The Montreal Canadiens midseason prospect review continues with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prospects.
In the last four drafts, the former general manager, Marc Bergevin, selected several players from the American collegiate ranks. The high level of competition in the collegiate conferences is often overlooked due to their lighter scheduling to provide the athletes more time as they are also students. These leagues are excellent for development, and for most prospects, leaving them in that environment as they develop their skill and size until they are ready to graduate to the professional ranks is best for long-term development.
Jack Gorniak, LW – Wisconsin
Jack Gorniak was a Canadiens 2018 fourth-round pick, chosen out of high school. He is now entering his senior year at Wisconsin, on a team that is floundering after losing most of its top players over the last two seasons. This leaves the hard-working 5-foot-11 winger without a skilled player to feed off of as Gorniak’s strengths are much like Artturi Lehkonen’s, someone who forechecks well, but with four goals and nine points in 18 games played, doesn’t produce offensive numbers
As he is in his final year at Wisconsin, Gorniak must be signed by Aug 15 2022 or he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA). With the amount of similar prospects on the wings in the Habs system, he is unlikely to be offered a contract unless he can raise his game up.
Sean Farrell, LW –Harvard
The Canadiens selected Sean Farrell in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. The diminutive forward was due to join Harvard in the NCAA last season, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all Ivy League winter sports were cancelled which forced him to return to the United States Hockey League (USHL) for another season. There he had a 101 point season and led Chicago Steel to a championship while earning MVP honours. This seemed to prove Cole Caufield correct after he tweeted that Farrell was a late-round steal
This year, he finally joined Harvard for his freshman season and started where he left off in the USHL. His ability to read and react to plays at top speed has helped to set him apart so far this season, after 11 games, he’s tied for the team lead in goals with six and is second on the team in points with 14. His play has earned him a role on Harvard’s top line and power play, which in turn has led to Harvard climbing into a playoff position at third in their conference.
Arvid Henrikson, D –Lake Superior State
Arvid Henrikson was selected in the seventh round in 2016, the 6-foot-5, 211-pound defender will never be seen as a point producer or puck-moving defenceman as he has a career-high of two points in the NCAA and currently has one assist in 20 games played for Lake Superior State. However, if he were ever to earn a professional contract, it will be for his defensive play. He consistently has led or has been close to leading the team in blocked shots, he plays a major role on the penalty kill and as a stay-at-home defenceman that handles heavy minutes in 5v5 situations. While Henrikson is an intelligent player, earning a degree, he was named to the WCHA All-Academic Team last season, he is seen as a longshot to earn an NHL contract from the Canadiens when his NCAA career is over after the 2023 season.
Rhett Pitlick, LW –Minnesota
The son of former NHLer Lance Pitlick, Rhett was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft by the Canadiens. At 5-foot-9 he isn’t the biggest player, but he has an excellent work ethic, skates extremely well and executes plays quickly. If he earns an NHL contract, his speed and speed of execution will be the reason.
Pitlick is having a slow start in his freshman season at Minnesota with only six assists in 13 games played, thanks in part to an early-season shoulder injury that saw him miss time. This could explain the drop in production as he may not be fully healed. The good news is he has until Aug of 2024 before the Canadiens have to decide to sign him or not, giving him plenty of time to heal and work on his game.
Jordan Harris, D –Northwestern
The 21-year-old Jordan Harris is one of the Canadiens’ top defensive prospects. He returned to Northeastern this season to try and win a championship for his school, he was named captain as well. In his 18 games played, he has two goals and 11 points. He plays top-pairing minutes in all situations, leading his team to a 13-4-1 record, good enough to have the team in a playoff position at third place in the Hockey East Conference, as well as ranked 13th overall in the nation.
Because he is in his final year at Northeastern the Canadiens will have to work hard on convincing the young puck-moving defender to sign before 15 Aug 2022 or he becomes a UFA and can choose any team he desires.
Jacob Dobes, G –Ohio State
20-year-old Jacob Dobes is a freshman at Ohio State, at 6-foot-4, he fits the template of goaltender the Canadiens have been drafting in recent years, large-framed, athletic goaltenders. Dobes has excelled in Ohio, earning the starter’s role, playing in all but one game this year for a 10-5-0 record in 15 games played with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
His play has been instrumental in leading Ohio State to be ranked nationally as the 17th best team in the NCAA as well as into a playoff position at third place in the Big Ten Conference.
Jayden Struble, D –Northeastern
Jayden Struble was the Canadiens pick in the second round of the 2019 draft, selected directly out of high school, the young defender impressed scouts with his 6-foot 200lb frame and his raw strength at the combine. The young prospect has struggled with injuries during his NCAA career, likely due to his highly physical brand of defending. His raw offensive talents are slowly being refined at Northeastern, where he is known for his highlight reel rushes and use of his speed to cover up for any defensive errors.
So far this season, Struble has four points in 17 games played, which is down from his offensive production last season of 12 points in 18 games. However, his defensive game has improved dramatically, to the point he has been used on penalty-killing units and trusted with protecting leads.
Blake Biondi, C/LW – Minnesota-Duluth
Blake Biondi, a 6-foot 180-pound centre was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft. Last season as a sophomore, he was used in a lesser role, earning his way up. This season, he has been placed in a top-six role and has shown he can handle the responsibility with a team-leading eight goals, and tied for most points on the team at 14, in 18 games played.
Biondi’s strengths are his defensive awareness and an ability to win battles in front of the opposition net, if he can continue to build on those skills, and improve his skating, he might be seen in a Canadiens’ sweater someday.
Luke Tuch, LW – Boston University
Already, at only19 years old, the Canadiens 2020 second-round pick has NHL size at 6-foot-2 and 203-pounds. Luke plays a power forward game built on physicality and speed along with the wings much like his older brother, Buffalo Sabres power forward Alex Tuch.
Unfortunately, it’s a style of play that leads to injuries at times, and Luke is no exception as Boston University lost a top-line player to a lower-body injury in mid-October. Due to this, Tuch has missed half of his team’s season, playing in only 9 games and not scoring any points. He has had difficulty in playing with the injury.
Brett Stapley, C – University of Denver
Brett Stapley is entering his senior year at the University of Denver and the Canadiens will have to decide if he is worthy of an NHL contract. He is an offensively productive player, albeit one in a secondary, depth role Denver squad deep with NHL prospects. In his 16 games played so far this season he has six goals and 16 points, placing him sixth in team scoring despite being a point per game player.
Stapley can be compared in some ways to Canadiens center Jake Evans, in that he has speed and playmaking abilities, but can do so in a bottom-six role as his defensive play is solid. Like Evans, if Stapley were to be signed, he would be a long-term project needing a few years in the AHL to develop before having a chance at an NHL call-up.
While this NHL season may be painful for fans to watch their beloved Canadiens struggle, the upside is they can look to the success their young draft picks are having in leagues everywhere and feel hopeful about the future.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.