With nine more prospects added to the pipeline and possibly more through the post-draft signing period, the Canadiens have a very packed prospect cupboard filled with a wide range of abilities and potential. These players are not placed in a number ranking, but a pyramid with tiers which groups players of similar potential together. With that, here is the updated prospect pyramid. Thanks to Steve Dangle for the inspiration, the creator of the prospect pyramid.
1st tier – Generational Talent
2nd tier – These prospects project as first line forwards, top pair defensemen and top level netminders
3rd tier – These prospects project as top six forwards, top-three defensemen and good netminders
4th tier – These prospects project as middle-six forwards, No. 4 defensemen and tandem netminders
5th tier – These prospects project as bottom-six forwards, third pair defenseman and backup netminders
6th tier – These prospects project as borderline top NHL players, top level AHL players
7th tier – These prospects project as career AHL players
What Goes Into Determining Projections?
Most of the information used in these projections has to do with their current state of development. The better their recent seasons, the better their ranking. As well as recent history, it’s their overall abilities and skillset compared to the field that comes into consideration. How developed are they? Have they surpassed their peers? what abilities have they mastered and does their game translate well vs. better and more mature competition?
There are none
There isn’t much to explain here, Cole Caufield is not only Montreal’s top prospect, but he ranks among the best in the league. He’s an elite goal scorer, puck mover and has added a playmaking quality to his game, which has garnered him a lot more attention. He can now beat you in more ways than one, but he’s still that sharp shooter Montreal selected 15th overall in 2019.
Ryan Poehling had an up and down progression and many thought he had been overhyped. In his second season for the Rocket, Poehling made major leaps in his development and was among the top young players in the AHL. He utilized his hands, speed and body to play a strong power game. The injury that sidelined him at the end of the year should not interfere with him heading into the 2021 pro training camp. He should be challenging for a bottom-six role at the Canadiens training camp.
Cayden Primeau had a fantastic season with the Rocket and showed strong signs of future starting caliber play. His numbers were among the top-five in the league and was a Canadian Division All-Star in 2021. He was extremely comfortable in net and was a major factor to Laval’s division title. He’s at least one full AHL season away from challenging Jake Allen for the backup spot with Montreal.
One of the top revelations for Montreal this past year was Jesse Ylonen. He was coming over from Europe, where he spent his whole junior and pro career up to this past year. Most expected a year or two of adaptation, but he was more than ready to be an impactful player for Laval from game one. He’s likely a full season in the AHL away before he make his way to the Canadiens bottom-nine in 2022-23.
Even though Jayden Struble has not played a full NCAA season yet due to injuries, he has been progressing well since being drafted. He has a lot of traits that translate well to the NHL. He’s a mean, strong skating two-way defenseman with offensive upside. The NU coaching staff really like him and he plays in every scenario. If he can stay healthy in 2021-22, he’ll be a prime candidate to make the jump to the AHL in the 2022-23 season.
Mattias Norlinder is the Canadiens top offensive defenseman. He’s among the most mobile in the organization and has the best zone to zone puck moving ability in the system. He has all the abilities to become an impact, puck moving defenseman, but we’ll see if it will translate to the NHL. He could be the Habs best defenseman at the prospect level if he hits his potential. He’ll compete for a spot on the Canadiens at the upcoming training camp.
Kaiden Guhle is among the top defensive prospects in any system. He’s a big, physical and effective smooth skating blue-liner who can reliable in all three zones. He showed strong progression in the limited time he spent with the Laval Rocket during practice and in games this past season. He’s expected to be a big part of Team Canada’s defence core at the World Juniors are possibly be their team Captain. He’s a full WHL season away from turning pro and hitting the AHL in the 2022-23 season.
Another solid on ice addition to the Canadiens prospect pool was Logan Mailloux. He’s big, he can skate, he can move the puck up the ice and he has an impact in both ends of the ice. The potential is there to be a pillar to a team’s top-three, but he needs to figure out his off ice issues where he’ll get help from experts and the overview of from both the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL. His future is unknown and full of uncertainty and therefore there is no projection for Mailloux regarding his jump to the pros.
