Montreal Canadiens: Top 5 Habs Prospects and the Things They Need to Work on
It’s legitimately difficult to break down the Montreal Canadiens’ top prospects, their strengths and weaknesses when so few people get the chance or time to see them play. Thankfully, the National Hockey League lockout has helped out some in that regard.
God bless the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
Here are Montreal’s top five prospects and their major drawbacks, at least at this time.
When everyone was making comparisons between this year’s NHL Entry Draft and 2004, it was due primarily to the fact that both classes had a Russian winger poised to go at No. 1 and a Russian center at No. 2.
Six months later, Grigorenko can still be the Evgeni Malkin to Yakupov’s Alexander Ovechkin, but so can Galchenyuk, that is, if you dismiss his American citizenship.
The bottom line is Galchenyuk, who hails from Milwaukee and presumably cheers on the Bucks (but sounds like Boris Badenov chasing Bullwinkle the moose) has seemingly shrugged off a knee injury that cost him all but two games last season.
This year, he headed into the World Junior Hockey Championships in second place in Ontario Hockey League scoring with 61 points in 33 games and tied for first place in goals with 27. At the tournament, he has put up eight points in six games in largely a second-line role for the Americans (at least going in).
So, knee rehabilitated? Seems like. Scoring prowess? Check. Size? He’s 6’1” and already 198 pounds, so, yeah, check. Just what are his weaknesses then?
“…One area he could improve on is his physical game. He has the body to be a physical player, but at this point in his career it’s just not his style.”
The silver lining in regard to this revelation? It was starting to look like he wasn’t going to fit in with the Habs at all.
Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu isn’t exactly tearing it up in the American Hockey League, but the “good news” is neither are any of his teammates.
Beaulieu has a plus/minus rating of -10, tied for the worst on the team. Even as an offensive defenseman he’s not delivering, with just two goals and 10 assists in 32 games. That being said, the team is 12-18-1-2, and last in the entire league. He’s not the only one struggling.
Beaulieu is indeed projected to be a top-pairing defenseman, and his performance this year would be troubling were it not for the fact that this is his first professional season on a very young hockey club.
At 6’3” he would also dwarf the Habs’ tallest defenseman, Alexei Emelin. Admittedly, it would be by only an inch, but Emelin is quite stocky, and he’s not exactly going to win any beauty contests in the near future.
Beaulieu is nearly the entire package when it comes to what NHL teams look for in a defenseman, but he can stand to be more consistent and play with more of a mean streak according to The Scouting Report.
Of course, the current player comparison they used was Mike Green, so maybe add “breaks easily” and an NHL lifespan of three-to-five years to that list as well.
Habs fans had the unique opportunity to see two of the team’s top prospects in the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championships on Saturday when the United States (Galchenyuk) played Sweden (Collberg).
This is written before the game, so forgive the lack of discussion in regard to the outcome (3-1 win for U.S.A., updated after the fact). However, there is definitely enough out there on which to comment in regard to both players.
Collberg, for instance, has already tallied four goals (and two assists) in five games with Sweden at this year’s tournament. Taken No. 33 overall in 2012, he is actually projected to be a first-line right winger, especially on the Habs, being just 5’11” and 181 pounds.
The man Hab fans should already be calling Sea Bass is known to have great hands potentially rivaling those of Dumb and Dumber star Cam Neely. He’s also got great speed and would fit right in a top line in Montreal were his upper body strength up to par.
According to Yahoo! Sports blogger Neate Sager (via Yahoo.com):
“There are genuine concerns about whether Collberg, who’s willing to go into the corners but doesn’t have the upper-body strength to win one-on-one battles, can adapt to the NHL.”
Similarly, analyst Christopher Ralph had this to say, also citing consistency as another issue in his game (via The Hockey Writers):
“My feeling is that the team that drafts him will have to have patience. If left to develop appropriately, Sebastian will undoubtedly find a way to make an impact in the big league.”
Thankfully, in regard to Montrealers’ renowned “what have you done for me lately” attitude, it will be the Habs that develop him and not the fans.
Like Collberg, Jarred Tinordi has a built-in nickname himself in “Tiny.” Of course, it would be of the ironic variety, with Tinordi standing 6’7” and currently weighing 218 pounds at just 20 years of age.
He may have yet to play a game at the NHL level despite being drafted three years ago, but neither has Mikael Granlund and everyone is already thinking of him as the next big thing. In Tinordi’s case, he really is, just two inches shorter than the giant that is Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara.
Tinordi has a real chance to be Montreal’s best defensive defenseman since Mike Komisarek. Well, when the latter was actually a defensive defenseman and not just defensive about his lack of playing time in Toronto.
The Komisarek comparison is probably apt in that both lack an offensive game, which admittedly be untrue in Komisarek’s case if we’re talking non-literal definitions.
Talking about Tinordi now, the dude, who apparently does have a huge shot, still has never scored more than 16 points in one season of hockey.
Currently, in Hamilton, he has five points in 33 games with a plus/minus rating of -2 and his hulking presence will no doubt be a welcome one when he’s ready to become a full-fledged Hab.
“For Jarred to be at his best, he just needs to be steady. He’s very intelligent, keeps himself in good position and is capable of making the first pass. And that should and probably always will be the foundation of what will bring out the most in his game.”
As long as there are no delusions in regard to his offensive potential, it’s undeniably a good sign that all he has to do to make an impact in the NHL, at least according to some scouts, is continue along the same path without changing much of his approach to the game.
In short, no pun intended, Tinordi is on pace to become the towering blue-line presence Montreal has needed for some time.
Habs fans got a close look at Louis Leblanc last season, with the center/winger playing 42 games and putting up five goals and five assists in the NHL.
It wasn’t exactly a performance for the ages. All the same, if the Habs were playing now, there’s a good chance he would find himself on one of the bottom two lines.
In Hamilton, however, injuries have set Leblanc back somewhat, with him scoring just three goals and two assists in 21 games. He nonetheless still projects as a player capable of putting in 15-20 at the big-league level once he’s developed (via Eyes On The Prize):
“There are some limitations for Leblanc’s game, skating and muscle mass being key ones, but he’s a very hard worker…”
That work ethic was the subject of an NHL.com article, while a lack of size was also a concern of many teams and was cited in a Red Line Report profile Leblanc in the lead-up to the 2009 draft in which he was taken No. 18 overall (via inlouwetrust.com):
“Lacks physical strength now, but still plays with a physical edginess and has the frame to add 15 pounds of muscle. Big upside with lots of ways to impact a game positively.”
Hockey’sFuture.com meanwhile projects him as no worse than a third-liner if he doesn’t reach his full potential. There are definitely worse things out there, and if size is his main weakness he definitely maximized his chances at making the NHL by being drafted by the Habs.
Now at six feet tall and 190 pounds, he can clearly stand to put on some pounds, but he is also bigger than current top-six forwards David Desharnais and Brian Gionta. He is also just two pounds lighter than recently signed tough-guy Brandon Prust.
As such, if the work ethic is there, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will stick on with the Habs sooner rather than later once the lockout ends. It’s just a matter of time, as it clearly is with everyone else on this list.