Despite the hardships of the last calendar year, it has, for the most part been a very successful year for the Canadiens’ prospect pool. As an overall collective there have been noticeable progress and development for many of the team’s prospects. A lot of this optimism stems from the success that fans are seeing in Laval, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
This article will not include any prospects currently playing for Laval, but you can read about their progress at the midway point here.
NCAA / USHL
Starting just south of the border in the US, the NCAA Frozen Four kicks off today! Fan favourite Cole Caufield and teammate Jack Gorniak get the tournament started as the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Bemidji State Beavers in the first round. The team is coming off a very successful season, going from worst to first in the Big 10, finishing the season as the regular season champs. The team fell in the finals to Minnesota and will be looking to get their revenge by winning a National Championship.
I like Wisconsin’s chances this year; bias aside. Sometimes you need to lose to learn how to win, and if there is anything going for the team right now it is that Dylan Holloway had a subpar Big 10 Championship run. He arguably played the worst hockey of his season and will look to bounce back in a big way for the Badgers.
Habs fans looking to park themselves on the couch all day today are in for a treat. Following Caufield, Gorniak and the badgers are two-time defending champs, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and Habs fourth round pick Blake Biondi. The former Mr. Minnesota took some time adjusting to the NCAA after making the jump from High School but was a mainstay on this roster. The Bulldogs will be in tough as they face the Michigan Wolverines, who have arguably the most talented roster in the tournament, but are very young.
The third game to feature a Habs prospect is the Lake Superior State Lakers who take on UMass today at 6:30. Arvid Henrickson (2016, 7th) and the Laker’s are fresh off their Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Championship and will be looking to put some respect on their name.
The final Habs prospect in the tournament is last year’s second round pick Luke Tuch and the Boston University Terriers. It was a successful season for Tuch who was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. The road to the finals will be a difficult as the Terriers take on St Cloud State in the first round with the winner taking on Boston College to earn a birth in the Frozen Four.
The final name to be brought up is Jordan Harris. Unfortunately for him and fellow Habs prospect Jayden Struble, the Huskies did not qualify for the big dance. After much speculation about signing a pro contract, Harris decided to return to Northeastern for one more season to finish what he started. He has already been named team captain, and for the fans who fear that that Habs may lose him for nothing, read this thread from friend of the show, The Hockey Expert Marco D’Amico
Turning our attention to the USHL, the Habs may not have much quantity in this league, but the quality has been impressive. If you are unaware of Sean Farrell and his domination in Chicago, you must be living under a rock. Farrell is the league leader in points (79) and it really isn’t even close. Outside of line mate Matt Coronato (2021 Eligible) who has 72 points, Farrell is 22 points clear of third, and 29 points clear of the next closest player not on his team.
While all of this is nice in theory, it is important to remember that Farrell is playing as an over ager and should have been playing in the NCAA with Harvard. An elevated level of production was to be expected but I’m not sure anyone expect this. Farrell currently ranks T-20th All-time in USHL scoring. With roughly a month left in the season and at his current Point Per Game Pace, he should in theory put up another 20 points to put him 9th All-time (Source: Eliteprospects.com). One point behind Kyle Connor.
The final name in the USHL is recent fifth round pick Jakub Dobes. The Omaha Lancer goalie and Ohio State commit has been a revelation this season. He is second in the USHL in Wins (20), fifth in Goals Against Average (2.55) and fourth in Save Percentage (0.900%) (Source: ushl.com). It is still too early to make any conclusions, however if his game can translate well to the NCAA this could be a real nice steal.
EUROPE – SWEDISH HOCKEY LEAGUE (SHL)
Kicking things off with everyone’s European darling, Mattias Norlinder has had an up and down season. I was able to catch a handful of Norlinder’s games in the first half of the season but as Christmas approached there was a clear drop off in Frolunda’s game as a team. As a perennial contender I figured the Swedish powerhouse would figure it out and this would be a blip on the radar. This could not have been further from the truth as the team has spiraled in the back half of the season.
However, without being able to watch any of Norlinder’s recent games, I must defer all analysis to the beautiful mind of Patrick Bexell, the European correspondent for Habs Eye on the Prize. He attributes the recent dip in Norlinder’s play in part to the team’s game strategy as well as his new defensive partner. To quickly paraphrase Patrick, Frolunda loves to play a possession driven game and use their defenseman to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. This added pressure to create offense from the back end, along with being paired with a fellow offensive minded defenseman have created the perfect storm for Norlinder.
You can check out his article and full analysis on Norlinder here:
WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE (WHL)
Things have been quiet up in Canada, which has not hurt the Habs from a prospect standpoint all that much. The team has 2 prospects playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), both playing in the WHL. They both happen to captain their respective clubs with recent first round pick Kaiden Guhle playing for the Prince Albert Raiders and Gianni Fairbrother (2019, 3rd) with the Everett Silvertips. Unfortunately for Guhle he is sidelines indefinitely as he recovers from a hand injury suffered in a game against Moose Jaw.
Fairbrother started the season with Laval, earning himself an Entry Level Contract with the Canadiens. Despite playing as an over ager in the WHL, Fairbrother is a problem for his opponents. Like a real big problem. He is a physical force despite his modest frame, and he seems to have found a scoring touch early in the season with four assists in three games (Source: Eliteprospects.com)
For as much flack as Bergevin (and Timmins) take on a daily basis, anyone still sh**ting on their drafting is not paying attention. This is easily the deepest and most skilled prospect pool the Habs have had in my lifetime. Not to mention they sport the best roster on paper that they have ever had in the Carey Price era. The bigger issue under Bergevin has been player development, if this can be fixed, the Habs future is very bright.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family! This week on the Chtib & Zhang Podcast, the duo discuss UFC 260, Lamelo Ball’s injury, the Habs and Zhang expresses his love for the Kardashians.