3 Canadiens Prospects Who Could Make Opening Night Roster

The Montreal Canadiens have a full roster of forwards going into training camp this season. Without some movement, it will be hard for any prospect to break into the NHL in 2022-23 unless they are defencemen. A number of them could be ready to take the next step if there is room for them in the NHL.

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Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron and Jordan Harris are probably shoo-ins to get at least some time with Montreal next season, possibly right out of training camp; Juraj Slafkovsky, the Canadiens’ first overall pick this year, could also have a spot right out of camp. And still, a few other prospects could surprise everyone and make the team right away.

1. Jan Mysak

Jan Mysak was drafted in the second round, 48th overall at the 2020 Draft. The 20-year-old was a point-per-game (PPG) player with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Hamilton Bulldogs, scoring 89 points in 87 games. He also had 11 points in 17 playoff games, helping the Bulldogs win the OHL Championship and stamping their ticket to the Memorial Cup, ultimately losing in the Final to the St. John Seadogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He also was instrumental with Team Czechia on the international stage. At the World Junior Championship (WJC), he scored eight points in seven games, was named to the WJC All-Star Team, and was voted top three on his team for the second year in a row.

Jan Mysak Hamilton Bulldogs
Jan Mysak, Hamilton Bulldogs (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

Mysak is a superb forechecker, who is a north/south attacker, excels at faceoffs and is a very smooth skater, he is also just as handy in the defensive zone by playing a solid two-way game. He has proven that he is a tremendous leader, helping Czechia finish fourth at the WJC as captain of the team and often carrying them to victory during the tournament. The Canadiens currently have five centers after the acquisition of Sean Monahan from Calgary, and it could be hard to find room for Mysak. Monahan, however, is recovering from hip surgery and could miss the first few weeks, leaving some room for Mysak to make the team on opening day.

2. Jesse Ylonen

Jesse Ylonen spent last season with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League (AHL), where he scored 14 goals and 36 points in 52 games and another six points in 14 playoff games. He also has an accurate one-timer and was a massive part of Laval’s power play (PP) last season. Drafted in the second round, 38th overall at the 2018 Draft, the 22-year-old has had success at every level he’s played at, improving his game with every season.

Jesse Ylonen of Espoo United
Jesse Ylonen is now with the Laval Rocket (Ilari Nackel/Espoo United)

The Canadiens have ten wingers on the roster, but Paul Byron is not expected to play until later in the season. Ylonen could play himself into a spot on the team out of camp; he did play 14 games last season with the big club and scored five points, including two goals. If he can prove he is ready for the next step, Montreal could find a space for him on the roster while Byron is out of action. He is a very agile skater with a quick wrist shot and loves to play at a high pace which should work well with head coach Martin St. Louis. Ylonen is at the point in his development where he needs to start moving forward, and that means getting playing time in the NHL.

3. Arber Xhekaj

Arber Xhekaj is a big menacing defenseman who can hit, skate and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas and play a rough game. He is 21 years old, 6-foot-4, and 225 pounds; the Canadiens could use another young defenseman who can hit after the loss of Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders in a trade at the 2022 Draft. He scored 17 points in 33 games last season with the Bulldogs but excelled in the OHL Playoffs scoring 18 points in 17 games, helping lead Hamilton to the OHL Championship. Although not known for his offence, he is very good defensively and can put fear into his opponents with his jarring hits and rough play. However, he does have an issue with getting too belligerent once in a while and was suspended in the OHL a couple of times last season.

Related: Canadiens’ Jan Mysak Ready to Make Leap to NHL

The Canadiens will have several prospects competing for a couple of spots on the Canadiens roster this season, with only four veteran defencemen already on the team. Guhle, Harris and Barron are the frontrunners for the remaining two positions, but Xhekaj could also steal a spot out of camp. At his first camp, he played great, and if he plays the same way this season he could be the one making the opening day roster over the other three prospects.

It will be difficult for Mysak and Ylonen to make the team due to the glut of forwards the Canadiens have. For them to have an easier time, they will have to move some players to make room. With five players on expiring contracts and four forwards, it is more likely they will see time in Montreal after the trade deadline when there is more space on the roster. With all the players involved and barely any spots open, training camp will be very interesting in Montreal this season.


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