Montreal Canadiens: Predicting Which Habs Minor Leaguers Will Reach Pros in 2012

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Montreal Canadiens: Predicting Which Habs Minor Leaguers Will Reach Pros in 2012
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The Montreal Canadiens' third-overall draft pick of 2012, Alex Galchenyuk, likely won't make the big club this year.

The addition of third-overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk certainly bodes well for the future of the Montreal Canadiens. But there should be an emphasis on “the future” in that statement as, contrary to in past seasons, there’s little need to rush his or any other prospect’s development.

Indeed, for the first time in a long time, the Montreal Canadiens’ system is rife with high-end prospects. Unfortunately for fans hoping for a glimpse at the future, it’s likely to stay that way. That’s even taking into account the philosophical 180 that has come about with the hiring of Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien as the team’s new general manager and head coach, respectively.

Both seem much more willing—even happy—to give younger players a chance to prove themselves than Pierre Gauthier or Jacques Martin did. Same with Bob Gainey. However, current circumstances just don’t lend themselves to prospects or farmhands getting playing time with the big club this year.

The signings of Colby Armstrong, Brandon Prust and Francis Bouillon fill any holes there might have been, as do deadweights like Scott Gomez and Rene Bourque, who, like them (no one actually loves them) or hate them, still take up roster spots.

Barring trades for bags of pucks or similar wastes of space, money and air on other teams, each is here to stay. And, barring injuries, perhaps resulting from unfortunate off-ice “accidents,” nudge, nudge, wink, wink, that means no ice time for Hamilton Bulldogs.

Last season, no fewer than five current Bulldogs made their Montreal Canadiens debuts. Of those, Blake Geoffrion and Mike Blunden had prior NHL experience.

Of the remaining three (Louis Leblanc, Frederic St. Denis and Gabriel Dumont), only Leblanc was a highly-touted prospect, drafted 18th overall in 2009. Dumont was drafted that same year in the fifth round, and St. Denis—now 26—went undrafted altogether.

Rich Lam/Getty Images
Louis Leblanc, Montreal's 2009 first-round pick, made his Canadiens debut in 2011-2012 and will look to build on his development this upcoming season.

Still, look for St. Denis to return in a limited capacity should injuries arise, as he proved a competent fill-in for 17 games last season. If not him, then Brendon Nash, who missed all of last season with an injury, will be in line for an emergency call-up. Nash made his Canadiens debut a year earlier with two games played (and no points).

Top defensive prospects like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi will meanwhile most likely be given a greater chance to develop, as, let’s not forget, the Habs did just re-sign 26-year-old youngsters Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz. As such, look for the team’s defensive corps to stay much the same (aside from the addition of Bouillon, who shouldn’t play all that much).

On the other side of the puck, all the pieces, including Leblanc, are there right now. Last year’s “top” line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole has remained intact.

Brian Gionta will serve as a complement to Tomas Plekanec on the second line, perhaps leaving a spot open for either Lars Eller or Leblanc. Granted, Leblanc hasn’t been guaranteed a spot on this year’s team, but following a 42-game trial last year, he most definitely has the inside track, ahead of similarly highly-touted prospects like Brendan Gallagher and Danny Kristo. And that’s how it should be.

Behind him, the recently re-signed Aaron Palushaj has earned another look with the Habs, despite only scoring one goal in 41 games spanning the past two seasons. However, that’s more an indication of his lack of optimal ice time than it is any lack of ability, and that, in a nutshell, sums up Montreal’s organizational depth.

There’s little point promoting high-scoring Bulldogs when they’ll only be reduced to bottom-six roles, if that, with the Habs. Palushaj is arguably a top-end offensive prospect, but won’t produce in Montreal if he’s only playing on the fourth line.

The truth of the matter is it’s a catch-22 of sorts. Habs fans justifiably want to see the team’s prospects in NHL action, but they don’t want the team to sustain injuries that will provide the opportunity for them to do so.

However, looking at it another way, the Habs are quite young, and players like Leblanc, Diaz, Emelin and Lars Eller are primed for larger roles with the team. These are the “prospects” about which fans can get excited, as well as the fact that the core of the Habs is clearly secure for many years to come.

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