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Montreal Canadiens: 2008-09 Top 12 Prospects

Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider

12/22/2008 8:20:40 PM

One of the National Hockey League's most storied franchises looks to be on the right path to re-establishing its former glory.  It will be interesting to see how the philosophy of general manager Bob Gainey and Trevor Timmins, the Director of Player Recruitment and Development, affects the Habs draft choices over time.

Winning the Calder Cup two years ago in the AHL was a tremendous benefit to their prospects as it allowed many of them to make an easier adjustment to the NHL. The Canadiens are beginning to build the aura and tradition of winning again and the young players are buying in.
 
The gem of the forward group is 2007 first round pick power forward Max Pacioretty who looks to be in NHL soon as he took his game to another level quicker than expected. Up front it seems the Habs have predominately gone to the WHL as of late picking Kyle Chipchura, Ben Maxwell and Ryan White who all have a certain amount of grit to go with some skill. The trio of Matt D'Agostini, Danny Kristo and Steve Qualier could eventually develop into valuable role players as well, but the Habs could use a skilled top six centre to groom for long term in this years draft. With the trade of their first round pick last season for Alex Tanguay the Habs are expected to focus on skilled forwards as Kristo is the only player on this list under the age of 20.

The Habs have great depth and talent on defence as Ryan McDonagh, David Fischer, Yannick Weber, P.K. Subban, and Mathieu Carle are the blueline prospects of note. The two Russian prospect defencemen Pavel Valentenko and Alexei Yemelin are on the verge of being passed over by the other defencemen soon. The only reason the two Russian blueliners have remained on the top list is young defencemen under the age of 23 that have proven they can play at the pro level are valuable assets. Both Ryan McDonagh and David Fischer have potential to be top four defencemen. None of them is expected to crack the Habs lineup fulltime next season but the collective group will put pressure on the blueline in the near future. It is possible that McDonagh, Fischer and Subban could join both Weber and Carle on the Hamilton defence next season which shows the true depth on defence.

Now Montreal arguably currently has the finest goaltending duo in the league under the age of 25 in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak so they are relatively safe for the next decade. Price who proved at the WJC that he has the intestinal fortitude to become an elite netminder has done so at the AHL and NHL level as well. They should be covered in net for a while but another goalie in the system never hurts just in case of a long term injury.

Ryan McDonagh - Defence, 19 (1st round 12th overall 2007)
Currently with Wisconsin (NCAA)

A steady two-way defenceman that does not do anything great, but to his credit he rarely makes a mistake and his hockey sense and decision making are very good. Has solid size at 6" 1' and 203 pounds which he uses frequently and makes opposing forwards pay for every inch of real estate near the net. McDonagh keeps opponents honest and generally to the outside with his strong overall skating ability while displaying enough quickness and agility to handle speed rushers. He has pretty decent puck skills for a defenceman and can stickhandle well enough to make some time and space for himself. Has a good powerful accurate shot from the point that can find holes and is easier to tip for forwards, but overall he is not projected to be a big point producer at the pro level. Can play with a nasty edge at times and likes to be overtly physical when in front of the net or along the wall although he has to learn to keep his emotions in check. Away from the puck his hockey sense allows him to break to the proper position without little hesitation while maintaining solid gap control and taking the right angles to the puck carrier. Once in the defensive zone McDonagh does a very good job of keeping his feet moving while keeping his head on a swivel and using an active stick to plug up the passing lanes. His experience in the upcoming U-20 WJC for team USA will go along way in taking his develop to the next level.

Max Pacioretty - Left Wing, 20 (1sr round 22nd overall 2007)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)

