2018-19 Farm System Report: Montreal Canadiens

Despite holding onto just two high-end prospects, the Montreal Canadiens’ farm system boasts its fair share of depth. While most won’t play a role at the NHL-level, Montreal’s quantity of prospects provide hope amidst an uncertain future.

Although they may not want to admit it, the Montreal Canadiens are on the brink of a comprehensive re-build.

With a lack of depth offensively as well as on the blue line, the Canadiens are far too thin to legitimately compete in today’s NHL.

What’s more is that recent trades executed by the organization have left many questioning the franchise’s direction. When in need of defensive depth, the team traded highly touted defenceman Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then, when Jonathan Drouin’s transition to centre sputtered, the Canadiens dealt their best natural centreman — Alex Galchenyuk — to the Arizona Coyotes.

As a team searching for a sense of direction and purpose, it’s fortunate that General Manager Marc Bergevin has managed to resurrect his organization’s farm system.

Well, sort of.

Franchise Breakdown:

Division: Atlantic

Stanley Cups: 24

2017-18 Record: 29-40-13; 71 Points

2017-18 Top Scorer: Brendan Gallagher; 31G, 23A, 54PTS

Farm System Grade: B

Top 10 Prospects:

  1. Jesperi Kotkaniemi
  2. Nick Suzuki
  3. Ryan Poehling
  4. Cayden Primeau
  5. Jesse Ylonen
  6. Allan McShane
  7. Noah Juulsen
  8. Alexander Romanov
  9. Josh Brook
  10. Jacob Olofsson

The State of the Canadiens’ Farm System

If it hadn’t been for the trade which sent now former Canadiens’ captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights, Montreal would have fared far worse than simply a ‘C+’ grading in this year’s farm system report.

The acquisition of Nick Suzuki could prove crucial to the Canadiens’ success in the immediate future, as adding another young talent capable of playing centre in Suzuki suddenly affords the franchise with slight depth down the middle of the ice. Alongside Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Suzuki’s presence should provide Montreal with two highly talented players capable of driving the team’s offensive game.

Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
The acquisition of Nick Suzuki from the Vegas Golden Knights affords the Canadiens with a second high-end prospect to build around. (Photo Credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

However, outside of these two stellar prospects, the Canadiens’ prospect pool is somewhat weak.

While Jesse Ylonen and Jacob Olofsson stand as two highly promising and elite offensive players, it will be some time before either is capable of ascending to the NHL-level. Further, while the likes of Ryan Poehling, Cam Hillis, Allan McShane, and Noah Juulsen all play a professional-style of game, there are no guarantees that any of which will play a significant impact for the Canadiens in the near future.

Ultimately, despite being strengthened through the 2018 NHL Draft and by recent trades, Montreal’s far system remains fairly thin. Sure, the Canadiens now boast two high-level talents in Kotkaniemi and Suzuki, however, it could take a considerable amount of time for these two develop and become impactful, everyday players at the NHL-level.

One Canadiens Prospect to Watch

Since a great deal is already known about both Kotkaniemi and Suzuki, let’s take a look at one relatively unknown Montreal prospect who exploded this past season.

Despite retaining arguably the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price, the Canadiens now boast a prospect who could become their starting goaltender of the future. Nabbed by Montreal in the seventh-round, 199th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, Cayden Primeau had a fantastic freshman season with Northeastern University in 2017-18.

Although just 19-years-of-age, Primeau burst onto the scene for Northeastern to begin their most recent season and had little trouble claiming the starting job in between the pipes. By the time his inaugural NCAA campaign had come to a close, Primeau had posted a sparkling 1.92 GAA and .931% SVP in 34 games played.

Named as the NCAA (New England) Rookie of the Year and Hockey East’s Goaltender of the year, Primeau’s impressive and consistent play has thrust him into the spotlight as a suddenly eye-catching Canadiens’ prospect. Although his NHL arrival likely remains a few seasons away, Primeau stands as an intriguing asset given Price’s unclear future with the organization.

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Can Ryan Suzuki Best His Brother?

Ryan Suzuki of the Barrie Colts is a sensational playmaker who plays a strong and calculated game. Long motivated by his older brother, Nick, could Ryan surpass his sibling as an NHL prospect?

As the first-overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, attention tends to follow Ryan Suzuki regardless of where he plays.

A former standout with the London Jr. Knights, Suzuki enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Barrie Colts in 2017-18 — scoring 14 goals and adding 30 assists for a total of 44 points. Although he didn’t claim any notable individual awards, Suzuki’s campaign proved to be a promising one considering the depth of the Colts’ roster and his incredible composure with the puck.

Ryan Suzuki
Precise skating and calculated decision making proved crucial to Suzuki’s rookie OHL campaign. (Photo Credit: Miranda Zilkowsky Photography)

Extremely calculative while in possession and rarely pressured into making mistakes, Suzuki’s seemingly veteran style of play mixed with his lethal offensive upside immediately garnered comparisons to another current OHL-star — the youngster’s brother and Owen Sound Attack sniper Nick Suzuki.

Although they do boast their differences, both Suzuki and his older brother are remarkably similar players. Of average height and weight, the brothers are endlessly intelligent and creative on the ice — an ability which drives both players’ offensive games.

However, given their similarities, this begs one ultimate question: can the younger Suzuki become a more talented and promising player than his older brother?

The Surging Suzuki Sibling Rivalry

Although they are family, there is no question that the Suzuki brothers are incredibly competitive and strive to out-duel one another.

On one hand, there is the oldest Suzuki.

As a first-round choice of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Draft, Nick seemingly holds the distinct advantage in the sibling rivalry. Although Ryan is slated to be selected in the coming 2019 NHL Draft, Nick boasts the bragging rights — and will continue to do so if Ryan fails to hear his name called earlier than Nick did at 13th overall.

What’s more is that the elder Suzuki has two dynamite OHL seasons in-hand. In 2016-17, Suzuki potted a whopping 45 goals and 96 points for the Attack before adding another 42 goals and 100 points for Owen Sound last season. Further, Suzuki owns two William Hanley Trophies as the OHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player — he’s collected just 32 penalty minutes thus far in his 192-game career.

Then, on the other hand, we have the younger of the two brothers.

Although he only has one OHL season under his belt, Ryan’s inaugural campaign was incredibly impressive and one which cemented the native of London, Ontario as a potential top-10 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Despite drawing less ice time than he arguably would have garnered with different franchises throughout the OHL, the younger Suzuki made the most of his playing time as a rookie and was able to leave a lasting impression. As an immensely intelligent player, Suzuki’s playmaking abilities were regularly on full display — his willingness to saucer passes through traffic with success was a treat to watch.

Further, Suzuki established himself as a prospect who refuses to buckle under pressure. Routinely utilized on Barrie’s power-play and in high-pressure situations, Suzuki’s patience and willingness to wait for high-percentage scoring chances to develop helped to drive the Colts’ man-advantage — Barrie concluded the 2017-18 regular season with the OHL’s sixth-best power-play.

So, although he doesn’t hold any hardware, Suzuki is evidently well on his way to becoming as good as — if not better than — his older brother. Sure, he needs to strengthen his frame and improve his shot — two weaknesses which will improve with physical maturity — however, the fact remains that Suzuki is staring down a lucrative career at the NHL-level.

And, although he and his brother play in opposite OHL Conferences, the personal drive to improve shared by the two on a nightly basis is endlessly inspiring