Scout’s Analysis: Progress report on Canadiens prospects in NCAA and Europe

Lane Hutson when he played for U.S. national development team. (USA Hockey)

Over the past four draft cycles the Montreal Canadiens have been one of the most active NHL teams in acquiring additional draft capital. From 2018–2022 the Habs have selected 49 players, and having that many prospects in their pipeline is a luxury. Not all of the players will end up in Montreal, of course. Some will become part of other transactions along the way, but the Canadiens have positioned themselves very well for the future.

Here’s an update on some Canadiens prospects who are developing in the NCAA and Europe:

Lane Hutson (Freshman)
Team: Boston University, NCAA
Drafted: 62nd overall in 2022
5-foot-8 / 160 pounds / Left Shot D

Hutson is playing to his identity to start his college career at Boston University. He’s a transitional defenceman who is hard to check when leading the rush. His small area playmaking is outstanding. Hutson’s an elite distributor, but he’s also not shy about directing pucks on goal and his stats speak to his goal-scoring pedigree.  

He’s skating upwards of 25 minutes a night for the Terriers and being deployed in all situations, including quarterbacking one of the power plays units. Hutson competes extremely hard in all three zones and he’s calculating. He has a plan when engaging defensively. His stature isn’t going to hold him back. Will there be times when he’s muscled off a play at the NHL level? Yes. But it won’t be often enough to take away from the overall impact he has on the game.

There are transitional defencemen in the NHL who are very active on the offensive blue line. Some take advantage of the entire zone to make plays (think Quinn Hughes in Vancouver). Hutson is active in the offensive zone, but keeps the majority of his playmaking to his strong side/the middle. He isn’t shy about cycling deep into the zone, but taking a look at his playmaking heat map, it shows where he creates the majority of his offence:

My belief is Hutson will require two, maybe three, seasons at the college level before turning pro.

Luke Tuch (Junior)
Team: Boston University, NCAA
Drafted: 47th overall in 2020
6-foot-2 / 210 pounds / Left Shot Forward

Tuch is a big body forward who is hard to handle from the hash marks down in the offensive zone. He’s a sound skater who projects to be quick and fast enough for the NHL game, and he is being used in all situations at Boston University. On the power play he stations himself around the crease as a bumper and to create screens. On the penalty kill he does a nice job of fronting the play and getting in shooting lanes. Tuch isn’t a deceptive player with the puck on his stick. He doesn’t produce much off the rush or direct a ton of plays to the net.

I appreciate the role Tuch plays and believe he might provide some depth scoring. It’s going to take time, but big body forwards who play to an identity consistently, and can be used up and down the lineup, are valuable assets.

Confirming my observation about Tuch’s puck play from around the top of the circles/hash marks down in the offensive zone, here is a look at his attempted shots on goal over his past 10-game segment:

Jayden Struble (Senior)
Team: Northeastern University, NCAA
Drafted: 46th overall in 2019
6-foot / 205 pounds / Left Shot D

With Struble set to graduate school at the end of the season the Habs will be on the clock to get him signed. College players, who are seniors, have the option to sign with the team that drafted them or choose to become a free agent in the summer (on August 15) and sign elsewhere. I don’t see there being an issue getting Struble signed, however. He is a former client of current Montreal GM Kent Hughes, so the relationship is already in place.

I appreciate Struble’s game. He’s a bit of a throwback. He isn’t shy about mixing things up — recently served a suspension for fighting, which isn’t allowed in college hockey. He skates well and distributes pucks effectively. Although he is used in all situations at Northeastern, averaging over 21 minutes per game, I don’t see him contributing on the power play as a pro. Struble leans two-way/match-up defenceman. Some secondary scoring is possible, but not something I forecast as a requirement. Struble would be an additional “piece of the puzzle” for Montreal, one that fits a role and identity.

Sean Farrell, Junior
Team: Harvard, NCAA
Drafted: 124th overall in 2020
5-foot-9 / 175 pounds / Left Shot Forward

Farrell is, arguably, Harvard’s most valuable player. He contributes in all facets and is averaging over 21 minutes per game. Farrell has produced offence at even strength and the power play. He also has two shorthanded goals on the year, and is Harvard’s leading scorer with seven goals and 11 assists in 11 games.

