Prospects Closest To Making The Team

By JD Lagrange – I have lived to see the Glory years of the ’70s, meaning that I have been following this team for five decades. What if I told you that I don’t recall ever seeing a Canadiens’ prospect pool as full, both in quantity and quality, as I’m seeing today? Not even in 1985, when the likes of Patrick Roy, Stéphane Richer and company had yet to make the NHL.

Some prospects are a few years away but there are others who might just be ready to help turn this youth movement into action. I consider Nick Suzuki (22) and Cole Caufield (21) have already shown that they will be impact players in this league. But others are knocking at the door.

Juraj Slafkovsky

It has all but been announced that the NHL’s first overall pick at the most recent draft will make the jump to Canada next season. In his post-draft meeting with the press, Canadiens’ co-Director of Amateur scouting Nick Bobrov stated that Slafkovsky had nothing more to learn in Liiga, a league he qualifies as extremely defensive-minded. There were recent reports that the big Slovak would be playing in the OHL, but those reports have since been denied.

This leaves two options and in either cases, he will be in the Montreal vicinity. Either he makes the big club or he plays in Laval for the Rocket. At 6-foot 4-inches and 229 lbs, being out-muscled is not a concern. To put into perspective, Josh Anderson is 6-foot 3-inches, 227 lbs and Joel Armia is 6-foot 3-inches, 218 lbs. Where his game is at for the North-American professional level will be the deciding factor. He will play his first NHL game next season though, you can be sure of that!

Kirby Dach

Kirby Dach

In spite of having been in the NHL for three years already, I put Dach in the prospects’ category as he has yet to break through as an impact NHL player. This is the season where he will be given a true chance to shine and I have a feeling that he’s ready to do exactly that.

Standing at 6-foot 4-inches, he needs to put on a few pounds of muscle as 197 lbs on that big frame is a little light. But he has the hands, the hockey IQ and the skills to succeed. Mostly, he must stay healthy. He should be alternating between the second and third line with Christian Dvorak.

Jesse Ylönen

The forgotten one, Ylönen was one of the Rocket’s best players last season in Laval, particularly in the second half of the season. Armed with great speed and lots of skills, he is also mature and responsible defensively.

The one issue that I see with him is his weight. 167 lbs on a 6-foot frame is too light for the NHL level and he too needs to “fill-in” and add muscle mass in order to sustain the long and grinding NHL season. The Canadiens are very deep at the wing position at the time of writing this so he might have to start in Laval, but his game is very close to being NHL ready.

Justin Barron

It’s easy to forget that Barron is only 20 years old. For a defenseman in the NHL, it is very, very young. He is showing excellent mobility and good offensive flair, but he has some growing up to do on the defensive side. And that’s why I can see him doing the 30 minutes drive between Montreal and Laval fairly regularly this season.

Also, like many young players, he must add a bit weight on those bones as at 6-foot 2-inches, he needs to be over 200 lbs. His biggest asset? He shoots right on a team, a rarity in this organization.

Kaiden Guhle

Kaiden Guhle

Perhaps one of the most NHL-ready and mature defensemen in the NHL, let alone on the Canadiens. His game is perfectly suited for the league’s style of play. Good skater, he has the size, mobility and hockey IQ to play in the NHL. Last season, he became a more complete player by adding to his offensive arsenal.

I have seen Shea Weber play junior in Kelowna and Guhle is the closest thing to Weber that I have been given the opportunity to watch. Whether he has a career like Man Mountain remains to be seen, but he should force the Canadiens’ hand from camp. He might spend some time in Laval, but the majority of the time, he should play in Montreal.

Jordan Harris

The fact that Harris decided to play his senior year in the NCAA, he’s a bit older and more mature mentally than some of his counterparts. A bit undersized for a NHL defenseman, his cool demeanour, skating and passing ability compensate for his lack of physical strength.

He did well in the few games he’s played at the end of last season and his puck moving abilities were refreshing to see. Like Barron, he might have to find a place between Montreal and Laval as he should be spending time between the two clubs next season.

Otto Leskinen

Truthfully, I was surprised to find out that he was coming back to North-America. At 25, he’s my dark horse. I liked him when he played his few games with the Canadiens and I thought that he did pretty well in the AHL too.

This is make or break for him, at least with the Canadiens, at a position of depth. With Alexander Romanov gone, the door was wide open but with Mike Matheson’s acquisition, the left side of the defense is very deep. He will be competing directly with Guhle and Harris, both serious candidates as well.

Keep an eye on

There’s also a group of young prospects that fans should keep a close eye on. They could cause some surprises at camp, but the are likely within a couple of years to jump in and start having an impact in their own way.

  • Jan Mysak
  • Rafaël Harvey-Pinard
  • Joshua Roy
  • Emil Heineman
  • Joël Teasdale
  • Logan Mailloux
  • Arber Xhekaj
  • Cayden Primeau

As you can see, the future is bright in Montreal and I didn’t even touch the most recent picks here. Many are ready to break out in their own (minor) leagues too. It will be fun to watch their development and progression, particularly that this new management is making a conscious effort into player development.

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