Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. As we go through the summer of 2023, each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a look at one NHL team’s top prospects or other topical article. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! You can find all the articles here as well as our extensive NHL Draft preview. Today, we look at the 2023 Montreal Canadiens Top Prospects.
For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or 25 years old. However, these are not hard or fast rules, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2023 Montreal Canadiens Top Prospects
1.) Juraj Slafkovsky
The 2022 first-overall pick had an injury-plagued first NHL season, and the fact he has not played 50 games means he still qualifies for our Canadiens prospects ranking. He also had some trouble with the speed of the NHL game.
At his best, Slafkovsky is a power forward. He uses his size and skill to his advantage. He can become a puck-possession monster. Slafkovsky is a very good stick-handler and uses his long reach and big body to protect the puck down low in the cycle game. When he gets the opportunity, he can take the puck to the front of the net and finish in tight to the goal with his soft hands. He also has a very good shot. His one-timer is powerful and accurate. His wrist shot also has good power and accuracy. He gets it off with a quick release that helps to fool goaltenders from further out. Slafkovsky has an intriguing combination of size and ability. He could become a dominant NHL winger.
Slafkovsky forechecks effectively, forcing opposing defenders to move the puck quickly which often leads to turnovers. He is also good at winning the puck on the boards. While the Habs will need to unlock his game at the NHL level, Slafkovsky showed some passing skills in his draft year. He can put the puck through tight lanes and onto a teammate’s stick. However, he does need to work on his decision-making in the offensive end. He sometimes can pick a much harder pass than simply moving it to an open teammate.
2.) David Reinbacher
The fifth overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Reinbacher was one of Austria’s best players at the World Juniors. He played big minutes and in all situations. While he played well, there were not a lot of statistical results due to the fact he played on such a weak team. Reinbacher is showing ability in both ends of the ice. He shows good passing and high-end hockey IQ in the Swiss League. He has poise beyond his years.
A strong skater, Reinbacher can start the rush up the ice or make a smart pass to a teammate to advance the transition game. In the offensive zone, his stickhandling allows him to control the puck and open up passing and shooting lanes. He has good vision and the ability to set up teammates for scoring chances. His skating ability also allows him to be strong in the defensive end. He maintains good gap control and forces attackers to the outside and away from prime scoring areas. Reinbacher plays a physical game. He’s not a huge hitter but will use his size to take his man out of the play. He is also willing to take a hit to make a play.
3.) Lane Hutson
A second-round pick in 2022, Hutson had one of the best offensive seasons ever for a freshman NCAA defender. In order to succeed as an undersized defender, one must have dynamic skating ability. Hutson definitely has that as he is one of the smoothest and fastest skaters in this draft class. His mobility is exceptional. He has excellent speed and acceleration in both directions. Hutson can push the pace offensively and still get back into position defensively. When carrying the puck, his ability to quickly change speeds is a weapon that can fool defenders.
Hutson marries his skating with outstanding puck handling. He can lead the rush through the neutral zone, creating effective zone entries. He also creates offence off the rush with his ability to beat defenders wide and make plays. This forces defenders to back off and creates passing lanes. Hutson controls the puck extremely well in the zone. He shows poise at the blue line and can speed the play up or slow it down to create offensive chances. His vision and passing skills are excellent. When a teammate gets open, Hutson can make a quick lateral move on a defender, combining this with a quick deke in order to open up a passing lane. A very creative player, Hutson can put the puck through tight passing lanes or saucer the puck over an opponent’s stick.
4.) Kaiden Guhle
Another player who sneaks under the wire for the Canadiens prospects ranking due to having played fewer than 50 NHL games as a rookie. Guhle is a strong stick handler. He can go back in his own zone, retrieve pucks, avoid forecheckers and move it up the ice. He can make a good first pass to start the rush. Guhle can also lead the rush through the neutral zone and has the passing skills to create chances. He weaves through defenders and finds open space to generate efficient zone entries. He can also play the point on the power play. Guhle has decent vision and can put the puck through seams and passing lanes. However, Guhle could stand to be a bit more creative in order to maximize his offensive potential.
While Guhle can bring offence, the bread and butter of his game is his defensive play. His strong skating leads to excellent gap control and he is very difficult to beat in one-on-one situations. If attackers come down his side of the ice with their heads down, Guhle can throw a big hit but he is disciplined and does not get himself out of position looking to make that hit. He also plays physically along the boards and in front of the net. Guhle is a smart positional player who cuts down passing lanes with his long stick and is willing to block shots. He anticipates well and creates turnovers which leads to a quick transition.
5.) Justin Barron
Barron also sneaks under the wire as a prospect. While he was disappointing in training camp last year, his AHL play earned him a callup and he had a strong second half of the year. Barron can make a smart first pass to start the transition. He also uses his strong skating ability and good stickhandling to skate the puck out of danger and start the rush himself. He doesn’t lead the rush often, instead choosing to head-man the puck and join in as a trailer. Barron makes smart decisions on when to join in and doesn’t take undue risk. He sees the ice well and makes good decisions with the puck. This continues into the offensive zone where he has the vision and playmaking ability to play at the point. He is not overly creative though, preferring to make the safe and smart play.