Farrell is quick out of the gate, but isn’t a burner between the blue lines transporting the puck. What he lacks in high end speed he makes up for with his puck skill. He has the ability to turn opponents inside out with his handles. His read/react game is a strength. When he gets a puck in scoring areas, he has a quick and accurate release.

It will be interesting to see what the plan is for both the player and the organization after this season. He’s a junior. If he remains in school the Canadiens run the risk of Farrell becoming a free agent after his senior season (if he decides he doesn’t want to sign in Montreal).

I project Farrell as a “middle six” forward. His primary minutes will come at even strength and on the power play as a pro.

Here’s an example of Farrell’s quick strike ability.

In this sequence he reads the play coming into the zone, creates a turnover, then gets the puck back and quickly fires it under the bar for a goal. Farrell is No. 21 in the clip. This is one of his shorthanded goals from this year.

[brightcove videoID=6316758502112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Jakub Dobes (Sophomore)
Team: Ohio State, NCAA
Drafted: 136th overall in 2020
6-foot-5 / 197 pounds / Goalie

Dobes is having another solid season at Ohio State. He’s a huge presence in the net, playing a butterfly/hybrid style. His mechanics are sound. He relies heavily on his positional play. When he’s square there isn’t much for shooters to look at.

Where he gets into trouble is with his rebound control. At times he needs to absorb pucks more effectively, since making second stops and moving side to side takes away his size advantage. At times he also has some difficulty catching pucks clean.

An area of strength is his puck play. He outlets pucks effectively. Dobes has started all but one game this season for the Buckeyes.

Adam Engstrom
Team: Rogle (J20/SHL, Sweden)
Drafted: 92nd overall in 2022
6-foot-2 / 185 pounds / Left Shot D

Engstrom is splitting time between the J20 and SHL levels playing for Rogle in Sweden. He’s a rangy defender with some offensive upside. At the J20 level he is averaging almost two points per game and being deployed in all situations. When he suits up at the pro level, he sees the ice at even strength and on the power play.

Engstrom is a sound skater on straight lines. He has good quickness out of the gate and the ability to lead the rush. He sometimes gets a bit hunched over defending against the speed rush, resulting is less leverage and balance when closing gaps. Engstrom reads the play very well in the offensive zone, though, and has an accurate release and the ability to beat goalies from range.

Here’s an example of Engstrom finding space and scoring from the middle slot:

[brightcove videoID=6316760090112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Oliver Kapanen
Team: Kalpa (Finnish Liiga)
Drafted: 64th overall in 2021
6-foot-1 / 180 pounds / Right Shot Forward

Leading scorers in Liiga wear different coloured helmets than the rest of the group. A bright gold helmet indicates the player is the leading scorer for his team. A player wearing a blue “Red Bull” helmet indicates he is the leading scorer under the age of 20. Kapanen wears the blue helmet at Kalpa, scoring six goals and seven assists so far this season.

Kapanen is being deployed in all situations and averages between 16-18 minutes of ice. On the power play he stations himself in the middle bumper position and when pucks arrive on his stick, he has a quick release. In my opinion he is more of a shooter than a natural playmaker. Kapanen is an average penalty killer. He’s in motion much of the time, attempting to take away time and space, but doesn’t look entirely comfortable on the PK.

Kapanen is a good skater. He has a bit of a short stride, but he has decent pace. His agility, when he finds himself having to skate backwards, is average.

He’ll need time to develop. He’s not a heavy player. He has room to add more core strength. Having said that, he does hold his own playing pro in Finland and I can see a path to the AHL as a possibility for next season. He has potential to produce, at worst, secondary offence on projection.

Note: Kapanen was taken into the boards heavily in a recent game versus Kookoo and did not return. He is eligible for Finland’s world junior team. Hopefully the injury will not hold him out of the tournament.

Closing Observations

The Canadiens have a wide range of prospects developing in different leagues throughout the world. Some of their young defencemen have already graduated to the NHL roster (Guhle, Harris, Xhekaj) and they have more in the pipeline. Up front the Habs have a nice mix of size and skill prospects on the rise. Their goaltending also looks reasonably positive moving forward.

I’m a big fan of the prospect pool that director of scouting Martin Lapointe and his staff have drafted to date. The “reset”, or “rebuild”, that is going on in Montreal could be a lot shorter than expected.

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