The Montreal Canadiens are still struggling to create offence as the season progresses. With star players such as Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki having average seasons but not living up to expectations and players such as Josh Anderson not doing much of anything production-wise, the team is dropping in the standings. The team in Montreal might be struggling, but their prospects playing around the world have been excelling and are giving fans hope that things will improve in the coming seasons. Here is a look at four Habs prospects dominating their respective leagues as the 2024 World Junior Championship (WJC) approaches.
Canadiens’ Hutson and Fowler Leading the Way In NCAA
Lane Hutson was drafted in the second round of the 2022 Entry Draft. Many thought if he had more size, the young defensemen playing in the USA National Team Development Program (USNTDP) would have been a top-10 pick in the draft. At 5-foot-eight, however, Hutson was looked over by all 32 teams in the first round and dropped to the Canadiens at 62nd overall. Since his draft year, due to delayed bone growth, he has grown two inches and is now 5-foot-10, which has many fans and media members excited about his future as a blueliner with the Canadiens. Montreal was high on Hutson through the draft and knew he could be a future impact player but hesitated to draft him earlier. They were lucky to be able to draft him when they did.
Hutson started last season with Boston University (BU) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and scored 48 points in 39 games with 15 goals. His team won the Hockey East championship, and he was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year (ROY), Scoring Champion, and Three Stars Award winner. He also won the New England Best Defencemen, Most Valuable Player (MVP), ROY, The Walter Brown Award, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for top collegiate player. Not bad for his first season. In addition to all of that, he won bronze for Team USA at the 2023 WJC (WJC), where he had four points in seven games.
He projects to be even better this season, with 16 points in 13 games, including eight goals. He still has some work to do on his defensive game but his offensive skill is one of the best from a defenceman in recent years, drawing comparisons to Adam Fox of the New York Rangers and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche.
In last year’s draft, the Canadiens decided to stockpile goaltending prospects due to the lack of depth in their prospect pool. One of the goalies they drafted was Jacob Fowler, who was a standout for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League (USHL). In his draft year, Fowler was 27-9-3 with a .921 save percentage (SV%) in 40 games. He was named Goaltender of the Year, helped Youngstown win the Clark Cup Championship while being named Clark Cup MVP and USHL Goaltender of the Year. Fowler was predicted to be the fourth-best goalie in the draft but was drafted in the third round, 69th overall, as the sixth goalie in the draft.
In his first season in the NCAA, Fowler is starting where he left off in the USHL. Playing for Boston College, he has started all 14 games for the team and compiled an 11-2-1 record with a .931 SV% and a 1.98 Goals Against Average of 1.98, winning goaltender of the week twice and goaltender of the month for October and of November for Hockey East. His excellent and explosive lateral movement and keen ability to track the puck have him starting his college career as one of the best goalies in the NCAA and convincing fans and media he could be the next goaltender for the Canadiens. Only time will tell, but his numbers are something to marvel at.
Canadiens’ Mesar and Beck Taking the Next Step In the OHL
Filip Mesar was Montreal’s second first-round draft pick in the 2022 Entry Draft, friend and teammate of fellow countryman and first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. However, many fans and media thought the Mesar selection was a reach for the club and were disappointed in the pick; Mesar didn’t help change anyone’s mind last season when he joined the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In what should’ve been a season in which a first-round pick should shine, Mesar was just average, scoring 51 points in 51 games with only 17 goals and four points in nine playoff games. His only bright spot last season was at the WJC, where he had six points in five games for a strong Slovakia team.
This season, however, Mesar is proving to the masses that he isn’t the same player he was last season. When the season began, he was on the American Hockey League (AHL) Laval Rocket roster but was getting fourth-line minutes when he wasn’t a healthy scratch. Dressing for only two of four Rocket games, the Canadiens decided to send him back to his team in Kitchener. Since joining the Rangers, Mesar has been on fire and is one of the top players in the OHL, scoring 12 goals and 29 points in 18 games. He is also preparing to help lead Slovakia in the 2024 WJC, where they look to have a strong team again. It seems taking the slow road to the NHL is working wonders for Mesar.
Meanwhile, Owen Beck is looking to become a massive piece of the Canadiens’ future. For the last few seasons, he has been the top faceoff man in the OHL and one of the league’s better two-way centres. Last season, he had a cup of coffee playing one game for the Canadiens and was also a late addition to the Canada team at the WJC, filling in for an injured player. Splitting his time between the Mississauga Steelheads and the Peterborough Petes last season, he scored 65 points in 60 games and added another 16 points in 22 playoff games. Beck only had one point in the three WJC games on his way to winning the gold medal.
This season started very slowly for Beck and many wondered if he would regress. After an outstanding rookie camp and preseason with the Canadiens, many thought he may have an outside chance of making the big club, but he was cut late and sent to the Petes. With only one goal and three points in his first five games, his stats looked very underwhelming. That all changed when he recorded a hat trick on Oct. 21 — since then, Beck has scored 22 points in his last 18 games and looks on track to be one of the top centres in the OHL. It would be no surprise to see both Beck and Mesar in Montreal or Laval at the end of their OHL seasons.
All four players look like they will play substantial roles with their WJC teams with Mesar likely trying to lead Slovakia to the medal round and beyond. Fowler and Hutson look to be leaders on what could be a dominant USA team, and Beck will be a returning player to a Team Canada hoping to three-peat as gold medal winners. You can get all your WJC coverage here at The Hockey Writers.