The Montreal Canadiens have an enviable prospect pool filled with talented young players, and that pool doesn’t include all of the 23 years of age and under players already graduated to the NHL lineup. Players such as Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky headline that list, not to mention the all-rookie blue line led by Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj.
Related: Montreal Canadiens Prospect Pyramid: Midseason 2022-23
General manager (GM) Kent Hughes and his scouting staff are poised to add significantly to the team’s prospects with the 2023 NHL Entry Draft as the Habs are loaded with 11 picks, two of which are in the first round and both may even be in the top 10 of an extremely deep draft.
Definition of a Prospect
For this exercise, I will keep the definition of a prospect simple. It is a player under 23 years old, who has played less than one full NHL season, or is playing in a lower league, professional or amateur. For goaltenders, they must not have played 50 NHL games. Also, they must be 25 years of age or younger. Using established NHL players would only act to artificially inflate the values or rankings of the prospect pool and for the purposes of this list, Juraj Slafkovsky will be considered an NHL player as he was drafted first overall and was immediately added to the roster.
Canadiens’ Top 10
While there may not be any sure-fire elite superstars, the Canadiens have assembled a group that can fill a top-six forward or top-four defender role. While the team is still in need of that star power, they have been able to draft players that can surround and complement that one player, whenever they can acquire him.
10. Jakub Dobes – Goaltender (Ohio State University – NCAA)
Drafted 136th Overall 2020
Jakub Dobes is an early nominee for the Hobey Baker Award (top NCAA player) and Mike Richter Award (Top NCAA goaltender) with his stellar play for the Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAAs toughest conference, the Big 10. Ohio is ranked in the top seven in the nation as Dobes has started every game for them this season with a record of 17-10-1 while putting up a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.25 and a save percentage (SV%) of .919.
He has the upside of an NHL starter; he only needs time to develop his game further. Playing in the NCAA, he has two more seasons before he has to sign a contract and graduate to the professional game.
9. Logan Mailloux – Right-Handed Defense (London Knights – OHL)
Drafted: 31st Overall, 2021
Logan Mailloux is a purely offensive defenseman who missed a lot of time due to the pandemic and his own off-ice issues. This season is really the first full season for him in three years. He’s supremely confident in his ability to carry and control the puck, especially in transition and his offensive instincts make him highly capable of keeping offensive zone pressure as well as making a play that leads to a scoring chance, all in one smooth movement.
His issue is on defense, which is a problem as the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder is a defenseman. At times, he makes poor reads, places himself incorrectly in coverage, and tends to make poor decisions when chasing the play or trying to do too much with the puck. He needs more time to develop that side of his game and permission from the NHL to actually graduate to that league as Gary Bettman’s comments show he isn’t welcomed just yet. Until he can prove himself on and off the ice, there will be question marks.
8. Oliver Kapanen – Center (KalPa – Liiga)
Drafted: 64th Overall, 2021
Oliver Kapanen had a disappointing season post-draft. His production levels fluctuated depending on which league he was in, having played in three leagues for five different teams. This season, he has settled into his third-line role with KalPa in the Finnish Liiga scoring nine goals and 20 points in 46 games. He captained Finland to a fifth-place finish at the 2023 World Junior Championships (WJC), scoring one goal and three points in five games. His strong two-way game and his development progress point to him being capable of making the leap to North America next season and the upside of becoming a third-line NHL center.
7. Adam Engstrom – Left Defense (Rogle BK – SHL)
Drafted: 92nd Overall, 2022
Adam Engstrom is a smooth-skating, 6-foot-2 defenseman who can be trusted to log heavy minutes in any situation. He dominated the U20 league with 13 points in only seven games while playing in every situation before being graduated to the SHL (Sweden’s top professional league) with Rogle BK, where he has five goals and 10 points in 35 games played while in a second-pairing role. He also played a significant role for Sweden at the WJC with three points in seven games, as a second-pair defender who also played on the top penalty-killing unit.
Defensively sound thanks to his mobility and intelligent positioning, he uses that to launch the transition game, which is his true strength. He does well in keeping puck possession and carrying the puck in the neutral and offensive zones, he has a very accurate passing game, and his shot is accurate but needs some added strength, which should come as he adds to his 190 pounds. He has second-pair upside as a two-way defender in the NHL.
6. Justin Barron – Right-Handed Defender (Montreal Canadiens – NHL)
Drafted: 25th Overall, 2020
Justin Barron was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Artturi Lehkonen trade. The Canadiens added a 2024 second-round pick and a 6-foot-2, 201-pound, right-shot defender. Barron has entered his second professional season, which started off slowly, but has improved. He was named to the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star team with 16 points in 25 games as the top-pairing defender prior to his call-up to the Canadiens where he is now one of five rookie defensemen on the roster.
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The mobile, puck-moving, two-way defender has scored four points in 14 games with the Canadiens this season, but has shown flashes of his potential of becoming a second-pairing defender who can play on the second wave of the power play. His excellent skating and good transitional play allow him to fit into the mold of the style of defense the Canadiens are trying to build.
5. Filip Mesar – Center/Left Wing (Kitchener Rangers – OHL)
Drafted: 26th Overall, 2022
Filip Mesar left his professional team in Slovakia and remained in North America after he was drafted. After being cut from the NHL and AHL camps, he joined the Kitchener Rangers. While there, he has scored 12 goals and 29 points in 31 games for a team that is battling for a playoff position. He was the alternate captain of the Slovakian WJC team where he scored two goals and six points in five games and nearly led them to a massive upset win over Team Canada in the quarterfinals before losing in overtime. He is a player that will take a little development time in the AHL, but it could be worth the wait as he has the upside of a top-six winger in the NHL.