A skilled winger with a two-way pro style who can play gritty and produce offensively has reminded some of a young Shayne Corson. He has decent size at 6" 2' and 203 pounds and will most likely play at 215 once he fully matures. He uses his size well in battles for loose pucks and gets his nose dirty in front of the net. His puck skills are proficient since Pacioretty can stickhandle and cradle tough passes pretty well while showing some ability as a playmaker from the wing. He is a fine skater overall and gets around the ice and has the agility and strength on his skates to maintain a net presence. He has a quick accurate wrist shot and a heavy slap shot that is hard to handle. Considering that he played in the USHL two seasons ago, his defensive game is more advanced then some people had realized, but that is not to say he does not need some work in that area. Since the pace and tempo of decisions are that much quicker at the pro level, Pacioretty must consistently maintain the good habits without the puck. Having good habits, like getting the puck out past the defencemen, finding his check quickly, keeping his feet moving, active stick and puck support for his defencemen. He will need to be solid in those areas before he will be given a legitimate shot at a roster spot in Montreal. With his effort level, tenacious play and intangibles he could become a fan favorite very quickly.  In his freshman season last year in Michigan he produced great offensive numbers with 39 points in 37 games along with 59 penalty minutes. This season in Hamilton he is projected to finish the season around 50 points in 80 games with over 90 penalty minutes which would be a solid season for a rookie.

Kyle Chipchura - Centre, 22 (1st Round, 18th overall 2004)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)

The gritty two-way checking centre at 6" 2' and 205 pounds has the leadership and intangibles that the Habs have been looking for and he could be valuable player for them in the future. He does not have elite pucks skills but he makes safe passes and stickhandles well enough to play at the NHL level. It is his good decisions both with and without the puck, largely due to his fine hockey sense and the ability to process information fairly quickly, that could allow him to play full time next year. He has an above average shot and is not expected to produce more than 50 points a year at the NHL level, but that was not the reason his was drafted. Although he did not put up big offensive number as a rookie two years ago in the AHL with 39 points in 80 games Chipchura played solid in all other areas. Chipchura's offensive production the following season was similar to his rookie season, but he earned a 36 game NHL call up where he did not look out of place. What makes him an intriguing player for the Habs is his strength without the puck and he is perhaps the best defensive forward among his prospect peers. At this time he consistently shadows his check and keeps his stick active while making good decisions in his zone. He knows which angles to take when defending as well as the value of good body position and he has a knack for blocking shots. After his success and experience at the WJC as the captain of gold medal winning Canadian squad, coupled with his playoff performance in the Calder Cup two seasons ago will help his development. He could be a traditional Selke-type player in the future and team leader.  
 
David Fischer - Defence, 20 (1st Round, 20th overall 2006)
Currently with Minnesota (NCAA)

At 6" 3' and 192 pounds he is an intriguing prospect who has the hockey sense and low-panic point to handle the NHL tempo and speed one day. He has made the transition from forward to defence in an impressive fashion considering the talent level he plays against. Fischer has enough overall puck skills to produce some offense as he makes good decisions with the puck and generally does not put the puck in danger. In the new NHL, defencemen better have at least solid mobility and Fischer is a deceptive skater who can surprise forwards on the forecheck with his agility. He does not possess a powerful slap shot and he could have better accuracy with a tendency to pass it off to his teammates. Over the past two seasons he has put up only 19 points in 87 games, but this season Fischer is on pace for 30 points which will more than double his output from last year. He is not a physical defenceman and plays more of a puck possession style defence and uses good body position with an active stick to ward off defenders. He is becoming adept at angling forwards and maintaining good gap control versus the rush and uses his ample wing span. Fischer is a disciplined player who rarely takes a bad penalty and is a strong five-on-five defender with a good plus/minus rating. The Habs will be patient and allow him to play at least three years in Minnesota before embarking on the AHL since defencemen always traditionally develop slower. He is potentially a solid NHL defenceman who is not flashy but could have a long effective career.

Ben Maxwell - Centre, 20 (2nd Round, 49th overall 2006)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)
Perhaps the fact he was undersized at 6"0' and 180 pounds is why teams passed on him in the first round of the NHL Draft. however this prospect could prove them wrong. Maxwell must gain power and weight to his frame if he wishes compete physically and avoid long term injury. Maxwell is a smart savvy centre that has the offensive and defensive awareness to be highly effective in both ends of the ice. He has good hockey sense and shows he can process information, making smart decisions quickly when the puck is on his stick. He skates well with the two-step quickness to get separation and the agility to avoid body contact but he needs more power in his stride. He's a good passer who can place the puck into tight areas even when skating at full speed. Considering Maxwell was a +17 three seasons ago and a +20 in 39 games in 2006-07 season shows his dedication to his team and he sacrifices his offensive opportunities. He has run into injury problems the last two seasons where he only played 39 and 31 games respectively. Has a way of stepping up his game in the postseason and has shown he can be clutch at that time of the year. His rookie season this year in the AHL has been impressive so far with 20 points in 26 games which earned him a call up to Montreal. Once he matures physically Maxwell could be a solid contributor at the NHL.

