Montreal, QUEBEC — “We want our players to make decisions for us,” is one of Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s most common refrains. The logic applies specifically to younger players who Bergevin hopes will force him into making room for on the roster.
There’s no sure bet on when a player will find the confidence required to play at the NHL level, but the Canadiens have some prospects who appear to be on the verge of pushing for roster spots.
Here’s a look at what’s inside Montreal’s cupboard.
Nikita Scherbak, No. 26 overall in 2014 – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
This 19-year-old Russian checks all the boxes on Bergevin’s list. He’s got size, he’s got character, and he’s got supreme offensive upside.
Scherbak had a strong start to the 2014-15 season, but a moderate showing in the annual Subway Series between CHL prospects and Team Russia led to him being left off his country’s world junior team.
The snub didn’t seem to ruffle his feathers, as he finished 16th in WHL scoring with 27 goals and 55 assists in 65 games with Everett. He added eight points in 11 playoff contests.
Scherbak is widely considered Montreal’s best offensive prospect, and given their need for scoring, he has an excellent opportunity to make the Canadiens out of training camp next fall.
Jacob De La Rose, No. 34 overall in 2013 – Hamilton/Montreal (AHL/NHL)
Of course, it’s hard to refer to De La Rose as a prospect when he played the final 33 games of the season in Montreal and then appeared in all 12 of their playoff games, but nothing is a given at this level and he’ll have to earn his spot all over again in September.
De La Rose’s tutelage in Sweden strengthened his acuity for the game and Therrien wasn’t hesitant to give him defensive assignments throughout the season, using him for less than 10 minutes on only two occasions.
He may never manage more than 15 goals in a season, but De La Rose’s awareness had Therrien comparing him to a young Jordan Staal, which is high praise from a coach who typically favours veterans.
Charles Hudon, No. 122 overall in 2012 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Generously listed at 5-foot-11, Hudon has had to prove his ability and determination at every step, which should help him overcome challenges at the higher levels.
Hudon earned Rookie Of The Year honours for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic in 2011, which started a prolific junior career that saw him record 273 points in 235 games. He’s been impressing with his versatility at the pro level too.
In his first year with the AHL’s Bulldogs this season, he finished second in team scoring with 19 goals and 38 assists in 75 games, earned MVP honours at the All-Star Game, and was the second-highest rookie scorer in the league.
Next season, Hudon figures to be in the running for a top-nine position on a Montreal team that got very little scoring out of its bottom-six in 2014-15.
Jarred Tinordi, No. 22 overall in 2010 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
It’s been a tumultuous ride for Tinordi over the past two years.
After a strong showing with the Canadiens in 2013, he was relegated to the farm in 2014, and hasn’t been able to secure a role in Montreal since. His 2014-15 season was interrupted by injuries, which both occurred in fights.
Currently, he’s recovering from a successful April surgery and is expected to be ready for training camp in September, so long as he comes to terms on a new deal.
Tinordi’s a restricted free agent, and there’s legitimate concern he doesn’t feel appreciated by the Canadiens. His father, Mark, suggested to french language newspaper La Presse that his son might need a change of scenery.
Arturri Lehkonen, 55th overall in 2013 – Frolunda (Swedish League)
Lehkonen’s a gifted offensive threat who plays a well-rounded game. This was on display at the 2014 World Junior Championship, where he helped Finland win their first gold at the event since 1998.
Lehkonen wore the ‘C’ for Finland at the 2015 WJC, but their tournament was cut short after a weak preliminary round.
With Frolunda this season, he scored 16 points in 47 games and added three goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.
The Canadiens are hoping his experience in the ultra-structured Swedish League will accelerate his development.
Martin Reway, 116th overall in 2013 – Sparta Praha (Czech League)
This may be Montreal’s most polarizing prospect. At 5-foot-9, many will doubt his potential as an NHLer, but one look at his skill and you’ll become a believer.
Reway was productive in two years with QMJHL Gatineau, scoring 112 points in 90 regular season games and 27 points in 18 playoff games. And on the international scene, he’s been a force for Slovakia, notching 10 points in five games in the 2014 WJC and another nine points in seven games in 2015.
But instead of staying in Gatineau, Reway chose to return to the Czech Republic where he could make more money. He’s eligible to play for two more seasons there before the Canadiens are forced to either sign or release him.
When Reway does return to North America, it’ll be to pursue a role as a top-six forward in the NHL.
Sven Andrighetto, No. 86 overall in 2013 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
This Swiss forward has the offensive ability to play centre and wing.
The Canadiens gave him a 12-game audition in 2014-15, and he hardly looked out of place, recording two goals and an assist with only a little ice time.
In the AHL, Andrighetto had 43 points in 60 games with Hamilton, which was about the same scoring pace he was on in 2013-14. He projects to be a top-nine forward in the NHL.
Mike McCarron, 25th overall (2013) – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
When the Canadiens drafted McCarron, they strayed from their philosophy of taking the best player available in order to draft for organizational need.
His production wasn’t special with the US National Team, but what he represented was size up the middle for the Canadiens. This season he broke through in the OHL, scoring 68 points in 56 games split between the London Knights and Oshawa Generals.
McCarron was traded from the Knights to the Generals in January and was named to the Mastercard Memorial Cup All-Star team after Oshawa won the tournament. It had to have been sweet redemption for the man who was left off two national junior squads by the Americans.
Zachary Fucale, No. 36 overall in 2013 – Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL)
Fucale was groomed in Halifax, where he played with stars Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin for the Mooseheads. Together they won the Memorial Cup in 2013, and Fucale was named to the tournament All-Star team.
With Drouin gone to the NHL this season, Fucale and the Mooseheads struggled and the goalie was eventually traded to the Remparts, who he helped guide to the Memorial Cup semifinal. He also helped Canada to a WJC gold medal, the country’s first since 2009.
Fucale’s future with the Canadiens is murky at best. Carey Price stands in the way of an NHL job, and there have been murmurs about Bergevin shopping him. With the Canadiens or not, Fucale remains an intriguing NHL prospect.