Montreal has struggled at the draft table in recent years, and their asset management has been questionable as well.
The goaltending of Carey Price covers up a lot of deficiencies in their game, but the team needs to improve their draft and development track record. Since 2005 when Montreal drafted Price in the first round, they have either missed on their pick or since traded it away.
Players that were misses include David Fisher (0 NHL Games played), Louis Leblanc (50 career NHL GP), Jared Tinordi (54 GP), and the jury are still out on Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak. Players no longer with the organization include Ryan McDonagh, Nathan Beaulieu, and Mikhail Sergachev.
The only exceptions are Max Pacioretty, and Alex Galchenyuk and players drafted too recently to judge.
As a result the Canadiens prospect pipeline is thin and their AHL affiliate is near the bottom of the league. The graduation of Victor Mete and Charlie Hudon this year has been important for the future.
2017-18 Montreal Canadiens Top Ten Prospects
1. Nikita Scherbak, RW – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 26th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Montreal
Montreal needs Scherbak to crack the roster and give them an offensive boost. He leads Laval in points per games with 30 in 24 and has three games with Montreal this year with one assist. Scherbak was recently recalled to Montreal again and the playmaker will get another look on the big club. Scherbak is the Habs best offensive prospect and the closest to making the NHL roster.
2. Noah Juulsen, D – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: 26th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by Montreal
Juulsen had a career year in the WHL in his second year with 52 points in 68 games, then had his production slide the following year to 28 points. He recovered in his final year as Captain of the Everett Silvertips, and won the Silver Medal with Canada at the World Junior. Now in his rookie year in the AHL on a poor Laval team, he is struggling to adjust with just two points and a minus -7 in 26 games. Juulsen has a low offensive ceiling as a NHL projected player, but he should adjust nicely and settle in as a middle pairing defenseman.
3. Ryan Poehling, C – St. Cloud State U. (NCAA)
Drafted: 25th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Montreal
Drafted from the NCAA, Poehling is now in his sophomore season at St. Cloud State U. and is showing no signs of slumping. Producing at a point per game pace, he was a key member of the USA World Junior roster winning the Bronze Medal in Buffalo. Not the fleetest of foot, Poehling has good hockey sense and positioning that lead to scoring opportunities, as well as defensive takeaways and turnovers. With two more years of NCAA eligibility remaining, Poehling should be at least two years away from Montreal.
4. Charlie Lindgren, G – Laval Rocket (AHL)
Drafted: Signed as a free agent in 2016
The Habs have found money after signing Lindgren as a free agent out of St. Cloud State in the NCAA in 2016 after claiming the NCHC Goalie of the Year Award. Since that time he has made his NHL debut shortly after signing and spent most of his rookie year in the AHL where he had a very impressive rookie season. This year he had a longer look in the NHL having played eight games, mainly due to injury, but looked like he belonged in that time. His numbers in Laval don’t stand out, but the team is struggling. Lindgren has a pretty big roadblock in his path in Montreal to be a starting goalie in Carey Price and his new contract, but Lindgren looks to be a promising backup with starting potential.
5. Joni Ikonen, C/RW – KalPa (Liiga)
Drafted: 58th overall in the second round of the 2017 draft by Montreal
With only nine points in his first 41 games of pro hockey in Liiga, the adjustment to pro hockey has been a slow one. Given the skill and smarts Ikonen has displayed in his career, the potential is very high. Ikonen was a key member of Team Finland at the 2016-17 U-18 winning Silver and posting four goals and eight points in seven games. Ikonen played for Finland again at the World Junior in Buffalo where the team had less success and he produced two points in five games. Ikonen was selected in the first round of the 2017 CHL Import draft but chose to remain in Finland for his D+1 year on loan for one year to KalPa. It is likely he crosses over to North America next year in either the OHL or the AHL.
6. Will Bitten, RW/C – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Drafted: 70th overall in the third round of the 2016 draft by Montreal
Bitten was projected as a second-round player by most draft pundits in his draft year, but fell to Montreal in the third round. The likely cause for his dip is his size as he stands at just 5-10, but he can skate and plays a high energy game with strong hockey sense. The combination of competitiveness and smarts makes Bitten an effective player. Despite his size,f he plays an aggressive physical game and seldom loses puck battles as he is deceptively strong. Bitten is in his final year of junior in Hamilton and will be looking for a long playoff run before making the jump to pro hockey.
7. Josh Brook, D – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Drafted: 56th overall in the second round of the 2017 draft by Montreal
Brook is a jack of all trades, master of none type player. He has a complete package of size, smarts and a good two-way player. What he lacks is any one element that stands out. In his D+1 year Brook has developed his offensive game as he is just below the point per game pace at the midway point of the season. Brook will have one more year in junior after this before making the move to pro hockey.
8. Michael McNiven, G – Brampton Beast (ECHL)
Drafted: Signed as a free agent by Montreal in 2015
While McNiven was never drafted in the NHL, Montreal liked what they saw from his play in Owen Sound and signed the goalie as a free agent. In his first year as a pro he has had some struggles posting a 3.40 GAA in the AHL with Laval, and now down in the ECHL he has a 4.19 GAA after four games. Goalies often are slower to develop so the potential is still high, but perhaps there was a reason he was passed over in the NHL Draft.
9. Cale Fleury, D – Regina Pats (WHL)
Drafted: 87th overall in the third round of the 2017 draft by Montreal
The younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes Haydn Fleury, Cale is a similar player. The former Captain of the Kootenay Ice did not have the chance to play in any playoff games or international games in the past three years. After being traded to the Memorial Cup host Regina Pats, that will change and Fleury will get the opportunity to play on a big stage. Since his arrival in Regina his game has blossomed with 27 points in 33 games and a plus -16.
*10. Cayden Primeau, G – Northeastern U (NCAA)
Drafted: 199th overall in the seventh round of the 2017 draft by Montreal
One of the last players picked in the draft may be one of the better value picks as Primeau has had a monster D+1 year as a NCAA freshman. Primeau is the son of former NHL star Keith Primeau and is a big athletic goalie that took over the starting position on the Huskies and has been dominating the NCAA. With Price the incumbent and Lindgren and McNiven also on this list there is no rush with Primeau who can slow cook in the NCAA before seeing possibly a year or two more development in the AHL before he is NHL ready.