The last two shortened seasons proved to be a challenge for the past majority of junior players. The upcoming NCAA and USHL campaigns will look a little more like traditional hockey seasons for players south of the border and a few Canadiens prospects are expected to take leaps in their development.
Jordan Harris, LD – Northeastern University
Harris is entering his senior year of hockey in the NCAA. Not only is he one of Northeastern’s top players, but one of the best in the conference and the entire league. He had a strong 2020-21 campaign with the Huskies and will lead the team as their new captain in his final campaign. He’s projected to hit career highs in every statistical category and to be the face of the Division I hockey program. The biggest question mark for Harris is if he’ll sign an entry-level contract at the end of the season, or if he’ll become a free agent and choose his path.
Jayden Struble, LD – Northeastern University
Struble is planning to have a big impact for Northeastern, as he enters his third season in the NCAA. He had two very similar statistical seasons to start his college career, as well as some missed games resulting from injury. He’s been on record, saying he is good to go after seeing a specialist for a lingering issue that has been bothering him for what he described as “some time” (Anthony Martineau, TVA Sports). Jayden has shown that he can be a top defenseman at every level and the new coaching staff will have to rely on him and teammate Jordan Harris in this transition period for the program. Injuries and durability will be something to monitor with Struble as the season progresses.
Luke Tuch, LW – Boston University
A strong freshman year that unfortunately did not end with a championship, Tuch gained a lot of experience that he hopes to bring into his sophomore year. Boston University is projected to be among the top programs in the conference once again and Tuch is likely to earn more ice time, as well as a bigger role. His biggest trait as a rookie was the use of his body and overall physicality that translated well against better competition and bigger opponents. It’s his point production that will be under the microscope in year two; can he build from his first season?
Jack Gorniak, LW – University of Wisconsin
Gorniak’s third season at Wisconsin was most certainly his most consistent. Even though he has never been more than a bottom-six energy player, he finally managed to show up on a game in and game out basis. The forechecking winger utilized his speed and frame a lot last season, going back to his roots, while simplifying his game. By doing that, Gorniak was a lot more efficient on the ice, which led to him getting more ice time, as well as more important assignments. His return to a simple game made him a better player for Wisconsin, but he’s still very limited skill wise. In what is potentially his final NCAA campaign, Gorniak’s biggest hurdle is developing another skill to earn an entry-level contract with Montreal.
Jakub Dobes, G – Ohio State University
After multiple successful regular seasons and a conference championship in 2019, the Ohio State program took a major step back in 2021. Dobes is entering a rebuilding program after a successful stint with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. Dobes’ previous campaign showed he could be the top guy around the net area, and although the USHL is not the best junior league in terms of talent, it was still competitive enough in a pandemic-shortened season. We saw new levels of competitiveness, and with that, a more technical keeper. With how things appear in Ohio State, can Jakub continue to develop with limited success around him?
Brett Stapley, C – University of Denver
After suffering an injury that required season-ending surgery in the early part of last season, Stapley is prepared to impress the Canadiens staff, as he enters his senior campaign. The reliable two-way center was badly missed by Denver. He’s such a key part of their middle-six group, as well as being missed from the power play on the right half wall. Stapley has been extremely consistent since his freshman year and would have continued to develop if he hadn’t missed most of last year with an injury. There is some uncertainty around him heading into the season, as he’s missed some time, but will Stapley get back to form and progress enough to earn an entry-level contract before Montreal loses his rights?
Rhett Pitlick, LW – University of Minnesota
After playing 95 contests in the USHL for three different organizations, Rhett Pitlick is finally heading to the NCAA. The University of Minnesota commit had a bit of a down year last season and got traded in the process. He was not as dynamic, efficient, or impactful with the Muskegon Lumberjacks and could not find his game in Tri-City. Though he took a step back in 2021, he is expected to be part of a strong Gopher team that includes players such as Chaz Lucius, Brock Faber, Sammy Walker, Brian Johnson and many more. Pitlick’s wide range of abilities should fit in nicely on a skilled team like Minnesota. One thing to keep an eye on with Pitlick is how his game will translate to a more developed and strategy-oriented hockey style.
Blake Biondi, C – University of Minnesota-Duluth
After scoring 76 points in 25 games in the Minnesota High School League, Blake Biondi saw a steep drop in production while playing college hockey with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was limited to bottom line ice time for majority of the season and never seemed to crack a spot higher up in the lineup. Biondi should be in for a better season now that programs are getting back to previous training routines and a traditional schedule. The question surrounding Biondi is whether or not he can play well enough to move up into a more offensive role for UMD.
Sean Farrell, C – Harvard University
No other prospect had a better season than Sean Farrell. The former fifth-round pick out of Chicago surpassed the 100 point plateau with the Steel of the USHL, being the second time this century. Farrell and a few of his teammates were definitely in the wrong league. Many NCAA programs were shut down for pandemic-related reasons. Farrell’s production is likely going to take a dip, as he moves up a level of play, but he should still be a factor at Harvard. Expectations are going to be low to start for Farrell, as he gets used to a different style of play alongside teammates he’s not used to. He is, however, projected to adapt fast, it’s one of his better traits. The spotlight will be on him this season, a smaller player in a more mature league and how much offence he’ll be able to produce with the skill surrounding him.
Jack Smith, C – Sioux Falls
Smith is another prospect that saw a down year in both play and production. His play isn’t overly flashy, nor centered around skill, but his two-way sound game was not impactful enough for him to get more ice time and bigger matchups. He is a University of Minnesota-Duluth commit, but it seems he is returning to Sioux Falls for another season in 2021-22. I believe he or someone around him believes he isn’t ready for college hockey, and therefore, returning to the USHL for another campaign, which will only help him. This may prove to be a big decision for him and might set him back on the right path in his development. The aspect that will be in question with Jack is whether or not he can get back to playing his style of hockey, which he succeeded with in previous years.
The past year was an up and down one for several Canadiens prospects, as some saw great success, while others experienced setbacks. The good news is that programs are returning to as close to normal routines as possible, so the upcoming season, should in theory be less stressful. The bright side in all this is development doesn’t stop after one year of hockey and some of these kids will get back on track in 2022.