Wednesday, August 2, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Montreal Canadiens

Even with the trade of Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens still have a decent crop of OHL prospects.

1. Michael McNiven - Owen Sound Attack
What else can you say? The OHL Goaltender of the Year this year...and the CHL Goaltender of the Year. McNiven is only the 5th OHL goaltender ever to take home that award (although the list of OHL winners certainly didn't have a ton of NHL success; Mike Murphy, Mike Houser, Andrew Raycroft, and Ray Emery). The Attack were consistently one of the league's top teams this year and McNiven was definitely a major reason for that...obviously. Looked more confident. Looked quicker post to post. Looked more composed in the crease, challenging shooters and covering angles. Seemed like he so rarely got caught out of position this year. Continues to have a great glove. Improved rebound control was probably the biggest difference I saw. Really worked hard to make more saves through traffic and kicked out way less to the slot for second chance opportunities. So where does that leave McNiven for next year? Like a lot of graduating CHL goaltenders, he might have to spend some time in the ECHL. Have to assume Charlie Lindgren will be guaranteed a spot in the AHL. So it comes down to battling Zach Fucale for that other AHL spot. If I'm Montreal, I probably want Fucale in the AHL (at least to start) to see what they have there. That would leave McNiven in the ECHL, where I would expect him to put up good numbers. Has emerged as the 2nd best goaltending prospect in the OHL behind Tyler Parsons IMO.

2. Victor Mete - London Knights
Mete had a tremendous season for London and has emerged as one of the OHL's best two-way defenders. The improvement in his defensive game over the course of his OHL career thus far has been remarkable and is a true testament to the terrific London Knights program. In 2015/16, his ability to defend off the rush, using his mobility to his advantage really took a step forward, but his reads in coverage still needed work. But this year, that part of his game took a step forward, making him a complete defender in his own end. Also saw an even higher compete level without the puck, despite his lack of size. Obviously, his skating ability and offensive game have never been questioned and remains a major asset. His ability to start the breakout is something that will really help him transition to the pro game eventually. Next year, Mete returns to the OHL for his final year. He's the likely favourite to be the next captain of the Knights and is a favourite for the Max Kaminsky (OHL Defender of the year). I think he's a point per game player and probably gets close to or passes the 60 point mark (depending on whether he makes the Canadian WJC team...which IMO he should). Progressing incredibly well and looks like a potential Jared Spurgeon type.

3. Will Bitten - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably not the year that Bitten imagined he'd have, nor the year the Bulldogs imagined he'd have after they gave up a lot to acquire him from Flint. His numbers took a step back from his draft year. I think a lot of that has to do with how inconsistent Hamilton was as a team, but Bitten needs to wear that just as much as guys like Matt Strome, or their other veteran core do. Bitten continues to shift between wing and center, so I don't know what that's doing for his development. His speed remains his biggest asset as he's tough to stop off the rush, especially when he's being aggressive in attacking the net. But that next step in adding strength and improving his play along the wall and in traffic didn't really happen. In the times I saw Hamilton this year, Bitten looked better when he was playing center and the numbers reflect that. I think that can be explained with what I just mentioned. When he's at center, he's able to drive play with the puck on his stick, using his speed. When he's on the wing, he needs to win more battles in traffic and has less room to operate. I look for him to really add that strength this offseason and return to the OHL next year as a man possessed. I believe highly in his talent level and I see him having a breakout season; in the 85+ point range.

4. Jeremiah Addison - Windsor Spitfires
Looking back at my Canadiens article from last year, Addison failed to live up to the expectations I placed on him (the 30 goal mark). I don't know if that necessarily means he had a poor season though. But I would say that he didn't progress much this year either. I think at this point, what you see is what you get. A power winger who can crash and bang, drive the net for put backs, and can play both ends of the ice. What you're not getting is a super skilled player in transition or with the puck, nor are you getting the world's best skater. Addison did have a great Memorial Cup though and I really liked how he elevated his game in the playoffs, in general (was great in Windsor's round one loss to London too). He'll join the pro ranks next year and should be able to take a regular shift on the 4th line in the AHL. Wouldn't expect much offensively in his first year though.

5. Michael Pezzetta - Sudbury Wolves
We saw a regression, not a progression from Pezzetta this year and that's certainly not a good thing. The power center put up only 19 points this year, down from 28 in his draft year. Pezzetta remains a bit of a mystery to me. You watch him play and you wonder why he's not scoring more or impacting the game more offensively. He has size, speed and definitely some measure of skill. But it just doesn't add up to production. A lack of hockey sense? I think that could be part of it for sure. I think another part of it was the fact that Pezzetta focused too much on the physical side of things this year. Spent a lot of time in the penalty box for the wrong reasons. He needs to find that line between being an effective physical player, and one who costs his teammates. Next year Sudbury is going to rely on him to have a big jump offensively. This is a franchise who wants to take the next step as a top 4 team in the Conference, but they won't do that if their former high picks continue to flounder in mediocrity. At this point, I think Pezzetta will improve, but I don't know how much. Would a 20/25 year be enough for him to get a contract from Montreal? Probably not. But that's about what I'd expect. 

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