Ryan White - Centre, 20 (3rd Round, 66th overall 2006)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)

Another gritty hard working two-way hockey player in the mold of current Habs assistant coach Kirk Muller. He has decent size at 6"0' and 200 pounds and has all the intangibles teams look for with the willingness to pay the price to make plays and defend his zone. He has above average hockey sense and puck skills and gets most of his offensive production by hard work and opportunism while going to the dirty areas. With 161 points in 140 games along with 195 penalty minutes the last two seasons in the WHL, he showed the ability to dominate that level. The only really major concern about his game is his skating ability, but if he can improve that area and become an average NHL skater then he has a future. He made the jump to the AHL this season and has looked good as a rookie posting 16 points in 27 games but he must continue his hard work if he is to succeed. He might develop into a fine role player in the NHL who can play physical and kill penalties.

Matt D'Agostini - Right Wing, 22 (6th Round, 190th overall 2005)
Currently with Hamilton/Montreal (AHL/NHL)

A late round pick that has shown potential over the last two seasons with 102 points in 139 games in the AHL. This season he has been on a tear offensively with 25 points in 20 games before being called up to the NHL. At 6"0' and 183 pounds he will need to make sure he has the adequate strength to compete on a nightly basis as it could affect his consistency. Shows enough hockey sense and good skating ability to play at the pro level and it is a matter if he can find a role and put it all together on both sides of the ice. Has a knack for scoring goals in bunches with a quick right handed release and the accuracy that can fool netminders. He is one of those players that gets the most out of his talent by working hard and finding a way to contribute and might have a nice career if he completely dedicates himself on and off the ice. If he can learn to be at least average defensively in the NHL he might be a valuable role player who can contribute offensively.

Mathieu Carle - Defence, 21 (2nd Round, 53rd overall 2006)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)

Considering he had 195 points in 258 games in the QMJHL and is 6"2' and 210 pounds with very good skating ability one would think he could have been drafted higher. He has the hockey sense to run the powerplay but doing it consistently at higher tempo and speed is always an adjustment for young defencemen. His defensive game needs some fine tuning over the next couple years as he must improve on maintaining body position, making sure he keeps his feet moving and his head on a swivel. He had played well for a rookie in the AHL with 24 points in 64 games and just needs some time to fine-tune his game and compete hard. Although he has talent he still has some things to work on and may take another three years, he is a project that might be worth the wait. 

P.K. Subban - Defence, 19 (2nd round 43rd overall 2007)
Currently with Belleville (OHL) 

Subban is a 6" 0' and 202 pound defenceman that plays with moxie and relentless hard work. He shows fine hockey sense and vision with the puck and has improved by taking fewer risks. Subban has produced big numbers from the blueline with 102 points in 128 games over past two seasons in the OHL. His offensive numbers are even more impressive this year for the Bulls as he 37 points in only 29 games. A hard right handed accurate shot from point makes him a weapon and he usually keeps it low for the forwards to tip. Subban has good overall mobility due to his athleticism but his skating mechanics need a little refining to be more efficient. Works hard in his defensive zone and uses his quick feet and body position to thwart opportunities. It is hard not to like his enthusiasm and energy on the ice and his willingness to be a team player. His experience at the WJC last season and this year along with the Memorial Cup experience will take his development to another level and he could be a solid pro.