Oliver Kapanen fell to the Canadiens at the 2021 NHL draft and may end up being worthy of the title “gem” from round two. The big Finnish forward is among the best two-way players from this past draft. He had a strong showing with Kalpa’s U20 group and is expected to remain in the development program in 2021. He’s also a strong candidate to make the Finnish roster for the upcoming World Juniors. His timeline for turning pro in North America will be likely be two years after the 2021-22 season.
Josh Brook has had a rougher progression since turning pro after a strong WHL career. He has since shown strong signs of change and evolution of his on ice play. He’s been a lot more consistent and confident as of late. The offensive creativity was lacking in his first year with Laval, but he was a lot more ambitious this year. He’s likely another full year away before he competes for a bottom pair role with Montreal to start.
Cam Hillis had a set of injuries in his junior career with Guelph that almost jeopardized his chances of receiving an entry-level contract. In the 2019-20 he made a full 180 in and managed to stay healthy. This was his final season in junior and he scored 83 points in 62 games. He had a less successful year in 2020-21 with Laval, as he only suited up for 18 games and scored one point, things are expected to clear up and allow him to have a more permanent role on the team. Timeline is roughly two full AHL seasons before competing for a bottom-six role with Montreal.
One of Montreal’s best selections in recent history is Jordan Harris. He’s been nothing, but remarkable for Northeastern University and former Head Coach Jim Madigan deployed him in a various range of scenarios. He was named team captain for the upcoming year. Harris has been progressing well enough to be considered one of Montreal’s top prospect, but with his intentions to return to school as a senior, he might choose to become a free agent at the end of the year and pick his destination.
Luke Tuch had one of the best seasons for a Canadiens prospect last year with the BU Terriers. He had a strong impact for a freshman and ended up on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. He was consistently physical, an imposing net front presence and showed good offensive upside. He’s at least one to two years away from turning pro and playing in Laval.
Another prospect who showed nice flashes in 2021 was Jan Mysak. He split the year between the Czech Republic and Canada, mostly playing with the Laval Rocket. Mysak was 18 playing in the AHL and did not look terribly overwhelmed. He should flashes of what could be a strong two-way forward, and though he only scored two goals in 22 games, he did that in a limited role lower down the lineup. Now 19, he’s on track to turn pro after this upcoming OHL season.
Sean Farrell had a statistical year for the ages in the USHL. He was just the second player to surpass the 100 point plateau in the 21st century (Kevin Roy scored 104 points in 59 games during the 2011-12 season). His vision and playmaking ability went up to another level and he will be heading to Harvard with a boat load of confidence. He might take two full NCAA seasons before signing an entry-level contract and going to the AHL.
One thing Riley Kidney showed this past year is he could repeat his production from his previous season and he continued to produce in the QMJHL playoffs. His 2021 season was a strong showing of his offensive abilities and his overall creativity on the ice. His vision is among the best in this prospect pool. I’m projecting him to turn pro in two years.
It seems Lukas Vejdemo has become “The forgotten prospect” within the fan base and especially now that a new draft class has been selected. Lukas did well with the Rocket last year and showed he was still the reliable, two-way forward we’ve known over the last few years. He’s at the point where he will be challenging for that 4C spot on the Canadiens.
Gianni Fairbrother is another prospect who’s progressed well since he was drafted and has shown growth in weaker areas. He was also at the Laval Rocket camp and managed to play a few games before heading back to Everett in the WHL. Fairbrother could return to junior, but he looks poised to challenge for a spot in the AHL with Laval at the upcoming 2021 camp.
The Canadiens seem to find a lot of late round gems in drafts. They also seem to have strong eye for undrafted prospects and Joel Teasdale may end up in the NHL if he continues on his current progression. His junior playing style translated well to the AHL after a slow start. His puck protection and play around the net was his bread and butter throughout the year. He’s likely to return to Laval for at least another year.
