I’m too lazy to track down where or when I read it, but at the end of the season I remember reading a post-mortem on the Canadiens season which lamented that the Habs had suffered through a devastating season, made worse by the lack of prospects in the system. Clearly the author was referring to the equally trying season that the Hamilton Bulldogs experienced en route to a 2nd last finish in the Western Conference of the AHL.
Sure, superficially one could take a bad NHL and AHL season to mean that the Habs are in trouble. Glance at the stats sheet for the Bulldogs and you realize that the team was led offensively by journeyman Brian Willsie, and the dynamo that is Andreas Enqvist. Still, this ignores the fact that “prospects” such as Louis Leblanc, Aaron Palushaj, Blake Geffrion and Michael Blunden were each forced to play much of the year with the NHL club due to injury. Ultimately, anyone who is paying attention will realize that the Canadiens have a HUGE amount of talent about to graduate from the Junior ranks set to start their professional careers. With the Memorial Cup set to begin tonight as the Edmonton Oil Kings face the host Shawinigan Cataractes, Habs fans should take note that there are 4 prospects vying for this season’s prize.
At the end of last season there were a lot of people (who were probably justified) questioning whether or not the Canadiens had made a good choice in taking the gargantuan Jarred Tinordi with their first overall selection in the 2010 draft. Tinordi struggled at times in his first year in London, struggling from the beginning of the year to adjust to the level of competition in the OHL. He did however finish the year strongly, gaining praise for his defensive work. This season Tinordi has silenced most critics becoming a dominant defensive presence for London. He also added 16 points in 48 games while leading the club with a monstrous +39. In the playoffs thus far, Tinordi has elevated his game once more notching 8 points in 19 games while once again leading the team as a +15. While he doesn’t project to have a huge offensive game, there is little doubt that Tinordi figures to make a huge impact for the Canadiens sooner rather than later. Some are even suggesting that with some quality time in the gym this offseason, Tinordi may make a push for the NHL club given that his skill set will be required next year in Montreal.
Not to be outdone by his potential future defensive partner, Nathan Beaulieu had himself a fantastic season with the defending Champion Saint John Sea Dogs. Beaulieu scored 58 points in 59 games while ending the season as an impeccable +41. Beaulieu has continued to display down-right Markovian skills from a defender logging major minutes each night in the QMHL playoffs – scoring 15 points for a +27 in 17 games. Habs fans should be licking their chops for the opportunity to see Beaulieu on the ice at some point in the near future with Subban and Markov.
The Shawinigan Cataractes may be underdogs in this tournament, but don’t tell that to Habs prospects Michael Bournival and Morgan Ellis. Both players have been resting for the better part of a month due to their team being eliminated from the playoffs, but as hosts for this season’s tournament they’ll gain critical experience as they move towards beginning their professional careers. Bournival had a solid year scoring 56 points in 41 games, adding 7 more in 11 playoff games. While many Habs fans questioned giving up on the oft-maligned Ryan O’Byrne when he was traded to Colorado, I get the sense that they will be pleasantly surprised by the Tomas Plekanec-type game that Bournival seems to posses with regard to both offensive and defensive capacity. He showed glimmers of this at the World Junior Championships. He will be a key addition tot he Bulldogs next season – and may show up on the radar for the big club by 2014. Morgan Ellis was traded at the end of the regular season but surprised many with his offensive game scoring 52 points in 60 games this season. Ellis had long been thought of primarily as a defensive-first guy, but after adding 11 points in 11 games this playoff season, you get the sense that Ellis is another Habs defender with the size and transferable skillset to have a big impact on both the AHL Bulldogs and the NHL CH.
Brendan Gallagher led the Vancouver Giants in scoring this season potting 77 points in 54 games showing an elite ability to score big goals using terrific speed and incredible hands. Gallagher is one of the few small players that exist who can use their size deficit to their advantage. Who knows how that will translate to the NHL, but after a solid pre-season showing this year I do not know too many people who doubt that Gallagher will make the NHL. Gallagher will likely see some time in the AHL this season to refine his defensive skills before he sees time in the NHL, but you can bet that if the Habs require scoring help with an injury on one of the top lines, Gallagher will be in the running for an early call up.
Patrick Holland was brought to the Canadiens in the trade that saw Michael Cammalleri sent to the Calgary Flames. Like Bournival, he hasn’t made headlines with Habs fans mainly due to the fact that the club did not draft him in 2010. But Habs fans will know him soon. Holland had an incredible season for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Though the team fell short in the playoffs, Holland had a great year amassing 104 points in 72 regular season games and 19 points in 14 playoff games. Though Holland doesn’t possess the elite offensive skills that make him a no-doubt NHL candidate, he does have an incredibly well rounded game, which many scouts say will be more important to his ability to crack an NHL lineup. More importantly for the Bulldogs, Holland will be another capable winger with upside adding organizational depth where there was none last season.
While the Habs prospects in the CHL have all had great seasons upon which to start their professional careers, Montreal also has a few prospects of note in the NCAA. Mac Bennet had a decent year at Michigan racking up 20 points and playing solid minutes for a strong Wolverines squad. It remains to be seen whether Bennett will continue his collegiate career next season or turn pro. Danny Kristo has decided that he will stay at the University of North Dakota to play his senior year before (most-likely) joining the Bulldogs in 2013-14. Kristo had a strong bounce-back year scoring 19 goals and 45 points in 42 games. While both of these NCAA players figure to make more of a future impact contribution with the Bulldogs, Montreal is rapidly developing a solid stable of young players which had been depleted once Deharnais, Subban, Pacioretty et al were finally called up for full time duty this past season.