4. Sean Farrell – Left Wing (Harvard – NCAA)
Drafted: 124th Overall, 2020
The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Sean Farrell could become a late-round draft steal for the Canadiens. He ranks this high on the Montreal depth chart thanks to his impressive play in the NCAA for Harvard. While he is highly skilled and skates well, he has been an impact player based on his intelligence. His positioning and ability to read plays at a high pace are what will help him translate his game into the professional ranks
He is in his second year at the Ivy League school and has been dominating opponents, scoring 12 goals and 36 points in only 23 games played, good for a 1.57-point-per-game pace. This level of play, and his previous season that saw him play a top-six role for Team USA at the Olympics and Men’s World Championships, points to him being ready to graduate to the professional game after this season.
3. Joshua Roy – Left Wing (Sherbrooke Phoenix – QMJHL)
Drafted: 150th Overall, 2021
So far this season, Joshua Roy has been a leader for the Sherbrooke Phoenix scoring 25 goals and 57 points in 37 games played. While this pace places him well below his production of the 2021-22 season where he had 119 points, he has become a more complete player, adding a leadership role and defensive skills to his arsenal. In August, he was added to Team Canada’s WJC roster where his eight points in seven games helped them win a gold medal.
He returned to the WJC for Canada in December, playing a significant role as the defensive conscious of their top line with Connor Bedard. He was able to add 11 points in seven games all while playing heavy minutes in every situation. His skating and work ethic were the biggest concerns in his draft year. Since that day, he was put in the work to turn those weaknesses into strengths and is raising his NHL potential in the process into a versatile, top-nine, two-way winger who can play up and down the lineup.
2. Owen Beck – Center (Peterborough Petes – OHL)
Drafted: 33rd Overall, 2022
Owen Beck has had a stellar post-draft season. He impressed in the main training camp, so much so that the Canadiens signed him to an entry-level contract (ELC). Prior to being called up to Team Canada for the 2023 WJC as an injury replacement and winning a gold medal, he scored 17 goals and 40 points in 30 games for the OHL Mississauga Steelheads. He has since been traded to the Peterborough Petes and has seven points in his first 11 games with the franchise.
Beck’s athleticism and ability to attack the center of the ice at top speed has made him a Habs’ fan favorite. He displays an excellent work ethic and the hockey IQ necessary to play effectively at a high pace. He is a strong skater with great vision who is also a highly effective defensive player. He excels in transition, providing his team with a high percentage of controlled zone exits and entries. He can also be trusted to play heavy minutes in any situation in a manner Canadiens fans may feel looks similar to the style of play that Tomas Plekanec provided for many years. Beck’s excellent faceoff skills and two-way game make him a very strong center, one with a middle-six upside in the NHL.
1. Lane Hutson – Left Defense (Boston University – NCAA)
Drafted: 62nd Overall, 2022
The second-round pick used to select Lane Hutson was acquired in the Brett Kulak trade to the Edmonton Oilers and is a classic boom-or-bust pick. Either he falls to the wayside, never to be seen in the NHL or he becomes a core piece of the Canadiens’ rebuild. Hutson was a point-producing machine for the US National Development Program, scoring 95 points in 87 games, and eight points in six games at the under-18 WJC for the USA — all as a 5-foot-8 defenseman. If he had been 6-foot-2 he could have arguably been in the discussion as a top-10 pick in 2022; however, he slid to the end of the second round, but has since grown two inches to 5-foot-10. His elite hockey sense, sublime edge control, and puck-handling skills allow him to be a highly agile, deceptive playmaker with superb vision.
Hutson, an 18-year-old freshman at Boston University, has been the team’s top defenseman. Leading the way offensively, sitting second in team scoring with 36 points in 26 games played for a 1.4 points-per-game average — did we mention he’s a defenseman? He also played for USA at the 2023 WJC, earning a bronze medal and scoring nearly as many points as Luke Hughes (2021 fourth-overall pick) while playing five fewer minutes on average per game. For the Canadiens, Hutson has the potential to become a middle-pairing defender who can be their long-sought-after power-play quarterback, feeding pucks on a tee for Cole Caufield one-timers.
Cayden Primeau – His stock is falling, and he will need to do quite a lot to get it back up to convince the fans, and Hughes, who hasn’t named him as a future starter yet. Under the old management, he was considered to be the goalie prospect that would eventually become the starter. He had impressive stats in the NCAA and, except for the playoff run to the AHL Eastern Conference Finals with the Laval Rocket, he hasn’t provided much to convince the new management team. He will need to step up his play if he wants to remain with the organization long-term.
Vinzenz Rohrer – The captain of team Austria at the 2023 WJC is a key piece of the top six of the OHL’s top team, the Ottawa 67s. He has scored 15 goals and 37 points in 34 games played, while also providing leadership and a solid work ethic. His competitiveness and hockey IQ help mask his deficiencies, but he will need to improve on his defensive reads, as well as add size and strength to allow his game to translate to the NHL. If Rohrer can add some strength to his frame, he has the potential to become a two-way, third-line winger in the NHL.
There will undoubtedly be disagreement about who should be in the top 10, and where in that order they belong. But it only goes to prove the Habs’ prospect depth is very strong. With two more top 15 picks in Hughes’ hands for the 2023 draft, that pool will only get deeper and competition for the 50 NHL contracts at their disposal will only get harder. That will be a welcomed problem for a rebuilding team.