Montreal Canadiens Prospect Report: Checking in on 2017 draft picks

The Montreal Canadiens use their first round pick at number 25 to take St. Cloud State Centremen Ryan Poehling.

In October and November we went in-depth on the most NHL-ready prospects of the Montreal Canadiens, talking to key members of their development team for frank assessments on where each player stood.

In the first month, Canadiens director of player personnel Martin Lapointe focused exclusively on what each of the team’s top-10 prospects needed to work on in order to take their respective games to the next level. And in the second, Laval Rocket head coach Sylvain Lefebvre updated us on the progress his AHL players—some of whom have since ascended to the NHL to help the Canadiens get back into the playoff hunt.

For December, just a few weeks ahead of the World Junior Championship, we thought it was as good a time as any to look in on the seven players the Canadiens drafted this past summer.

We’re going in order.

Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State University, NCAA

Drafted: First round, 25th overall
Season to date: 12 GP | 4 G | 11 A | 15 PTS | +8

Reason for optimism: Could this be the big, skilled centre the Canadiens have been waiting on for the better part of three decades? It sure seems possible.

Poehling was an enticing pick at 25th overall just based on the fact he had already completed a season at the college level. Considering he’s already surpassed his rookie-season production—he had seven goals and 13 points—in 23 fewer games is a sign he’s progressing quickly.

“He has lots of upside, good size, and he plays well in the four corners of the ice,” said Canadiens vice president of player personnel Trevor Timmins from the draft floor.

Clearly the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Minnesotan is proving that.

Here’s a glimpse of what he can do:

Poehling was a part of the USA’s world junior summer showcase and was invited to the team’s WJC selection camp roster early this month.

Josh Brook, D, Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL

Drafted: Second round, 56th overall
Season to date: 4 GP | 0 G | 2 A | 2 PTS | +3

Brook suffered a broken wrist on Sept. 22, but was able to return sooner than expected from surgery. He’s an offensive defenceman who’s billed as a player that does everything well.

He told Sean Farrell of NHL.com after Montreal’s development camp that he gained confidence with the things development coach Francis Bouillon was able to teach him.

“Whenever we were on the ice for practices they were addressing me with a ton of stuff, talking about what I can work on and what I need to improve on and change in my game, even my posture when I’m skating, when I’m turning, how I hold my stick, and it was awesome,” said Brook.

After putting up eight goals and 40 points with Moose Jaw in his draft year, it’ll be interesting to see how he applies what he learned in August to games upcoming on the Warriors’ schedule.

This video will give you a sense for what Timmins and the Canadiens saw when they drafted the 6-foot-1, 182-pound Roblin, Man., native.

Joni Ikonen, C, KalPa Kuopio, FIN

Drafted: Second round, 58th overall
Season to date: 29 GP | 3 G | 3 A | 6 PTS | -2

Perhaps Ikonen started a little slower out of the gate than the Canadiens and their fans might have expected. From the draft floor, Timmins compared him to Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen.

“He’s really driven, he drives the net, he’s a fierce competitor,” he said back in June. “The talent level is the floor with him, the character is the ceiling. He gets to the ceiling.”

Ikonen can start climbing his way there this season. If he does, he might fulfill the expectation Timmins laid out—that he can develop into a top-six forward.

There’s potential for him to be on Finland’s entry to the WJC, as he’s participated in several international events for the Suomi and was invited to the team’s WJC selection camp roster.

To get an idea of what you might see there, here’s some highlights from the 2017 IIHF U18 tournament:

Scott Walford, D, Victoria Royals, WHL

Drafted: Third round, 68th overall
Season to date: 29 GP | 0 G | 14 A | 14 PTS | +12

There’s nothing particularly flashy about Walford, but by all accounts he seems to have a good head on his shoulders and an all-around game.

“He plays in all situations, has good size, and he’s a really strong skater,” Timmins said at the draft.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder compares his game to Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter’s. If he can develop to become half the player Suter is, the Canadiens will have done well with this third-round selection.

Cale Fleury, D, Regina Pats, WHL

Drafted: Third round, 87th overall
Season to date: 26 GP | 7 G | 9 A | 16 PTS | -2

Fleury started his fourth season with the Kootenay Ice before he was traded a couple of weeks later to the Regina Pats. He’s lived up to his offensive billing with both teams thus far.

He’s the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes hopeful Haydn Fleury and seemingly has nearly as much upside as the 2014 seventh overall pick.

Timmins referred to Cale as a complete player who skates well and moves the puck efficiently.

Fleury’s on his way to continue in his tradition of besting his previous season total, and considering he had 11 goals and 38 points in 70 games last season that’s good news for the Canadiens.

Jarret Tyszka, D, Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL

Drafted: Fifth round, 149th overall
Season to date: 27 GP | 3 G | 13 A | 16 PTS | -6

Sensing a pattern here? We are.

You want big, versatile defencemen? Draft them out of the WHL. That’s where Tyszka has opened some eyes, as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds over the past three seasons—including this one.

He’s off to a good start, and fulfilling some of the promise that had Timmins compare him to Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen—who was selected by the team in the first round of the 2015 draft.

“He wants to be the guy,” said Timmins.

Cayden Primeau, G, Northeastern University, NCAA

Drafted: Seventh round, 199th overall
Season to date: 11 GP | 5-3-1 | .920 SA % | 2.06 GAA

He’s the son of former NHLer Keith Primeau, and the Canadiens made a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers just to sneak him into their 2017 haul.

Primeau has allowed only 21 goals in 11 games with Northeastern this season, which is pretty exceptional for a rookie. He currently leads all of Hockey East in GAA and save percentage.