Though Rhett Pitlick had a bit of a down year in the USHL after a breakout one the year before, all signs are pointing to positive development heading into the upcoming NCAA season. Pitlick’s speed and puck rushing ability should be enhanced at the University of Minnesota where he will continue to play hockey. He’s likely two full college seasons away from potentially signing an entry-level contract.
One prospect that has had an up and down development since their draft year is Jacob Olofsson. He’s shown potential, but not consistent enough to garner optimism. He’s had a hard time finding his game at both center and wing, and though his offensive qualities have not dried out, his recent play has not.
William Trudeau has a good sense of mobility and two-way awareness that should keep him in a stable progression. His lack of physicality and overall creativity keep him from a better tier. If he can manage to evolve his game, he’s a potential tier climber.
Some times there are prospects who have solid talent but play on bad teams and don’t have the production you’d think, Joe Vrbetic is that prospect. The big six-foot-six goalie from the North Bay Battalion is a quality prospect playing on a team that was just not very good. He has the abilities to be better than what his numbers show. He was just selected so this ranking might be a bit harsh, but he has room to move up and grow. Timeline’s are hard for goalies, but he should go the length with his OHL career and turn pro after that.
When the Canadiens selected Rafael Harvey-Pinard, they knew exactly what he was. They chose an overager in the sixth round because he was close to turning pro. Since then, Harvey-Pinard has exceeded his AHL expectations and earned himself an entry-level. His game could translate to the NHL as a fourth line energy player if he continues to progress this way.
If Brett Stapley had not been sidelined with an injury that required surgery, he might have been ranked higher should he have had another season like the two previous ones. He can still move up and earn a potential entry-level contract if he regains his game.
Jack Smith and Blake Biondi had below averaged years in the USHL and NCAA respectively. Both expect to be better and progress, but this was not a strong year for either. Time needed in college to develop.
The hard hitting defenseman, Daniil Sobolev, is coming over to the OHL after years of playing in Russia. His robust game translates to the NHL, but he needs to acquire more skills in order to realistically get a shot to an NHL chance. He has some time before an AHL opportunity.
Joshua Roy should in theory be higher, but his lack of high end effort and his lack of defensive awareness move him lower than his skill and offensive abilities should allow. If he can find a balance, he’s one of the top candidates to move up a tier or maybe two. Still needs a few junior seasons with some AHL years before he can compete for a NHL spot.
Xavier Simoneau is very much a clone of Harvey-Pinard in terms of his game and the vision the Canadiens have of him. If he shows growth, he can also move up like the aforementioned Harvey-Pinard.
Frederik Dichow and Jakub Dobes are in a lower in the prospect pyramid for no other reason than that they are in their early stages of their progression and have not shown enough to move them into a higher tier. They have qualities that scouts and coaches like, they just need to show more consistency.
Michael McNiven has the athletic ability to be among the top players in the system, but his development hasn’t been easy and he has not gotten a stable role in the organization. He bounced around a lot in recent memory and only this year did he see some consistency in play. He should be higher and might get there if he gets more playing time behind Cayden Primeau in Laval. His future is uncertain with so many goalies ahead of him in the depth chart.
Michael Pezzetta, Arsen Khisamutdnov and Alexander Gordin are all players who could still end up as NHL’ers one day, but for the moment, they don’t look the part. They either have a heavy flaw to their game, whether it’s lack of offensive or defensive capabilities, limited hockey IQ, or their skating is below professional level standard. For the time being, they project as career AHL’ers or potential candidates to move to Europe.
The Canadiens lost the rights to Joni Ikonen (2017 second-round), Jacob LeGuerrier (2019 fifth-round pick) and Kieran Ruscheinski (2019 seventh round pick) in 2021 after not signing them by the June 1st deadline. That is the reason they were not among the names featured above.
These projections are not set in stone nor the bench mark for their potential development, it’s just a reference. In the end, you want as many player to reach the NHL as possible. It’s clear that the Canadiens have a deep prospect pool, but lack the high end talent that teams need in order to stay relevant and be contenders for many years. The chances that all of them reach their potential is very low, but if 1/3 can come within range, things are looking good for Montreal moving forward.