New Jersey Devils in return for goaltender Andrew Hammond. He was a key piece in Laval’s stretch run, and despite being banged up, was a big part of their playoff run.

He set career highs with 17 goals and 19 assists in 63 AHL games last season. In 20 games with Laval, he had four goals and six assists, adding two goals and two assists in 11 playoff games.

Originally a third-round pick in 2017 by the Arizona Coyotes, Schnarr projects as a depth centre. The role he could play at the AHL level is similar to one he would play at the NHL level should he make it there: solid defence, but with the ability to make some plays and kill penalties.

He earned an NHL contract extension, and will be a key part of a Laval team that is looking to improve from their semifinal appearance a year ago.

The voting panel likely sees limited upside offensively at the NHL level, which is why he is farther down this list.

38. Miguël Tourigny - Defence - 20 - Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Tourigny is one of the two players drafted after Engström in 2022 who sees himself ahead of the Swedish defenceman. Tourigny is the latest over-age, undersized QMJHL player the Canadiens drafted in recent years, joining Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Xavier Simoneau.

Like those two, the 5’8” defenceman will likely return to the QMJHL for one final year, and has put up big numbers despite his smaller stature. Last year, he scored 31 goals and added 49 assists in only 65 games between Acadie-Bathurst and Blainville-Boisbriand. He added three goals and two assists in eight playoff games.

The right-shot defenceman will likely face a long road to the NHL. His size plays against him, and there are questions about how he will adjust to the professional level, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Despite that, there’s no questioning his ability to skate and play with the puck.

There are definitely things to like about the prospect, and scoring 30 goals as a defenceman in Junior was enough to place him relatively high on the list for his debut year.

37. Blake Biondi - Centre - 20 - University of Minnesota-Duluth

Biondi was a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and has seen his ranking stay in the 30s after landing at 32 and 34 in his first two years in the project. The fact that he has stayed relatively even despite many players joining the organization is a testament to his development to this point.

After a freshman season when he had two goals and three assists in 26 games, he stepped up in a big way in his sophomore year. He had 17 goals and 11 assists in 42 games last season, his 28 points sitting one off the team lead. He played mostly on a line with fellow NHL prospects Quinn Olson (BOS) and Dominic James (CHI).

Biondi’s game will likely need to take another step or two forward to earn a contract, but as he enters his third NCAA season, the 6’0”, 192-pound centre has some time to do just that.

He was on the radar for the 2022 World Juniors, but ultimately was not named to the US team after getting an invite to the team’s summer camp.

36. Cedrick Guindon - Centre/Left Wing - 18 - Owen Sound Attack

Guindon was the Canadiens’ seventh selection (fourth round, 127th overall) in the 2022 Draft. He is known as a smart player, who uses his intelligence and hard work to make an impact at both ends at the ice.

He had 30 goals and 29 assists in 68 games in his first OHL season, and should he show improvement from those numbers, that will go a long way towards establishing his trajectory as a prospect.

Guindon is listed as 5’10” and 170 pounds. The Ottawa-area native said that he grew up a Senators fan, but has had a soft spot for the Canadiens because of his French-Canadian roots.

The voting panel saw enough positive in his game to rank him ahead of Engström, who was drafted one round ahead of him. He is one of the many intriguing prospects the Canadiens picked up in the 2022 Draft, and will be fun to watch develop.

35. Rhett Pitlick - Left Wing - 21 - University of Minnesota

Pitlick is likely a few spots higher because some voters mixed him up with his brother, Rem, who is slightly too old for this project. He would have ended up in this tier of the rankings, regardless.

Rhett was once viewed as one of the most intriguing prospects from the team’s 2019 Draft class. The 5’9” forward has yet to show himself to be the offensive dynamo some thought he could become.

After two years with modest production at the USHL level, he finally made his NCAA debut last year. In 30 games in his first year at the University of Minnesota, Pitlick scored five goals and added 13 assists.

The path forward for skilled forwards is a tough one and only the strongest in the crop will earn contracts at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see whether having his brother in the organization and some experience in the NCAA will be the blueprint for a stronger sophomore year.

34. Joe Vrbetic - Goaltender - 19 - North Bay Battalion/Laval Rocket

The 6’6” goaltender didn’t have great OHL statistics prior to being drafted, with a goals-against average that started with a 4, and an .881 save percentage on what was a pretty bad North Bay team. After the OHL season was cancelled in 2020-21, he came back from a year off with a much better season behind a much improved club. He had a 29-10-6 record in 45 regular-season games with a 2.87 GAA and .906 save percentage. In eight playoff games, he had a 6-1 record.

Those numbers see him take a five-place leap in this year’s rankings despite the increased talent in the organization. It also earned him an AHL contract for this coming season with the Rocket, and he could see some time with the ECHL’s Lions de Trois-Rivières as part of the organization’s goaltending depth.

Despite the cancelled season, he has parts of three OHL seasons under his belt, and it will be interesting to see how much game action he gets at the professional level, especially with three goaltenders ahead of him in the ranking.

33. Gianni Fairbrother - 21 - Defence - Laval Rocket

Fairbrother is one of the players with the biggest drop into this range of the countdown. His drop from 21 to 33 can be explained in a couple of ways. The increased depth of the pool is definitely a factor, as was his lack of playing time due to an injury that kept him out of most of the second part of the season.

The 21-year-old started the season as a regular in Laval’s defence, and ended the season with 25 games played, scoring one goal and adding six assists. He did manage to get healthy during the team’s playoff run, and played in three playoff games when the team chose to go with seven blue-liners after an injury to Mattias Norlinder.

Although Fairbrother didn’t play badly, the combination of a lot of new defencemen entering the organization professionally, and a lack of establishing himself makes for a difficult projection. It’s frankly tough for a lot of the panel to see a path to clear playing time this season at the AHL level, nevermind a potential NHL future.

32. William Trudeau - 19 - Defence - Charlottetown Islanders

After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 Draft, Trudeau moved down five spots after debuting at 27th last year. He equaled his goal total from a year earlier with eight, but set career highs in assists with 36 and points with 44.

What may have salvaged his 2022 ranking was his great playoff run. He had seven goals and four assists in 14 games, nearly matching his regular-season goal total in 54 fewer games. What he will need to do is show that the post-season wasn’t just a small-sample fluke, but that he can consistently produce greater offence going forward.

He likely will never be a 30-goal-scorer like Tourigny, but rounding out his strong defensive game with solid offence will be something that can translate to the next level, and move him ahead of some of the many other defencemen the organization has in this ranking.

You always have to take big spikes in production with a grain of salt as a player gets older, but Trudeau’s playoff run shows that he has such talent in him.

31. Luke Tuch - 20 - Left Wing - Boston University

There’s a lot to like about Luke Tuch, but after rising to #14 in last year’s list, he takes the biggest fall in this section of the ranking.

The 6’2”, 203-pound forward’s calling card is his mix of size, speed, and skill, but his inability to stay healthy, and his lack of a step forward in production when he was on the ice cost him a chance to make the top 25.

He missed only nine regular-season games with Boston University, but injuries kept him out of the USA’s World Junior camp in his last year of eligibility for the tournament. On top of that, when he was on the ice, he managed the same number of goals and one less assist despite playing in 10 more games than the previous year.

Tuch came back from his injury on December 31, and had his best stretch of the season, scoring four goals and one assist in his first three games back. However, in the following 14 games to close things out, he could only score two goals and add three assists.

In the end, that is what is concerning when it comes to projecting Tuch, and why his upcoming season may go a long way in determining what his future may be. He was drafted back-to-back with Jan Myšàk in the second round of the 2020 Draft, and has yet to really show what he can do consistently.

Patrik Bexell, Hadi Kalakeche, Matt Drake, and Anton Rasegård got together to discuss these players on the latest episode of Habsent Minded.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at five players who just missed the Top 25.