Habs 12 Most NHL-Ready Prospects

By JD Lagrange – Isn’t it fun to be able to look ahead and talk about players hitting the ice? After two years of COVID shortened off-seasons and an early elimination from participating in the playoffs, Habs’ fans aren’t used to that long of a delay. It seems like it’s been forever that their favourites have hit the ice, and there is a lot of excitement and novelty for the upcoming season.

There are some young guys in the organization who will be fighting for their lives trying to finally break through and fulfil their dream of playing in the NHL. The following is not a list of the Canadiens’ top prospects, but rather a subjective ranking of the prospects whom I feel are the closest to being ready to take the next step into the league.

1- Otto Leskinen

At 25 years old, calling him a prospect is pushing it. Let’s say that he’s the oldest one on that list and that’s why he’s at the top and I placed him amongst prospects because he came back to Montreal for one last kick at the can. He had a good season last year in the KHL and in Liiga and I’m fully expecting that with his age and experience, he is the forgotten one as fans only speak of Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris on the left side of the defense.

2- Justin Barron

Barron has one huge advantage over the team’s other young defensemen: he shoots right, a rarity in the organization. In fact, only David Savard and Chris Wideman are right-handed ahead of him. He has the size, the mobility and the skills, and he has a little bit of NHL experience under his belt. He will be turning 21 in November and he must come ready to play and contribute. It is his job to lose.

3- Kaiden Guhle

Admittedly, it is kind of weird to say that a 20 year-old is NHL-ready. Particularly a defenseman. But if you ask anyone, Guhle is mature well beyond his young age. He has the physique, the skating ability and good decision-making to be a contributor on this year’s squad, particularly that there are three open spots on the Canadiens’ defense at the time of writing this. He may be part of a rotation between Laval and Montreal with a few other prospects to start, but he’s very close to sticking with the big club.

4- Juraj Slafkovsky

When was the last time that we thought that an 18 year-old player was NHL-ready on the Canadiens? Fans will have a bad taste in their mouth from the Alex Galchenyuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi experience and rightfully so. But unlike them, Slafkovsky is said to be the most NHL-ready of his Draft class. Further, he is a first overall pick. Oh that doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the team, far from there, but at 6-foot 4-inches and 229 lbs, and having played against men all season last year, he can handle it physically. He may or may not stick, but he’s close.

5- Jordan Harris

Harris is special. Having played his senior year of College, he’s already 22 years old. He did fairly well in the few games that he’s played at the end of last season. A bit undersized, his best attributes are his skating abilities, and how calm he is on the ice, even as a rookie. Not panicking at such a young age at that level is a huge quality. He may have to be part of that rotation between Laval and Montreal with a few other defensemen. As he said himself just recently, what’s important is that he plays big minutes.

6- Jesse Ylönen

I truly feel for Ylönen. The Canadiens have absolutely no room for him right now. Yet he is, in my humble opinion, totally NHL-ready. The 22 year-old right-winger has the speed, the shot, the offensive flair and the defensive awareness to play in this league. I’m just hoping that he managed to put some muscle mass on his six-foot frame in the off-season, as 168 lbs is way too light for him. Please Kent (Hughes), clear some space on the wing…

7- Arber Xhekaj

One word to describe “Jack-eye”: Beast! He played as an overager last year in the OHL and it showed. He man-handled those kids from his 6-foot 4-inches and 218 lbs frame. He doesn’t have the offense or skills Shea Weber had, but he has his sheer strength. Undrafted, he had a good camp last year and expect the 21 year-old to open some eyes at camp again this year. Another guy who can rotate between Laval and Montreal next season.

8- Mattias Norlinder

Perhaps the best offensive defenseman of the group, Norlinder struggled a bit to adapt to the North American lifestyle last year. At 22, he’s a year older and knows more what to expect. Great skater with good offensive instincts, he has a great first pass and good shot from the point. He’s not very physical in the defensive zone but he does utilize his positioning and stick work quite well. Another member of that rotation between Laval and Montreal, I’m thinking.

9- Cayden Primeau

Last year’s call-up was too soon for young Primeau. He was simply not ready, particularly not being left up to dry with the team in front of him. Thankfully, he managed to rebound in Laval after being sent back down as I was concerned that Montreal burnt him. It shows the resiliency and character of this young man. He needs to play, and to play often. So in my humble opinion, he plays close to 50% of the games with Jake Allen in the NHL, or as the starter in Laval. Let’s not mess around with this guy as the other goaltending prospects are a few years away.

10- Rafaël Harvey-Pinard

I have him at number 10 on this list but don’t count this guy out. The one they nicknamed Lavallagher, as a comparison to being the Brendan Gallagher of Laval, he will go through a brick wall to make his dream come true. And when someone is that determined, you should never count them out. Limited talent, he did remarkably well last season with the Rocket, accumulating 21 goals and 56 points in 69 games. But like Ylönen, he is facing the tough reality of too much NHL depth on the wing.

11- Emil Heineman

Surprised to see his name here? Heineman is, in my opinion, a wild card to cause some pleasant surprises at camp. The left-winger will be turning 21 in November and he did well playing against men in the SHL last season. Elite Prospects has this to say about him: “He’s the type that can fit anywhere in the lineup and play any role. There’s a strong push to his stride, which gives him added acceleration and top speed while skating in a straight line. He’s always got his feet moving, always maintains a high battle-level, and never shies away from making personal sacrifices to improve the two-way health of his team.”

12- Jan Mysak

Mysak had a taste of the AHL during COVID back in 2020-21, and he used that experience to his advantage last year, both in the OHL and on the International scene. In fact, he was a dominant player last year and kept progressing. He is likely to be playing in Laval next season, but he’s only a call-up away from showing what he can really do. You know who he reminds me of? Tomas Plekanec…

There you have it. You may agree with some of my choices, or rankings, and disagree with others. That’s okay as it’s totally subjective and definitely up for debate. Let’s drop that puck, shall we?

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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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