Montreal Canadiens Prospects: The Shape of Things to Come (Euro Edition)

Sebastien TremblayCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2009

The Canadiens first overall pick of 2009 made the crowd jump up and roar : LOUIS LOUIS LOUIS as Louis Leblanc was being selected. Same thing hapenned when Gabriel Dumont's name popped up. Of course, European players don't get that kind of recognition in Montreal...but should they?


Montreal certainly picks up many North Americans skaters but doesn’t draft that many Europeans and to be honest, besides Andrei Markov, Montreal hasn't had much chance with their Euro "future stars". There is indeed a « hole » on the Canadiens European depth chart.


But no matter, still there are prospects that, even drafted in the late rounds, are making Montreal’s management drool in anticipation. A couple of them also make the envy of a lot of NHL and junior teams.


So here are the nominees that are, according to me, the most interesting to watch for in the coming years.


Maxim Trunev – fifth round pick, 138th overall in 2008


Don’t know him? Can’t blame you. I really took notice of him last year when I kept seeing videos on youtube of his dazzling puck handling and scoring abilities. Trunev has one of the best sets of hands and abilities for a young Russian and should be interesting to watch.


The Habs expect him to be a real steal by picking him in the fifth round. Why? Because having played enough internationally, he was eligible and drafted at 16 years old. Scouts believe he could’ve been a first round pick in 2009. Before his stint in the KHL in 2007-08, he had 60 points in 36 games with the Severstal junior club.


Trunev is extremely skilled offensively and has awesome puck handling skills. He’s obviously a finesse player and not very physical. He’s projected as a possible top 6 forward.


Still doubt me? Watch this. Wow. Yes, he’s the one who flies around the ice carrying the puck. That kind of skill makes me drool every time.


Sure, this is Midget AAA hockey and anything can happen until then to hamper his development. Trevor Timmins was hoping Trunev would come over and play for the Portland Winter Hawks who owns his rights in the juniors but, a bit like what happened with Alexei Yemelin, Trunev and his agent agreed to a contract with a Russian. Trunev has said that he is interested in playing in North America so we should see what he’s made of in the next two or three years.


It’s said he’s a cross between both Kostitsyn brothers, minus the disgruntled attitude. He has also been compared to Kovalchuk, but I’m not about to go that far yet but I will go as far and say « doesn’t he remind you of Phil Kessel the way he skates and handles the puck? » Interesting isn’t it? That’s some tantalizing talent!


He currently plays with the big boys of the KHL with the Cheropovets Severstal and had 2 goals in 15 games.



Nichlas Torp – sixth round pick, 163rd overall


A small but feisty swedish defender. At 5’10, it’s pretty small for a defensemen. But then again, that doesn’t stop him. Nichlas Torp is hungry for physical play and loves to bump through traffic. He will play in the Swedish Elite League this season (with an ex Canadiens we all hated…Janne Niinimaa).


Obviously, big defensemen are the ones who are the most prized by NHL teams. But remember a guy named Francis Bouillon? Even at 5’8 he can hit like he’s 6’4. Here is the new version in a swedish mold.


How does he play? A gritty, dirty, agitator style of play which is seriously lacking in Montreal. Himself says he’s been inspired by the likes of Chris Chelios and Darius Kasparaitis. So that says a lot about his style of play! I would welcome that type of physical play on the team.


Torp, before being seriously injured which dropped his rank in the draft, was ranked 7th amongst all European skaters. Not bad for a 5’10 defensemen. But missed half a season with a serious injury and his stock dropped quickly.


He was selected by the Swedish Junior National team and played most of the tournament side by side with the towering Victor Hedman and not once has he looked out of place. For a 6th round pick this is very interesting.


Hey, could it be the Red Wings actually missed a late round Swedish player?! Let’s hope!



Alexander Avtsin – fourth round pick, 109th overall in 2009-10-28


We started hearing about him after the draft as another potential steal by the Canadiens. Because Avtsin, three years ago, was considered a first round pick. He currently plays with the Moscow Dynamo in the KHL but has made it clear his goal is to get to the NHL.


Why did a kid ranked in the top 10 three years ago drop so much? Simply because he hasn’t played enough internationally in the last three years to be noticed so obviously, his stick dropped and being Russian…he dropped much faster than a North American skater would have.


But this guy can certainly electrify a crowd (watch number 9) For the Dynamo’s junior club, in 76 games, he had 110 points including 56 goals. How’s that for scoring talent. And he added to that 130 penalty minutes to show he also has a nasty side.


At this point, he’s considered a low risk and potential high reward draft pick. He is ranked 15th on Montreal’s depth chart. Pretty good for a kid who was just drafted and « dropped » in the rankings.


Avtsin is still untested, so this year with the Moscow Dynamo should give us an idea of what he’s really made of. He’s another one of those prospects who made the KHL at 18 years old only. Fast and smooth skater, great hands, good size and a taste for physical play...sounds like Alex Ovechkin doesn’t it? But he hates the comparison. Avtsin is Avtsin...he says.


Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here but in a Russian newspaper it read « A draft gem. The new Ovechkin. An incredible steal in the fourth round. »


We’ll just have to wait and see! Expect him to play in North America for the 2010-11 season.



Joonas Nattinen – third round pick, 65th overall in 2009-10-28


Not much is known about Joonas Nattinen besides that he was the top ranked Finnish player available in the draft. He played for the Blues Jr team in Finland putting up 38 points in 30 games. He should play in the SM-Liiga this year.


This is a long-term project for the Canadiens…a very long term project. Scouting reports have not been very pleasing in his case : « not a physical player, no grit, scared to go in the corners, seems to let the play develops instead of creating the chances… » Not very impressive when you think of it. He was tagged as a « floater ». A passive player who sacrifices offensive chances for a better defensive positioning.


Still, ISS ranked him 28th overall, Hockey News 36th and Montreal ended up picking him 65th. So we should not expect the second coming of Teemu Selanne but rather a good two-way checker with good size, passing skills and faceoff ability. He would greatly benefit from AHL seasoning so don’t expect to see him with Montreal until at least three or four years.


To his advantage, Nattinen is the « best friend » of his coaches meaning he gets lots of ice-time in all situations. So his game should improve but as of now, expect third or fourth line center caliber, he’s more a defensive center than anything else.


So this concludes the Euro edition. I decided to skip the smily Petteri Simila, the very lst pick of the 2009 draft simply because he already plays in North America and these four so it’s a lot easier to follow Simila’s development. And of course, goaltenders take a long time to develop, so don’t expect to see him until another four or five years which gives me ample time to come up with an evaluation! Keep watching for the American and Canadian edition!



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