Canadiens’ Top 5 Defensive Prospects

With the trade deadline deal that brought young Colorado Avalanche defenceman Justin Barron to the Montreal Canadiens, they find themselves with a glut of young high-end defensemen. Former general manager Marc Bergevin drafted plenty of defencemen in his last couple of seasons. The organization is covered in that area for a while — at least on the left side. There are five prospects, however, that stand out from the rest.

5. Arber Xhekaj

Some people will shake their heads at this one but bear with me: Arber Xhekaj has a little bit of everything going for him. He has some offensive flair, grit, and toughness, plus he’s also not afraid to mix it up with anyone. Xhekaj is having a terrific season, splitting it with the Kitchener Rangers and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He has 11 goals and 33 points in 47 games, which is a massive leap from two seasons ago when he scored only 17 points. Last season due to COVID, the OHL canceled the season, making his point leap even more impressive because he went an entire season without playing.

Xhekaj is pure strength with a good point shot. His skating isn’t the greatest, but he plays very physically and is one tough player. He doesn’t mind dropping the gloves but doesn’t do it when it’s not needed. Opponents will think twice before going after any of the Canadiens’ stars if they know Xhekaj is in the lineup. His ceiling could be a second-pair defender, but that would be pretty high. Expect him to be a bottom pair defenceman who will get penalty kill (PK) time and be something the Canadiens haven’t had in years, a policeman who can patrol the ice.

4. Jordan Harris

Jordan Harris recently signed with the Montreal Canadiens after his season with Northeastern University of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season was over. Harris played four seasons with Northeastern and was the team’s top defenseman, scoring 73 points in 130 games during his college playing career. He was drafted in the third round, 78th overall, in the 2018 NHL draft. He was one of two defensemen drafted that season — the other was Alexander Romanov, currently playing in the Canadiens’ top-four.

Jordan Harris, Northeastern University
Jordan Harris, Northeastern University (Jim Pierce of Northeastern Athletics)

Harris is a powerful skater who can work the edges well and walk the blue line to help open passing and shooting lanes. He has an average shot but a perfect first pass and has an outstanding hockey IQ. He could help the Canadiens’ foul power play (PP) after some seasoning, and he can be a solid offensive defenceman with an excellent transition game. Harris will play a few games for the Habs this season, but don’t be surprised if he plays with the Laval Rocket next season. The Canadiens are very deep on the left side, and though he can play the right side, more time at the pro level will be needed before he’s a full-time NHL defenceman. Harris’ ceiling in the NHL will be a top-four defenceman slotting in on the second pairing.

3. Justin Barron

The Avalanche drafted Barron in the first round, 25th overall. The Canadiens wanted a first-round pick or equivalent for Artturi Lehkonen, which they got. Barron played three seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and was one of the top defencemen in the league. He suffered a blood clot in his draft year, and his rankings slipped; without the health issue, he could’ve been a top 20 pick.

Barron signed with the Avalanche in the 2020-21 season and played seven games for the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League (AHL), scoring four points. This season, he played 43 games with the Eagles and scored 20 points, including five goals. So far in the NHL, he has played five games split with the Avalanche and Canadiens and earned his first career point and assist as a member of the Habs.

Related: Canadiens’ Trade Deadline Addition Justin Barron: Getting to Know

Barron can provide offence in two ways, with his shot or on the rush. He has excellent skating abilities and a perfect shot. He is very good at skating the puck through the neutral zone and quickly switching skating lanes. He is a right shot, which the Canadiens lack in their system, and is an outstanding two-way defenceman. At 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, he isn’t tiny either. Shea Weber comes to mind if you’re wondering who to compare him to. Barron will be a future top-four defenceman for the Habs. He currently plays in the top-four paired with Joel Edmundson, but his placement there is more for him to learn from the veteran and the lack of right-handed shots on the team.

2. Logan Mailloux

Since the Canadiens drafted him in the 2021 NHL Draft, Logan Mailloux has been a controversial figure. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound defenceman was probably one of the best offensive defencemen in the draft last season. Mailloux can skate, shoot, check, and is an incredible puck mover with high hockey IQ, everything you need to be a top defenceman in the NHL. Last season, the OHL shut down due to COVID, but Mailloux went to Sweden, where he was on loan to SK Lejon of the Swedish Hockeyettan league. He scored 15 points in 19 games, including seven goals, before returning to the London Knights. In 12 games this season, he had nine points with the Knights but is done for the season after suffering a shoulder injury during a fight.

Logan Mailloux Toronto Marlboros
Logan Mailloux, Toronto Marlboros (Dan Hickling OHL images)

Mailloux does have all the skills to be a top-two defenceman in the NHL; however, he comes with baggage. While in Sweden, Mailloux was involved in an incident with a woman where he took a non-consensual picture of her during a sexual act. He paid a fine in Sweden, and when he returned to Canada, he was suspended by the Knights and then by the OHL for the first part of this season.

Mailloux is working with psychologists and the Canadiens organization to improve himself. Former GM Bergevin drafted him, and the new management team of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have not signed Maiulloux yet. Hughes wants to see him develop as a person before deciding on Mailloux’s future with the club. If he does sign, he has all the makings to be a top defenceman in the NHL and could be a top-pairing guy in Montreal.

1. Kaiden Guhle

The Canadiens drafted Kaiden Guhle 16th overall in the 2020 draft. He is a fast-moving menace on the ice who can skate, hit, shoot and is a natural leader. In his draft year, he had 40 points for the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League, but due to COVID, he only played two games last season, scoring two points. He did, however, play three games for the Laval Rocket of the AHL but didn’t score any points in his first taste of professional hockey. This season he returned to the WHL and has 40 points in 42 games, and was captain for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship (WJC), which was started but postponed until August because of COVID.

Kaiden Guhle, Montreal Canadiens
Kaiden Guhle Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Guhle is a Weber clone; everything about his play reminds you of Weber. He will be a future leader of the Canadiens and is probably one of the best defencemen drafted by the Canadiens in a long time. He will be one to watch for in next season’s training camp and could make the team, especially with all the defencemen the organization has moved out or may lose in the offseason. He is not a slam dunk to make the team next year but will be at least with the Rocket, where he can polish his game at the pro level. He will be a top defenceman in the NHL and maybe one of the best defencemen for the Habs.

The future is bright for the Canadiens on the blue line. They have an abundance of defensemen who could become NHL players, like Jayden Struble, Mattias Norlinder, Dimitri Kostenko, and Gianni Fairbrother, to name a few. They also have Corey Schueneman and Alexander Romanov, who are already fixtures on the Canadiens’ defence. Some will have to be moved out, but these five should be part of the Canadiens’ top-six in the not-so-distant future.

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