The focus is firmly on the chances of the Montreal Canadiens now, but next week’s development camp offers future Habs a chance to make an impression too. All on-ice sessions at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard from Sunday to next Wednesday are open to the public. Here are the top five prospects who will be in attendance:
5. Ryan Poehling
Habs fans suffering from shiny-new-toy syndrome probably can’t wait to get a gander at the Canadiens’ latest first-round pick, center Ryan Poehling. While Poehling fits the mold of the type of player the team needs now, i.e., a big, defensively responsible center with offensive upside, this might be one of the few opportunities fans get to see him in action for a while. Seeing as the 2017 NHL Entry Draft was weak, it’s entirely realistic his development takes slightly longer than most would like or expect.
4. Joni Ikonen
Somewhat surpisingly, one of the Habs’ second-round picks from this last draft earns a higher spot than the one taken No. 25 overall. If Poehling was the responsible choice the Habs felt they had to make in the first round out of fear of missing out on him, Ikonen is more of an offensively skilled boom-or-bust selection. He had the skills to be a first-round selection, but inconsistency led the Finn to slide down to No. 58. Similar to Artturi Lehkonen in 2013 relative to Michael McCarron, Ikonen could turn out to be a real find.
3. Michael McNiven
Arguably the best of all the team’s top prospects without any professional experience, goalie Michael McNiven wasn’t even drafted. Signed by the Habs after attending training camp as a free agent a few seasons ago, McNiven was named the Ontario Hockey League’s top goalie for 2016-17. Even if Carey Price is the team’s No. 1 for the foreseeable future (hopefully), McNiven, if not Charlie Lindgren, could be his heir apparent.
2. Nikita Scherbak
Time may be running out on Nikita Scherbak. The team’s first pick from 2014 has shown progress from a statistical perspective over his first two professional seasons with the St. John’s IceCaps. However, it’s only translated to three games with the Habs (one goal). Only a handful of his peers from that first round have made less of an impact, with the player taken immediately before him, Boston Bruin David Pastrnak, maybe having made the biggest.
1. Noah Juulsen
With Mikhail Sergachev having been traded, Noah Juulsen is now the team’s top defensive prospect. That may or may not be a good thing, based on his year-to-year inconsistency developing in junior.
Leading up to his selection in 2015, he had put up 52 points in 68 games. The next season though, his numbers dropped significantly (28 in 63), reportedly having been pushed into more of a defensive role. In 2016-17, he rebounded with 34 points, including a career-high 12 goals, in 49 games. So, it remains to be seen if the yo-yoing has served him well. Fans will get a firsthand indication next week.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.