After a Cinderella playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Habs are having a season of turmoil.
It all started in the summer as controversy surrounded the team with their decision to expose franchise goalie Cary Price in the expansion draft. They also made a heavily criticized decision to select Logan Mailloux in the first round after he was convicted of a crime and asked to be removed from the draft. The team then lost their Captain Shea Weber to a career ending injury. The team got off to a terrible start which led to the end of the Marc Bergevin era as GM.
It is not a complete dumpster fire for Montreal, however. This season has seen the return of Jonathan Drouin from personal leave, and the team has several promising players that have graduated to the main roster. A pair of 21-year-old players are playing big roles, Nick Suzuki is leading the team in scoring and Alexander Romanov is playing top-four minutes with the absence of Weber and Joel Edmundson due to injuries. Other players under 25 and trying to crack the roster include Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield.
Montreal has a good young roster with players evolving into stars with a good supporting cast coming down the prospect pipeline despite a disappointing 2021 Entry Draft, but a return to the Stanley Cup maybe a few years away as the organization regroups with a new General Manager.
- Cole Caufield, RW – Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
Drafted: 2019 round one, 15th overall by Montreal Canadiens
Caufield had a monster 2020-21 season as he dominated the NCAA with 30 goals and 52 points with the Wisconsin Badgers and winning the Gold with USA at the WJC notching five points. He won the Hobey Baker as the NCAA Best Player and signed his ELC after the college season.
After just two AHL games he scored three goals and was recalled to the NHL. He really found his game in the playoffs playing on a line with Nick Suzuki with 12 points in 20 playoff games. His playoff performance had all signs pointing to an early favorite for a Calder favorite rookie season. However, he is struggling to maintain his playoff magic and was reassigned to the AHL for a six-game stint to get his mojo back.
With hopes of a Calder trophy nomination looking like a distant memory, the upside of Caufield becoming a future 50 goal scorer remains.
- Kaiden Guhle, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 16th overall by Montreal Canadiens
Montreal may have a future number one defender in Guhle. An injury and the pandemic limited his playing time last year to just three AHL games, to WHL games and seven games for Canada at the WJ as an 18-year-old. Guhle had a good showing at the Canadiens development camp and training camp this summer before heading back in the WHL.
Recently involved in a deal the had him move from Prince Albert Raiders to the contending Edmonton Oil Kings should lend the opportunity for a long playoff run. Guhle will play a much bigger role with Canada at the 2022 WJC as a top-pairing defender looking for another Medal.
Guhle has size, strength, and is a very physical player. He is a strong skater with a good motor that allows him to close gaps and cover a wide range of ice quickly. His offensive game is one area that may not translate as elite at the NHL level, but it is still developing. He joins the rush and has a heavy point shot but may lack NHL-level offensive chops. In his final year of junior, he will turn pro next season and may not be long for the NHL given his sound defensive play and physical development already.
- Cayden Primeau, G – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round seven, 199th overall by Montreal Canadiens
Since turning pro, his development has arguably declined or at least plateaued. I would argue against that. Primeau had a stellar NCAA career at Northeastern full of accolades including back-to-back Hockey East Goaltender of the Year and All-Star. In his sophomore season, he won the Mike Richter Award as Top NCAA Goalie and back stopped USA to a WJC Silver Medal.
His rookie season in the AHL was impressive with a 17-11-4 record that included a two-game NHL debut. The pandemic limited his playing time like everyone last season. Primeau still posted a winning record of 11-4-0 with a GAA of 2.10 and had another four-game NHL recall. His development continues this year in the AHL as the Rocket starting goalie but his numbers are slipping slightly and he has seen three more NHL games. It is not uncommon for goalies to have ups and downs in their development before they establish themselves and at 22-years-old Primeau is still on track to inherit the starting role in the Montreal net from Carey Price.
Perhaps the expectation of Primeau becoming the next Habs legend goalie like Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Carey Price may be a reach, but he is looking like an NHL starting goalie.
- Mattias Norlinder, D – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round three, 64th overall by Montreal Canadiens
One of the biggest risers in the system is Norlinder. Originally overlooked in the 2018 draft, Montreal selected him as an overaged in the 2019 draft. His breakout season was last year as a rookie in the SHL his development accelerated. Despite several injuries, he was able to play in 37 games for Frolunda and was the teams leading scorer in the playoffs with five points in seven games.
Montreal put pen to paper with Norlinder signing him to his ELC and brought him to North America. The big Swede impressed in camp but was assigned to the AHL to adjust to the smaller ice. His play in the AHL has been good enough to earn a recall to the NHL where he made his debut and has played in six games with one assist.
Norlinder is not as physical as Guhle or Romanov but is a smart player that moves the puck well and thinks the game quickly. His offensive upside may be limited to a third pairing capacity, but he should be able to play a lot of minutes at the NHL level in multiple situations. Montreal will be patient allowing Norlinder to play the bulk of his rookie season in the AHL. If he is ready for an NHL role next year, Montreal has several left-shot defensemen with expiring contracts that could make way for him.