6.) Owen Beck
Taken with the first pick of the second round last year, Beck earned a spot on Team Canada for the World Juniors and received an emergency call-up for his first NHL game. Beck is able to marry his skating ability with good puckhandling skills. With his speed, he poses a real problem for defenders when he has room to skate. He uses the space he creates to make plays in transition. Beck creates scoring chances off the rush, both by driving the net to create for himself or with a heads-up play to set up a teammate. He also does a good job of protecting the puck down low and keeping the cycle going. However, once he is in the zone, he prefers a short pass to keep possession rather than trying to make a creative play to set up a teammate.
Beck brings his high-end work ethic in all three zones. He uses his speed to get back to his own zone and provide back pressure against an opponent’s rush. He is also willing to work and support the defence down low. Beck is not afraid to play a physical game. While he is not a big hitter, he battles in the dirty areas of the ice, fighting for loose pucks and keeping the front of the net clear. His quickness is also an asset in the defensive zone. He projects as a 200-foot player in the NHL.
7.) Logan Mailloux
A pure offensive force for the London Knights, Mailloux has an absolute cannon of a slapshot. He had one of the best point shots in the OHL last season. He also has an excellent one-timer and is able to adjust his feet to get it off even when the pass isn’t the greatest. Mailloux also has an excellent wrist shot. He can sneak into the top of the circles to let it go. Mailloux is also able to use it off the rush. He has a quick release. Mailloux is also able to toe-drag the puck and change his release angle.
Mailloux is a good stickhandler and can carry the puck through the neutral zone. This helps him to lead the rush as well as get effective zone entries on the power play. Mailloux makes a good first pass out of the zone and can quarterback the play at the blue line. He has the poise to hold the puck and the vision and passing skill to create scoring chances from the point. Mailloux is aggressive in joining the rush as well as pinching in from the blue line to keep the play alive. There are times when he is overly aggressive though, and this can lead to chances against. His defensive game is a big question mark, and he will need to work on it in Laval.
8.) Joshua Roy
After being taken in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL Draft, Roy has exploded in the QMJHL and is starting to fulfill the potential that made him the first overall pick in his QMJHL draft year. He has really improved his skating as well as his endurance. His defensive game has also taken great strides and he was a key two-way player, helping Team Canada win back-to-back World Junior gold medals. Roy has shown off his high-end hockey sense since being drafted. He almost always makes the right play with the puck. Roy combines those instincts with an excellent shot, and very good vision and passing skills. He heads to Laval this year to see if he can continue his success at the next level.
9.) Adam Engstrom
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2022 Draft, Engstrom had an excellent season for Rogle in the SHL. He got better and better as the season went on, and it culminated in the playoffs where he was one of the best players on his team. Engstrom is another excellent skater. This helps him to play a strong two-way game. He can get forward, joining the rush or pinching in at the blue line and still get back to play defence in his own end. Engstrom can create with good vision and passing skills. He can control the puck at the blue line and exploit passing lanes to set up teammates. He also has a decent shot from the point. Engstrom combines this with good defence against the rush and excellent instincts. He will head back to Sweden and should take big minutes for Rogle this year.
10.) Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Injuries to a number of Canadiens forwards gave Harvey-Pinard a chance to show off his talent in the second half of the NHL season. While the shooting percentage was a tad high and may be unsustainable, he did score 14 goals in 34 NHL games. Harvey-Pinard is undersized but is always in the middle of the action. He does an outstanding job of keeping his feet moving and in getting to the front of the net. Once there, he causes havoc for opposing goalies and defenders. Harvey-Pinard has a knack for finding open ice and can score in tight with the hand-eye coordination to one-time a teammate’s pass, pounce on a rebound, beat a goalie in tight and get deflections on teammates’ shots. He is relentless in his forechecking and puck pursuit. His non-stop work ethic extends to all three zones making him a fan and coach favourite.
Canadiens Prospects Honourable Mention (4th Round or Later)
Farrell is best known for his playmaking ability. He moves the puck quickly and finds open space, as he is very good at running a give-and-go with a teammate. Farrell sees the ice well and can thread a pass to an open teammate. His ability to make quick moves with his feet and his hands also help to open up passing lanes. He sees the ice extremely well, anticipating the movements of his teammates and getting them the puck when they get open. Farrell protects the puck well with his strong stickhandling. He can extend the play and buy time for his wingers to get open.
While Farrell is best known as a playmaker, he can also be a goal scorer. He has an excellent array of shots. He can score with wrist shots, snap shots, slap shots and one-timers. Farrell is even dangerous with his backhand. His soft hands give him a quick and deceptive release on those shots. He is also very accurate, able to pick corners. Farrell generates good power with his shooting arsenal as well. His hands also give him the ability to beat a goaltender in close to the net. He can deke a goalie, bang in a rebound, or one-time a pass to the back of the net. Farrell is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, getting himself into a position to take a pass and fire it on the net. With his stickhandling and speed, he is also able to create his own shot.
Canadiens Prospects in the System
The Canadiens have assembled one of the deepest groups of prospects in the NHL. Cutting this list down to 10 names and an honourable mention was not easy. Other players with legitimate NHL potential include goalies Jacob Fowler, Jakub Dobes, Cayden Primeau, and Quentin Miller. Upfront Filip Mesar, Emil Heineman, Riley Kidney, Oliver Kapanen, Luke Tuch, Xavier Simoneau, and Jared Davidson all are legit prospects. Meanwhile, a deep blueline also features Jayden Struble, William Trudeau, Miguel Tourniguy, Mattias Norlinder, and Petteri Nurmi. While the last two seasons have been rough, the Habs rebuild looks to be headed in the right direction.
Main Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports