The Montréal Canadiens have committed in no uncertain terms to a long-term rebuild, and it’s well underway at the Centre Bell. They haven’t quite stripped this roster down the foundation, but they’ve nonetheless been rapacious in their pursuit of the futures that they hope will one day form the core of a Stanley Cup contending roster.
As currently constructed, the team’s success hinges upon the performances of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. They’ve proven themselves capable of taking over the occasional game, but it’s unfair to place the burden of one of hockey’s most demanding markets squarely on their shoulders. Juraj Slafkovsky, Kaiden Guhle, Kirby Dach, and many more will have to come to their aid.
And as that group attempts to form a contending nucleus, we shouldn’t count out Owen Beck, Sean Farrell, and the countless other prospects in this article as potential long-term support pieces that could push this group over the top. The sheer volume of this system is such that even if they don’t rise to the occasion, others will. It’s why we ranked the Canadiens prospect pool as the league’s seventh-best.
What follows is a countdown of Montréal’s 15 best prospects, looking at their strengths, weaknesses, and overall projections. Given the embarrassment of riches in the Habs system, we’ve even gone to the liberty of including a handful of honourable mentions.
Editor’s note: please heed this as a content warning for topics related to sexual misconduct that are going to arise in Logan Mailloux’s part in this article.
The first overall pick in last July’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský can pick apart opposing defences a number of different ways. Crossover-driven power rushes complete with a shoulder drop, swift dangles around defenders’ sticks, or manipulative feints — you name it!
As the Slovak winger develops, his many abilities will start to stack and combine, giving him an arsenal of moves that will make him even more difficult to handle. Slafkovský’s ability to crush opponents on the forecheck, steal the puck from them with his reach on the back check, and his stickwork in the defensive zone should also give him an above-average defensive value.
There is no predicting how Slafkovský will fare in his first season with the Canadiens. The vast majority of first overall picks — especially forwards — have made their NHL club in the season that immediately followed their draft. Slafkovský should continue that trend, but even if he doesn’t, it doesn’t change his projection. This is just a development year. Where he plays and his overall numbers don’t matter as much as the improvements he can make.
[Read more: What should the Canadiens do with the first overall pick?]
All teams look for skill, physicality, and speed in their lineup. They spend a lot of draft picks and cap space to acquire those abilities. By using their first overall pick on Slafkovský, the Canadiens can now say that they have those skills in the same prospect. As long as the team takes their time with his development, he should become for them one of the rarest and most prized players in the NHL: a top-six power forward.
There’s no such thing as a lock in the prospect world, but Kaiden Guhle is about as close as it gets. His fast-paced, detailed, and violent game is tailor-made for the NHL; he looks like a player who will handle the rigours of the big leagues and carve out a top-four role on the Habs blue line for years to come.
Physically and functionally strong, Guhle can close in any direction with only a few short strides, angle them to the boards, eliminate them from the play with a crushing hit, and dispossess them of the puck.
There isn’t a defensive skill or tool missing in his toolkit. He defends just as well on and away from the puck, in the neutral zone and the defensive zone; his abilities to gap up, shadow his coverage, identify and cut passing lanes, and box out opponents making him a suffocating defensive presence.
[Read more: Kaiden Guhle is a brilliant defender with the potential to become so much more]
While his offensive and transition games still lag behind his defensive abilities, Guhle nonetheless took significant steps forward in those departments over the last two seasons. He’s generating expected goals at a far more impressive rate according to my colleague Mitch Brown‘s manually tracked data set, and his controlled zone exit data shows similar growth. The former first-round pick has learned to better plan his retrievals and his escapes from the forecheck and to move pucks from the wall to teammates in the middle of the ice, an ability that will serve him greatly in the NHL.
There are still obvious flaws in Guhle’s ability to process of the game; better plays and occasions to manipulate the defence that elude him to this day. His conservative nature in possession likely won’t ever allow him to become a true power play quarterback, but he should still be able to control games with his shutdown ability as a defender and quality as a puck-mover.
Canadiens training camp has quickly become Owen Beck‘s welcoming party, and the second-round pick in last July’s draft seems to relish the occasion. He’s out there to prove that he’s a much better prospect than his 0.75 per-game scoring rate in the OHL last season would have you believe.
It’s rare that one finds such a high level of consistency and attention to detail in a prospect his age. On their own, these qualities didn’t necessarily call for an A-grade, but Beck also showed legitimate instances of high-end playmaking and scoring abilities to accompany his solid habits.
His feints, passes through opponents, timed off-puck movements, inside-driven attacks from the wall, and catch-and-release shots kept us watching. These plays, especially the way they were executed — with precision, planning, and intent — made us confident enough in his projection to place him at the 21st overall spot on our last board before the draft.
[Read more: Owen Beck is the OHL’s draft-eligible model of consistency]
Scouts do get blinded by “high-floor” prospects like Beck quite often, their pro-like play style tricking them into believing that they will translate their game easily to the NHL, when in reality, their lack of special attributes often stunt their careers. Maybe this is what is happening here; maybe we are falling victim to this line of thinking.
But it doesn’t feel that way with Beck. His advanced numbers were among the best in Brown’s manually tracked data set this past season and he boasts not just numerous great habits, but also above-average hockey sense and tools.
In time, Beck could leverage his qualities to earn a middle-six role in Montréal’s lineup. A tryout for that role could come sooner than expected, too, if the injuries pile up and he keeps up his great performance in training camp.
An article on the Canadiens website that branded Sean Farrell a hockey genius may have been a bit overly enthusiastic in their appraisal of the former fourth-round pick, but even so, it’s hard not to get excited about what he brings to the table.
Hockey sense comes in many different forms. In Farrell’s game, it mostly reveals itself in his play with the puck; in the way he manages to spot teammates in dangerous areas and finds creative ways to reach them with passes. Clever and creative, Farrell fakes defenders with his eyes, shoulders, and stick positioning, making them think he’s trying a play that he has, in reality, no intention of making. He moves them out of position with his deception and capitalizes.
He remains more of a playmaker than a scorer at this stage, but the threatening wrist shot he added in college could also have him score his share of goals in the professional game.
The American winger’s skating and wall-play remain the two biggest question marks in his development. He has speed, but his wide stance somewhat limits his manoeuvrability and his ability to protect the puck in tight spaces. Larger defenders could have a relatively easy time controlling him on the boards and stripping him off the puck, especially considering his below-average NHL size.
To become a top-nine forward for the Canadiens, Farrell needs to further develop both his reads and elusiveness, to be able to play his shifty, open-ice game in the NHL.
An offensive defenceman by trade in junior hockey, Justin Barron also displayed an ability to impact the game in transition as one of his team’s primary puck-movers. And the Halifax Mooseheads, to their credit, took full advantage of Barron’s skill set, funnelling their offence through his shot. Many of those attempts would find twine directly, and those that didn’t resulted in deflection and rebound opportunities.
Barron continues to try the same plays in the AHL and NHL. But while his above-average skating ability and shot remain threats at the professional level, and his ability to engage opponents physically gives him some defensive ability, his game still lacks important pieces.
[Read more: Scouting reports on the prospects dealt at the 2022 NHL trade deadline]
He has to improve his defensive reads away from the puck — specifically, the timing of his activations in the play (to avoid exposing his team) — and most of all, he has to learn to handle the forecheck better and make more controlled transition plays that will, in turn, enable him to spend more time on the offence.
A No. 4 role on Montréal’s blue-line seems attainable, but it’s best that the Canadiens take a slow, steady approach with his development. The AHL could be the best environment for the former first-round pick for the next season.
There was a time last season when Filip Mešár was a strong contender for a top 15 spot in our 2022 NHL Draft rankings. In a year with so much uncertainty, his high-upside profile of pure skill caught our attention early and nearly held it for the year.
At the time, Mešár’s speed and handling skills evoked some of the top rushers in the game and his anticipation of the play made us believe that he would be able to find space to play his skill game, even in the hard-checking NHL. But as the season progressed, it seemed to us like he was locked in the same offensive patterns, many of which weren’t as translatable to the top league.
Mešár creates mostly with an outside-inside approach at this juncture, meaning that he tends to shade toward the walls, pull defenders there, and then send passes through them to teammates attacking the slot.
His move to the OHL next season will represent a first great test in his path to a role with the Canadiens. Mešár’s dynamic abilities should open up the offence of the Kitchener Rangers team, giving it more flow and pace. The junior environment will also allow him to work on some of his weaknesses.
Against defenders of his age, we could see Mešár become more inside-driven. His above-average agility and handling skills, combined with his ability to fake defenders with changes of direction, should enable him to pierce through the middle of offensive formation more often. These attacks could place him in better positions to create and earn him a higher production.
Against OHL opponents, it should also become easier for him to manage the puck and use his physical skills, two things that go hand in hand.
In a few years, if Mešár becomes a bit more inside-driven, stronger, and more diverse as a player, he could fill a top-six role on the Canadiens. He has what it takes to become one of the main motors of their transition game.
If Lane Hutson‘s first three-point weekend with Boston University is any indication, this will be a historically good freshman season for the Canadiens prospect. Certainly, the environment is ripe for it, whether you’re looking at the supporting cast or the opportunities he’ll get to drive offence at 5-on-5 or on the power play.
Hutson was arguably the best defenceman in last year’s draft at opening up space and lanes in the offensive zone. His goal in the offensive zone and on breakouts was simple: To pull opponents to himself to create holes in the coverage that he could then exploit. With fakes, spins, and lateral moves, he made short work of USHL defenders, leaving them frozen behind as he attacked space in search of the best scoring opportunity.
[Read more: Evaluating the USNTDP’s blue line, led by Seamus Casey, Ryan Chesley, and Lane Hutson]
While his plays were a little formulaic — he must have used the fake-shot, step-around move at least a couple of times per game — their effectiveness was undeniable. The precise timing of his moves and his ability to sell them with his entire body gave them a high success rate.
As Hutson’s playmaking is so refined, it should translate to professional hockey — provided he adds an extra gear to his skating. His agility is not in doubt, but to separate from NHL coverage, he will need more quickness out of turns and stops.
On the defensive side, Hutson’s long wingspan for his 5-foot-8 size, his awareness of threats, and his ability to get under opponents and separate them from the puck could make him an effective play-killer in college hockey, and in time, maybe even a passable NHL one.
It’s easy to get excited when evaluating Hutson, but we can’t lose perspective here either. Few defencemen look like him in the NHL. He has many gifts, but he will likely have to work twice as hard as many of his prospect to maximize his skill set and reach his top-four potential.
Jordan Harris should become a full-time NHLer next season. He deserves a spot in Montréal’s lineup after all the work he put in in his college career to prepare himself for such a role.
In the NCAA, while many of his opponents and teammates were running around trying to score as much as they could, Harris was working on the details of his game — his positioning, stick work, activations, and awareness. His good decision-making and calculated approach to the game enabled Northeastern to earn probably more wins than they deserved.
It always felt like the American defenceman had more to offer on the offensive side of the game, as he was fully capable of shaking pressure at the of the zone to find better shooting and passing lanes, but while his third season had us believe he might break out as a point producer, the creativity of his high school hockey days never really translated to the college game. Harris remained a relatively simple puck distributor and point shooter.
That being said, by killing the opposition’s rush as close to their blue line as possible with his agile footwork, by constantly keeping track of his coverage in his zone, and by moving the puck both quickly and safely up-ice with his precise passes, Harris allowed his team to spend more time on the attack than the opposition.
While his lack of standout attributes will likely put a cap on his upside, Harris could fill a bottom-pairing or even a No. 4 role on a contending Canadiens team.
[Read more: What Jordan Harris could provide for the Montréal Canadiens]
At this point, Jayden Struble ranking this highly in Montréal’s prospect pool is an act of pure stubbornness on our part. Every year, we expect an offensive breakout from Struble and it doesn’t happen. But next year is the one. We’re sure of it. Trust us.
That he’s struggled to be more productive to this point in his college career just doesn’t many any sense. We can’t rationalize it. Yes, Northeastern’s system tends to stifle offensive production from many of their players — their system forces players to make quick puck movements, whether it’s rims or glass-and-out plays, in lieu of more controlled ones — but we’ve seen offensive defenceman with Struble’s profile dominate in this environment anwyay.
Struble’s skating should lead to automatic zone entries. He’s just as speedy as he is agile. A few steps are often all it takes for him to run around a forechecker, dangle past a second one, and find a corridor to the opposition’s zone. And there’s his shot. If he can get access to a spot near the top of the circle — and he can with his mobility — then he can hammer pucks through goalies.
[Read more: Jayden Struble’s combination of grace and force make him one of the sport’s most unique prospects]
Far from just toolsy, Struble’s also manipulative. His fake changes of direction, shots, and passes complement his moves well.
The defensive side of his game remains more of a weakness, but it also improved in the past few seasons. Struble remains an overaggressive defender, a committed one. But when he does commit, he hurts. He’s a fierce engager who punishes opponents on the boards and strips them of the puck.
There are still decision-making issues and read inconsistencies in his game; he has yet to establish the right balance between risk and reward in his game. But he should dominate in college. It just doesn’t make sense.
Next year is his year.
The prevailing narrative among some concerning the Logan Mailloux pick has often been that Montréal decided to take on the backlash that would result in drafting him — months after he was convicted in a Swedish court for taking photos of a woman performing a sexual act and distributing them without her consent — because the player was surely worth the trouble.
The truth is that, even from a purely on-ice hockey perspective (and whether that should be one’s perspective is another matter entirely), he probably was not. There were many players that we rated substantially higher than Mailloux available in that spot, like Logan Stankoven, Aatu Räty, Shai Buium, Olen Zellweger. This isn’t something we’re saying with the benefit of hindsight either.
The Canadian defenceman has always dominated through his uncommon physical skills. He raced past GOJHL opponents, dangled through their feet, and blasted pucks from the point, creating chances almost at will. No one could handle his combination of reach, mobility, and puckhandling skills in Junior A. And it was the same story, at least offensively, in HockeyEttan, the third professional division of Swedish hockey. Mailloux flashed high-level technical ability constantly. He used the extra-large ice to carry pucks from zone to zone and to walk the blue line to find the best spot to launch his booming shot.
But Mailloux never showed an ability to anticipate the game. Had we completed our season-long evaluation of him, his hockey sense would have likely received a significantly below-average grade. That grade would have dropped him somewhere in our second round, a spot that more accurately reflected the uncertainty of his projection.
In his limited time with London, his issues of awareness, anticipation, and processing became more glaring, especially on retrievals and when defending away from the puck.
His flaws could improve with experience and more frequent scanning of the ice behind him, but it’s doubtful that his hockey sense will ever become a strength. If Mailloux does play in the NHL — and it’s definitely possible that he does — it will be because his immense natural gifts will have carried him there.
[Read more: Problems inherent to hockey culture on full display with Logan Mailloux selection in the draft]
Joshua Roy‘s league-leading 119 points in 66 games season in the QMJHL forced us to reevaluate his projection. His hockey sense grade shot up and so did his upside.
Roy was mostly a straight-line rusher in his draft year, an attacker who would create the majority of his chances by himself. After joining the Sherbrooke Phœnix, though, he increased the speed of his motor and his overall defensive impact. He also used his teammates more proactively, giving them the puck to slip away from coverage and reappear in a better spot.
[Read more: Examining Joshua Roy’s explosive start to the season]
This new strategy propped up his shooting skills. Roy started putting up goal after goal with catch-and-release wrist-shots, one-timers, and by jumping on rebounding pucks.
His skating remains a significant weakness — it limits the plays he can make even in the QMJHL — but his handling skills and better abilities to position often allowed him to solve defensive pressure and pass to teammates in situations where his skating, his main weakness, failed him last season.
While Roy still looks more like a junior scorer than an NHL one at this stage, it’s now easier to envision him becoming a top-nine contributor at some point in the future. To get there, he’ll have to continue to add more speed and also further progress in his anticipation of the play.
Emil Heineman got drafted in the second round in large part because of his athletic abilities. And if we were to guess, those abilities are also what pushed the Canadiens to trade for him.
In many ways, the Swedish winger plays like one of those toy cars that you pick up, crank up, and then watch speed away. In the defensive zone, as the other team cycles the puck around him, you can feel him getting antsy; defending is not what he’s meant to do, at least not for long. Heineman is a rusher. As soon as his team gets the puck, he’s gone. Three strides away from everyone else, he calls for the puck, in hope of catching the other team out of position.
Heineman understands creative rush patterns, when he needs to overlap a teammate or go under him to manipulate defensive gaps, but it’s really through his pace that he finds the most scoring chances, by out=speeding and outmanoeuvring — and through his physical skills. The puck stays firmly in his control along the boards, as he knows how to shield it with his arm, knee and with outside edge moves. He leans against opponents, pushes them away, and creates space for himself.
His shot is perhaps his greatest tool. Its straight power gives trouble to goalies, but it’s really his ability to fire it off the pass, with one-timers or catch-and-release shots that give him NHL scoring potential.
The relatively straightforward, but effective game of Heineman could earn him a third-line role in an NHL team if — and it’s a big if — he can improve his off-puck defensive game, one of his glaring weaknesses last season.
Heineman’s game needs a dose of patience in the defensive zone. Too often, he’s caught overextending and double-covering. For him, it’s all about learning to improve his awareness and anticipation to maintain and switch positions at the right time.
[Read more: What the Canadiens are getting in Emil Heineman]
Jesse Ylönen checking in at 13th in the Habs system, ahead of a couple of prospects with potentially more upside, reveals our philosophy for this ranking. We do value upside, but there’s more to it than just that. We respect prospects, like Ylönen, who pushed themselves close to an NHL role. If all goes right for him, the 2022-23 season could be the one where he finally proves himself worthy of being called an NHLer, after years of waiting in the AHL.
What he brings, above all else, is speed. A lot of it. His skating grades close to elite. He moves with the fluidity of a figure skater, accomplishing changes of direction and pivots without losing any momentum, and carrying the puck up-ice with a distinct smoothness, his perfect form allowing him to retain a tight grip over the puck as he dances from edge to edge.
Ylönen never learned to maximize that skating ability, however. He could have become one of the top rushers in the game, but getting to that level would have necessitated the addition of manipulation abilities, skills he never really showed a high talent for. Instead, so far in his career, his skating has mostly served defensive and checking purposes.
And that’s fine.
Those defensive abilities, added to his passing precision and shot — a real NHL scoring tool — still give him a clear path to a bottom-six role. The team’s depth at forward might prevent him from getting that role immediately at training camp, but Ylönen should position himself as one of the first call-ups during the season.
It’s up to him to show the coaching staff that he deserves a long-term spot.
Mattias Norlinder‘s stock is trending down. A difficult first North American season followed by a subpar 2022 training camp have put a dent in fan’s hopes that he could become a difference-maker for the organization But while his career hasn’t trended toward a top-four NHL role, the one we expected him to fill in the long-run, he shouldn’t be discarded.
Injuries complicated Norlinder’s adjustment last year; they cut his playing time and forced him to play catch-up. That’s not an ideal situation for someone who plays a creative style of game that requires pin-point timing and a lot of confidence.
This season will be his real test. And the Canadiens should give him all the opportunities he needs at the AHL level to maximize his potential, as when he’s playing at his best, there is no other player on Montreal’s current blue line who can pull off the same plays as Norlinder. Not Harris, not Barron, and not even Mike Matheson.
With a weight shift, a fake, and a crossover, Norlinder beats approaching defenders. He blends puck receptions into dangles into passes and constantly keeps himself moving to find new attack and passing angles. Both a puck distributor and an activator, he impacts the offensive play in all three zones with his mobility and handling skills. He finds clean breakouts for his team, links passing plays in transition, and creates lanes in the opposing end with a mix of elusive movements and feints.
This play style comes with an appreciable level of risk, one that the coaching staff didn’t seem inclined to accept last season, but painting Norlinder as a pure defensive defenceman would be wrong.
His constant activations and movements often put him in both a good offensive and defensive position in the SHL. There, he knew how to walk the tightrope between offence and defence, staying just high enough to be able to receive passes and also to immediately jump on an opponent who would try to escape with it.
With time, Norlinder can learn to perfect his positioning in the same way on North American ice. That being said, his engaging skills also have to improve. Currently, he can’t bring attackers to a stop or strip them off the puck in close quarters; he gives them free rein in the defensive zone.
For Norlinder, it’s all about finding the right balance in his development. He has to show the coaching staff that he is progressing defensively enough to gain their trust and, in turn, the opportunities to play his east-west, active style of game.
Unusual is probably how one can best qualify Arber Xhekaj‘s path to an NHL training camp. Few prospects who scored three points in their draft year find their way there, but Xhekaj is not your typical prospect — his throwback, borderline violent play style would convince anyone of this.
A battering ram on skates, Xhekaj’s presence extends past the simple range of his mobility and reach. He’s intimidating. He enters the mind of attackers and alters their course before even having to make a move. Maybe they start shading a little more to his partner’s side of the ice or cutting away quicker than they would against another defenceman. As, if they don’t pull back, they know that they will get quietly suffocated or resoundingly crushed along the boards.
Xhekaj’s engaging ability should translate to the NHL and his big shot, too. He’s equally brutal with it, driving down as close he can to the net before releasing it to make sure that, if it doesn’t score, it will rebound to a potentially dangerous location.
His puck-moving game improved significantly over the past years, to the point where Xhekaj can hit stretch passes with regularity and even deceive a few forecheckers. But that facet of his game remains limited by his handling mechanics, his top-hand-at-the-hip technique, and his overall awareness.
Improving that awareness, especially when defending away from the puck, is a must if he wants to establish himself at the professional level.
Xhekaj was not a likely NHL candidate a few years ago, but his physicality and improving play with the puck now make it seem possible for him to aspire to a regular role on the Canadiens defence.
In his draft year, Jan Myšák was an exciting rusher, someone who broke through defences with his speed, drove the net, and attempted creative passing plays. He played a higher-event style of game that would lead to many misses, but also to impressive goals and assists that suggested top-nine or even top-six upside. But while Myšák had the desire to create, his skills and overall game-reading ability projected closer to NHL average.
Since then the Czech forward’s game has changed. Unlike other players who lock themselves into a scorer identity and refuse to adapt, Myšák focused his development on the three main assets that could now earn him an NHL career in the future: his physicality, pressure, and supportive abilities.
In his last junior season, he skated until he met pressure in the neutral zone, chipped the puck past defenders, and then hunted them on the forecheck. He moved ahead or below teammates to offer them timely passing options in transition. And he aimed to make the better play with the puck, the less risky one, much more often.
Myšák could bring a lot of value to a team’s bottom-six — if he is consistent with his performance. As he can’t separate himself from the pack with his skill and creativity anymore, it’s only through that consistency, by applying the same details night after night, that could allow him to beat his competition and stay in the lineup.
This is a make-or-break year for Cayden Primeau. His underwhelming stats in the AHL so far don’t inspire confidence in his ability to hold on to an NHL spot, but his playoff performance with Laval last season, his first since joining the team, is a ray of hope. Maybe it will become his springboard to a more regular NHL role this season.
For a more technical read on Primeau’s game, here’s what Elite Prospects goalie expert Greg Balloch had to say about his game:
“The excitement surrounding Primeau has waned in recent years for Montréal Canadiens fans. He’s had a tough introduction to the NHL level, winning only three times in 18 appearances, but remains an interesting prospect to keep an eye on.
“For a large goaltender, Primeau has a tendency to play a very aggressive style. If play in front of him breaks down, he will push the pace even faster — which is a typical but counterproductive approach. He usually ends up pulling himself out of the frame of the net, making recoveries even more difficult.
“He is lightning-quick when it comes to both his skating and his reflexes. If the game was about getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, Primeau would be top-tier, but the little details of his game struggle due to this speed. The game is also about setting yourself up for the next move, and Primeau’s sloppiness in that regard is catching up with him at the professional level.
“Although his edgework is above-average, he has a delay when moving post-to-post while down in the butterfly. It is mainly caused by the consistent counter-rotation of his arms. He is commonly unable to get his stick or hands in front of his body, leading to the blade of his skate being the only thing contacting the post. This leads to frustrating goals that can squeak in through small holes along his post seal.
“If Primeau is able to harness his aggressiveness, it could turn into a big positive for his style and overall success. He generally reads the play well, so his approach can fluster more impatient shooters into making mistakes. His active stick also breaks up more than a handful of plays each game. His overall skill remains tantalizing, but it’s clear some changes need to be made to his approach in order to achieve success.”
While Primeau won’t be the Carey Price successor many hoped he would be after his great college career, with continued technical development and a dose of confidence, he could become part of the team’s long-term goaltending rotation, most likely as a backup.
Primeau’s struggles in professional hockey reveal to us that we should be careful when evaluating NCAA performances for goalies. College numbers don’t translate to professional hockey, at least not immediately. But even when put in context, Jakub Dobeš‘ performance last season with Ohio University still remains special.
A 0.934 save percentage should never be overlooked. On many nights, the net-minder was the main reason why his team walked out of the arena with a win. He carried and stretched the capabilities of a roster that often looked quite underwhelming compared to their opposition.
Dobeš’ development is far from done and it’s likely that Montréal will take their time with him. He still has two years of NCAA eligibility after this one.
Here’s what Elite Prospects goalie expert Greg Balloch had to say concerning Dobeš game, from the more technical side of things:
“Although a later-round selection for the Montreal Canadiens, Dobeš remains an exciting player to watch. His physical stature alone is enough to induce intrigue at first glance, but he also brings a unique skillset of tools to the table.
“Dobeš uses one of the most aggressive employments of the overlap technique in the college game. His approach to sharp angle plays is clearly aiming to use his size to his advantage and by locking in completely on the shooter. This, of course, leaves him quite susceptible to back-door plays.
“With an aggressive approach like Dobeš has, the amount of ice to cover in the crease expands. An unfortunate lack of backwards flow to his skating leads to a lot of stretching and reaching on attempts off the rush. His above-average flexibility makes up for it at his current level, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on as he moves forward in his career.
“Dobeš excels when it comes to tracking the puck when he is set up and ready for a shot, and displays excellent hand discipline while in motion. This allows him to control rebounds well on shots off the ice, although shots along the ice that reach his pads can still cause issues. He is also a very confident puckhandler, not just in his ability to move the puck, but he also makes very smart decisions on outlet passes.
“With a bit more refinement to his post-integration, enabling him to stay within the frame of the net and use his size to his advantage more, Dobeš can hopefully take another big step as a prospect.”
Most junior players thrive in open-ice, where their possibilities of movements are endless and defenders can’t close on them as easily, but for 5-foot-10 Vinzenz Rohrer, it’s the opposite. He thrives in tight spaces where he can use his physical skills.
With a strong and balanced posture, he slips — or more accurately, charges — in front of opponents to place himself between them and the puck. His hips slam right through their hands and sticks, winning him body positioning and securing possession. This technique, he employs it not only on the wall but also in the middle of the slot to create space for himself to make use of his shot.
His physicality, combined with his transition passing, his release and his constantly improving defensive game, could make him an NHLer in the long run. To push his upside and become a top-nine contributor, however, Rohrer will have to develop a more complex offensive game, a better anticipation and playmaking ability.
The reason Brown tracks CHL data like controlled exits and entries, expected goals, and defensive impact is because of players like Cedrick Guindon.
Guindon’s production, his 59 points in 68 games, didn’t reflect the full scope of his talents last season. He drove the Owen Sound’s attack, not with his tools — his skating and physical play both received below-average grades — but with his reads. The forward is always well positioned. His timed movements into space enable him to get pucks in transition, and his awareness of teammates to move them quickly, before defenders catch up to him. Guindon’s give-and-goes gets his team from the defensive zone to the offensive zone, and they also enable him to find open spots to make use of his powerful and deceptive release.
While Guindon is more of an NHL long-shot, his off-puck play, shot, and defensive involvement give him NHL upside. If the forward can become not just a quick passer, but a legitimate playmaker, his production could explode next season in the OHL.
Adam Engström aims to entertain. Every puck touch he gets is an occasion for him to showcase his skating and handling abilities. You see him challenge defenders head-on, feint them, and explode around them to attack down the ice.
There is a real desire for experimentation in his game. His play style has some drawbacks — it can lead to turnovers in precarious positions for his team — but it also provides a significant upside. The trial and error method is often the quickest one to develop new skills. Many of the plays that Engström only pulls off by the skin of his teeth right now will become standards in his game if he continues to develop his timing and overall execution.
The offensive play can’t be the sole focus of Engström in his development, however. The reason he didn’t make our board last season was because of his lack of skill and engagement on defence, his loose gaping, and lack of awareness in his zone.
In a few years, if he continues to push his skills and significantly improves his defence, the Habs could see Engström turn into a strong NHL puck-mover, an offensive generator, and a quarterback. He certainly has the tools to fill such a role.