With the Montreal Canadiens so far out of the playoff picture, it’s as good a time as any to check in on their prospects.
In October and November, we turned to key people in the organization—from director of player development Martin Lapointe to Laval Rocket coach Sylvain Lefebvre—for in-depth assessments of the players closest to piercing through at the NHL level. And, in December, we took a closer look at the draft class of 2017.
Now that the World Junior Championship is behind us, we’re stepping back and taking a broader view. Here’s a look at how Canadiens prospects are doing in the various leagues they’re playing.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Cayden Primeau, G
Drafted: Seventh round, 199th overall, 2017
Team: Northeastern University Huskies | GP: 16 | Record: 8-3-3 | SP: .924 | GAA: 1.90
The kid who everyone passed on at the draft is having a whale of a season as a rookie at Northeastern.
He was the NCAA’s rookie of the month in December, and was also named goaltender of the month, with a 4-0-1 record, an eye-popping .957 save percentage and a 1.19 goals-against average.
AHL, LAVAL ROCKET
Nikita Scherbak, RW
Drafted: First round, 26th overall, 2014.
GP: 17 | G: 6 | A: 15 | P: 21 | -1
That Scherbak is over a point-per-game this season is a major step forward in his development. He turned 22 on Dec. 30 and has five goals and seven assists in 11 games since returning from minor knee surgery. Scherbak has played two games with the Canadiens this season and there’s a chance he’ll play some more considering how well he’s doing in the AHL. But there’s plenty of merit in keeping him down so he can play big minutes and continue to build up his confidence as an offensive producer.
Noah Juulsen, D
Drafted: First round, 26th overall, 2015.
GP: 17 | G: 1 | A: 1 | P: 2 | +2
A western conference scout based in Montreal, who has attended several Rocket games recently, had a lot of good things to say about Juulsen’s development.
“He’s a good one,” said the scout.
It may not show in the offensive zone, but Juulsen’s all-around game is what compels the Canadiens most. He makes good decisions with the puck, a good first pass more often than not, and he has a physical edge to his game. All of that has been on display through his first 17 games at the pro level, which is impressive when you consider he missed the first two months of the season with a broken foot.
“He’ll be a real solid No. 5 at the NHL level, possible a No. 4,” said the scout.
The Canadiens will take that.
Michael McCarron, C, RW
Drafted: First round, 25th overall, 2013
GP: 27 | G: 5 | A: 9 | P: 14 | -4
After picking up 57 points in his first 90 AHL games, McCarron has fallen slightly off his regular pace this season.
The 22-year-old sustained an injury to one of his ears at the beginning of December and missed two weeks. He’s since struggled to find his touch, notching just a goal and three assists in his past 11 games and clocking in at minus-5 over that stretch.
The Rocket need more out of him. The Canadiens do, too, if they’re going to give him some more games at the NHL level before season’s end.
But it’s worth noting he’s been thrust in more of a defensive role this season, with the aim of developing the checking aspects of his game.
Charlie Lindgren, G.
Undrafted: Signed as a free agent in 2015
GP: 22 | Record: 6-9-1 | SP: .898 | GAA: 3.06
For whatever reason, wins have been hard to come by for Lindgren with the Rocket this season.
Things started off slow for him before he joined the Canadiens and went 3-4-1 in Carey Price’s absence, recording a .924 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average.
When Lindgren returned to the Rocket a few days prior to December, the roster was deprived of its best players who remained in Montreal or were injured. As a result, he failed to pick up a win in his first seven games back.
But Lindgren has since recorded three wins and helped the Rocket gain a loser point with his strong play. There’s little concern about the 24-year-old’s numbers in the AHL this season. The Rocket hasn’t exhibited the type of consistency expected of it and Lindgren has fallen victim. He continues to battle and offer the team its best chance at a win on a nightly basis and reports from scouts we reached out to are all positive.
Lukas Vejdemo, C
Drafted: Third round, 87th overall, 2015.
Team: Djurgardens IF | GP: 33 | G: 7 | A: 10 | P: 17 | +4
The 6-foot-2 Stockholm native is enjoying his best season to date of the four he’s played with Djurgardens.
Vejdemo’s speed is a factor, and at 21 years old the Canadiens will have to hope he’s willing to transition to the North American game this summer.
Joni Ikonen, C/RW
Drafted: Second round, 58th overall, 2017
Team: KalPa | GP: 32 | G: 3 | A: 3 | P: 6 | -4
There was a lot of buzz about Ikonen coming into this past summer’s NHL Draft, and understandably so.
He had graduated to the top team in Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League for the final 10 games of last season after putting up 41 points in 40 games with the U20 team. He also had four goals and four assists in the U-18 tournament and was an assistant captain for Team Finland there.
Things didn’t go quite as swimmingly for Ikonen at the World Junior Championship earlier this month, where the Finns were dispatched in the quarter-finals and he only managed one goal and one assist in the five games they played in the tournament.
Ikonen’s world junior performance mirrored what we’ve seen from him with KalPa this season. The Canadiens think the 18-year-old can be a high-end scorer, but they want to see it more often than he’s shown over the past few months.
Will Bitten, C
Drafted: Third round, 70th overall, 2016
Team: Hamilton Bulldogs | GP: 40 | G: 13 | A: 32 | P: 45 | -3
Bitten has pure speed, great hands and nifty finishing skills.
He might have started off slowly, but the 19-year-old is right where the Canadiens want him to be: on pace for his best season yet in the OHL.
Bitten may only be 5-foot-9, but he’s got some edge to him, too. That explains why he’s on pace for almost double the penalty minutes he’s had in any of his other three seasons in the OHL (currently at 28 PIMs).
Josh Brook, D
Drafted: Second round, 56th overall, 2017
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors GP: 15 | G: 1 | A: 15 | P: 16 | +24
Brook came back from wrist surgery a month early and has been nothing short of impressive ever since. The 6-foot-1, 18-year-old plays a complete game and is showing it on a nightly basis.
Cale Fleury, D
Drafted: Third round, 87th overall, 2017
Team: Regina Pats | GP: 39 | G: 8 | A: 20 | P: 28 | +3
The 19-year-old has played solidly since being traded from Kootenay to Regina after the first 17 games of the season.
Jake Evans, C/RW
Drafted: Seventh round, 207th overall, 2014
Team: Notre Dame Fighting Irish | GP: 22 | G: 7 | A: 21 | P: 28 | +17
The 21-year-old paced the NCAA in scoring before leaving to play in international competition with the Canadian Men’s hockey team.
Though Evans didn’t register a point in his four games for the winning Canadian side at the Spengler Cup last month, he has a hope of making the Olympic roster and competing in Pyeongchang, Korea this February.
Ryan Poehling, C
Drafted: First round, 25th overall, 2017
Team: St. Cloud State Huskies | GP: 15 | G: 5 | A: 11 | P: 16 | +7
It’s been a great season for Poehling so far, and though he and the USA were held to a bronze medal at the WJC, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said this past week he was impressed with what he saw from the 18-year-old.
“He was used in all situations, penalty-killing, first PK, big faceoffs in their own end late in games,” said Bergevin. “I like the way they used him. If he’s there next year he should be playing for Team USA and have a bigger role.”
Poehling finished the tournament with a goal and two assists.