Ranking the Prospect Pool

By Bob Trask – Various publications rank the farm systems of NHL teams. Last January Peter Barrachini from The Hockey Writers ranked the farm system of the Montreal Canadiens at number 17 down from their previous ranking of number 10. That was probably due to the graduation of Cole Caufield. As a matter of comparison the same publication had the Toronto Maple Leafs at number 15.

Scott Wheeler at The Athletic also had Toronto ranked at number 15 but he had the Canadiens ranked at number 8. Wheeler notes that he did not include Logan Mailloux in his overall assessment of the Canadiens farm system. Both of these rankings were made in the January/February period and a lot has changed since then. The big difference between the two rankings is that Wheeler’s includes Cole Caufield while Barrachini’s does not.

The focus of these comments will naturally be on the Canadiens.

Wheeler’s Rankings

  1. Cole Caufield
  2. Kaiden Guhle
  3. Sean Farrell
  4. Jordan Harris
  5. Jan Mysak
  6. Cayden Primeau
  7. Joshua Roy
  8. Mattias Norlinder
  9. Riley Kidney
  10. Jayden Struble
  11. Jesse Ylonen
  12. Dmitri Kostenko
  13. Oliver Kapanen
  14. Josh Brook
  15. William Trudeau
  16. Xavier Simoneau
  17. Blake Biondi
  18. Brett Stapley
  19. Cam Hillis
  20. Gianni Fairbrother

Changes

Wheeler’s analysis goes into more depth and he lists the top 20 prospects on each team. Subsequent rankings will exclude Caufield who has graduated. Josh Brook and Brett Stapley, ranked 14th and 18th respectively among Canadiens’ prosects, are likely to be dropped from the rankings.

On the positive side, the trade deadline resulted in some significant assets as well as draft picks coming back to the Canadiens.

Emil Heineman was acquired in the Tyler Toffoli trade and was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Calgary Flames organization by Scott Wheeler. Similarly, Ty Smilanic was acquired in the Ben Chiarot traded and was ranked by Wheeler as the 8th best prospect in the Florida Panthers organization.

Justin Barron and Cole Caufield

The highest rank of all additions made by Hughes was Justin Barron who was listed as Colorado’s number 3 prospect behind Alex Newhook and Oskar Olausson. With Newhook already graduated to the Avalanche and no first round pick in the upcoming draft it could be argued that the Canadiens acquired Colorado’s number 2 prosect in the Lehkonen trade.

I will also exclude Jesse Ylönen from the prospect list for the upcoming year. As much as I hate to say it, if he can’t crack the Canadiens this season I don’t see him remaining with the organization.

The 2021 Draft

The NHL entry draft is where teams add signficantly to their prospect pool and the 2021 draft was both controversial and successful for the Canadiens in that regard.

Without including Logan Mailloux, six draft picks cracked the top 20 among Canadiens’ prospects. They were Joshua Roy (#7), Riley Kidney (#9), Dmitri Kostenko (#12), Oliver Kapananen (#13), William Trudeau (#15) and Xavier Simoneau (#16).

The controversial first pick aside, Canadiens’ fans should be very pleased with the results of the 2021 amateur draft.

The 2022 Draft

As good as the 2021 draft was, the 2022 draft has the potential to be even better. With 14 picks including two in the first round, Kent Hughes has both quantity and quality available to him when the draft begins.

Using the 2021 draft as a guideline where the draftees took six of the top 20 spots (seven if you include Mailloux), the 2022 draft should add significant new names to the top 20 Canadiens prospects. The exact number will depend on the strategy Hughes adopts at the draft table.

Two Wildcards

Two very significant names were not included in Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings.

Logan Mailloux

We should all understand and respect his decision to exclude Logan Mailloux – for now. That could change in any number of ways. Mailloux, who will be spending a considerable amount of time in Montreal this summer, could earn the trust of the organization and become a legitimate prospect or he could be traded for a future pick. It does not sound like Kent Hughes will walk away and receive nothing in return.

The other wild card is Arber Xhekaj who really made a name for himself during the OHL regular season but even moreso in the playoffs. He might be the most NHL ready of any prospect defenseman not named Guhle, Harris or Barron. He will definitely crack the top 20 list for Canadiens prospects and may even be in the top 5. Kudos to Bergevin, Timmins and co. for discovering and signing the big defenseman.

Risers and Fallers

Since the January prospect rankings came out no one has probably risen more than Xhekaj. On the downside Brook, Stapley and Hillis look to be at risk of falling out of the top 20. When you add in Xhekaj, Heineman, Smilanic, Barron and probably a handful of draft picks, the Canadiens could have 10 new names among their top 20 prospects. That means an additional six or seven names could be bumped and while they might not crack the top 20, many of them could still be in the organization.

Jan Mysak is also likely to fall. He played behind Mason McTavish and Logan Morrison on a strong Hamilton team and had a mediocre year offensively but that doesn’t mean that he is no longer a valuable prospect. However, given the plethora of draft picks and new names acquired in trades, Mysak will likely be ranked lower this year.

The New List

After the draft we will have a better idea of how the experts will rank the Canadiens prospect pool but for now we can have a little fun and put together a hypothetical list.

  1. Kaiden Guhle
  2. First overall pick
  3. Justin Barron
  4. Jordan Harris
  5. Arber Xhekaj
  6. Cayden Primeau
  7. Joshua Roy
  8. Sean Farrell
  9. Riley Kidney
  10. Emil Heineman
  11. Jan Mysak
  12. Twenty-sixth overall pick
  13. Thirty-third overall pick
  14. Jayden Struble
  15. Mattias Norlinder
  16. Jakub Dobes
  17. Dmitri Kostenko
  18. Oliver Kapanen
  19. William Trudeau
  20. Blake Biondi

Honorable mentions: Ty Smilanic, Xavier Simoneau, Gianni Fairbrother, Frederik Dichow

Potential suprises: Last year 5 players drafted between #62 and #191 cracked Montreal’s top 20 prospect list. At the moment the Canadiens hold 10 draft picks between #62 and #194. While it’s doubtful they will exercise all of those picks, there is a good chance that one or two of them could suprise and work their way into the top 20 by next season.

The Mailloux wildcard: If Mailloux does remain with the organization I would rank him at #8 simply because of his lack of playing time. He could quickly climb higher but that is where I would slot him in for now. Everyone ranked after him would be bumped down one spot.

A Final Word

There is the potential for a lot of player movements that could include existing prospects and draft choices but it is easy to see the growing depth in the Canadiens’ organization. The prospect list will likely see several changes before the season begins and it will be interesting to see where the experts rank them. I thought I would give you a starting point.

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