- Jesse Ylonen, RW – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 35th overall by Montreal Canadiens
One of the more underrated prospects is the son for former NHL player Juha Ylonen. Jesse saw limited ice time playing as a teenager in the Liiga, but we got a glimpse of his potential when the dual citizen chose to play for Finland at the 2019 WJC winning the Gold Medal and posting six points in seven games as a key player for Suomi.
Last year he came to North America and played a key role for Laval posting 17 points in 29 games and making his NHL debut as well. Close to a point per game in his second AHL season, he has earned another recall to Montreal and recorded his first career NHL goal on December 12th against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ylonen is technically an excellent skater that drives play and attacks with speed. While not a burner, his agility and quickness are above average and his ability to make plays at speed makes him dangerous offensively. Ylonen likely has a ceiling similar to his father’s as a very good third-line player with offensive upside. He is close to NHL ready and likely breaks the roster full-time next year.
- Jordan Harris, D – Northeastern University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2018 round three, 71st overall by Montreal Canadiens
In his fourth and final season of NCAA hockey, Harris has developed into a quality all-around player. He is a reliable defensive shutdown player.
Harris is a mobile skater that has good agility, and he uses his skating to maneuver players away from danger areas. His lack of size and physicality makes this an essential skill.
As a senior, he will look to develop his offensive game before his NCAA career expires and he graduates to the pro level. Montreal will need to sign him immediately and burn a year of his contract or risk losing him as a free agent in August to another organization.
- Sean Farrell, C/LW – Harvard University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2020 round four, 124th overall by Montreal Canadiens
Drafted out of the USHL after leading the league in assists with 41, the Harvard commit was forced to return for another season in the USHL as the Ivy League did not play due to COVID. Back with the Chicago Steel, Farrell had a monster season as a 19-year-old leading the league in assists (72) and points (101) and winning the USHL and USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year Awards and leading the Steel to a Clark Cup Championship. With Harvard resuming play, Farrell is in his freshman season and his offensive production has translated well to a higher level with the Crimson as he has 14 points in his first 11 games.
The undersized winger is an exceptional playmaker, he makes sneaky good passes to players others would not think to try. He uses deception and fakes to make time and space to find open players or open ice. His shot is good and still under development as he expands his offensive arsenal.
Skating and lack of size are the two main obstacles he will need to overcome to play in the NHL. Farrell can spend time in the gym in the NCAA adding the strength he will need to play at the pro level. Farrell will need more development time in Harvard and then some AHL time before he could be NHL ready, but he has the skill and vision to produce as a top-six winger.
- Jan Mysak, LW – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 48th overall by Montreal Canadiens
Mysak joined Hamilton halfway through the season in his draft year. He immediately had an impact scoring over a point per game. With the OHL in lockdown, he played in 22 AHL games with Laval and struggled with only two goals.
He has also produced well at the WJC with five points in two tournaments. As a 19-year-old he will be in his third WJC for the Czech Republic and will be a leader on the team playing a big role. This year he is back in the OHL with Hamilton and is an elite player in the league and an Assistant Captain on the Bulldogs.
Mysak has good size, plays a physical game, and is strong on the forecheck. Mysak’s best offensive weapon is his shot, and he has leadership and work ethic that should offer him plenty of opportunities to make the NHL in time. Mysak will return to the AHL next year and will need to show that his offense can translate to the pro level.
- Jayden Struble, D – Northeastern University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2019 round two, 46th overall by Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens own two defensemen on the Huskies, Harris and Struble. Both are likely to turn pro after the current season and join Laval in the AHL. With Guhle, Harris and Struble all potentially joining the Rocket next year, minutes may be hard to come by. For Struble, his main competition for minutes maybe with Guhle as both offer similar skills.
At 6-0 and 194 Struble has average size at best for an NHL defenseman, but he plays a mean and gritty physical game. Struble plays a two-way game, he has some offensive upside, but the primary focus of his game is to hit the other team’s players into submission. As a junior, his offensive production is taking a hit and it would be nice to see that aspect of his game show some development and improvement at the NCAA level, rather than regression.
- Josh Brook, D – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round two, 56th overall by Montreal Canadiens
The 2017 second-round pick has shown steady development since his draft year. His production in the WHL reached well over a point per game with 16 goals and 75 points in 59 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors and he represented Canada at the WJC in 2019 as well.
As a rookie in the AHL the following season he fit in nicely with a modest but respectable 13 points in 60 games cutting his teeth in Laval. The following campaign he showed strong development with 15 points in only 33 games playing a bigger role.
Brook has yet to play this season due to injury and will return to the AHL once healthy where he will have an important season of development to move up the depth chart before he is surpassed by the Canadiens depth in the prospect pool