Yannick Weber - Defence, 20 (3rd round 73rd overall 2007)
Currently with Hamilton (AHL)
Offensive minded Swiss-born defenceman has opened some eyes over the past two seasons in the OHL. At 5"10' and 195 pounds he is not much to look at but he can create offense from the backend with 96 points in 110 games played. His production does not dip off in the post season and last year when it got rough on the way to the Memorial Cup, Weber had averaged a point a game. Has the passing ability to make a quick breakout pass and can avoid the forecheck and hit the forwards at full speed through the neutral zone. His accurate right handed shot is an asset on the powerplay and Weber does a good job of walking the blueline and finding seams to get the puck through. He is a puck possession defender and is at his best when he keeps his feet moving and gets the puck off his stick quickly up the ice. Shows the hockey sense and vision to play at the next level but will he accept the sacrifice and physical punishment it takes to make it to the NHL. To his credit he was willing to mix it up at the junior level and Weber must show the same kind of moxie at the AHL long term. To his credit he has adjusted quite well to the rigours of the pro game so far and is leading the Bulldogs in points from the blueline and has a positive plus/minus rating. 

Danny Kristo - Right Wing, 18 (2nd round 56th overall 2008)
Currently with Omaha (USHL)

"The Count" is a speed demon forward that has the ability to create serious mismatches in one on one situation's and has excellent two step quickness with an extra burst in his stride. Not the biggest player at 5"11' and 172 pounds, but he makes up for it with enough jam and competitiveness at junior level. He will need to add a greater power-to-weight ratio and 15 pounds to his frame before he reaches the pro ranks to handle the rigours and avoid injuries. His hockey sense and puck skills are good but not elite and he should be able to play at a high tempo and speed in terms of decision making. He moves the puck pretty well at full speed, which is needed since he gets their in a flash and buzzes around jumping on loose pucks. Once Kristo figures out the nuances of the defensive side of the game he might be a very valuable penalty killer, since his speed against defenceman on the point could disrupt power plays. A project for the Habs that they will be patient with, Kristo could eventually be a nice addition to any NHL roster. The upcoming WJC for team USA will be a tremendous experience for him and a barometer on what he must work on in the future.

Pavel Valentenko - Defence, 21 (5th round 139th overall 2006)
Currently with Moscow (KHL)

Now this strapping defenceman at 6"2' and 210 pounds is not the most graceful but he plays hard and shows up and competes. Valentenko proved that he play at the AHL as a 20-year old defenceman posting 16 points in 57 games along with 58 penalty minutes. He does not have high level skill set or hockey sense but is decision making his pretty consistent with or without the puck for a young defenceman. Now that he has returned to Russia for a more lucrative contract he may be a gone long term but his play last year makes him worthy enough to stay on the list for now. If he can handle the tempo and speed of the NHL he could become a valuable depth defenceman in a few seasons.

Ramp Interactive

Montreal Canadiens - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Montreal Canadiens 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 11 (RW) Jason Ward (1/11)
(C) Ben Guite (7/172)
1998 10 (C) Mike Ribeiro (2/45)
(D) Francois Beauchemin (3/75)
(D) Andrei Markov (6/162)
(RW) Michael Ryder (8/216)
1999 11 None
2000 11 (D) Ron Hainsey (1/13)
(RW) Marcel Hossa (1/16)
2001 8 (D) Mike Komisarek (1/7)
(RW) Alexander Perezhogin (1/25)
(C) Tomas Plekanec (3/71)
2002 6 (RW) Chris Higgins (1/14)
2003 11 (LW) Andrei Kostitsyn (1/10)
(C) Maxim Lapierre (2/61)
(G) Jaroslav Halak (9/271)
Pending (D) Ryan O'Byrne (3/79) 54 games played

Total: 7yrs - 68 draft picks - 15 NHL Players = 22.0 percent success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects: Eric Chouinard
7yrs - 8 draft picks - 7 NHL Players = 87.5 percent success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects - Gregor Baumgartner, Matt Carkner, Duncan Milroy, Tomas Linhart, Cory Urquhart, Alexander Buturlin
7yrs - 8 draft picks - 2 NHL Players = 25.0 percent success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 6 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects - Ryan O'Byrne, Jozef Balej, Ilkka Mikkola, Tyler Hanchuck
7yrs - 6 draft picks - 2 NHL Players = 33.3 percent success rate

Total: 7yrs - 22 draft picks - 11 NHL Players = 50.0 percent success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: : (8) North American, (4) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (6) North American, (4) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 46 total picks
7yrs - 46 draft picks - 4 NHL Players = 8.7 percent success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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