Thursday, August 16, 2018

Top prospects for Montreal Canadiens

1. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 3 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Assat (Liiga): 57 GP, 10-19-29
Kotkaniemi (6-foot-2, 188 pounds) projects as the Canadiens' best hope of developing a bona fide No. 1 center. He will take part in training camp, and general manager Marc Bergevin hasn't ruled out him starting the season in Montreal.
"I just can't say that," Kotkaniemi said. "I go day by day and see what happens. Of course, my dream is to play in the NHL so I just say [I'll] come here when I'm ready."
The 18-year-old is more likely to return to Finland for his second Liiga season with Assat, where he is coached by his father, Mikael Kotkaniemi. Laval of the American Hockey League is another possible destination, and he is expected to be a key player for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
2. Ryan Poehling, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 25 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: St. Cloud State (NCAA): 36 GP, 14-17-31
Kotkaniemi's development may line up with the projected arrival of Poehling, another promising center. The 19-year-old filled out during his sophomore season (6-foot-2, 183) and he returns to St. Cloud State focused on competing for a national championship.
"I'm just way more confident," Poehling said at the end of Montreal's development camp. "After my freshman year I think a lot of people doubted me with my offense ability, and I think after a long summer of training I showed the player I am in my sophomore year, and that's kind of what I showed here as well. So I feel way more confident and comfortable, which is big for myself."
He likely will play for the United States against Kotkaniemi at the 2019 WJC and could join him pushing for a spot with the Canadiens next season.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Nikita Scherbak, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 26 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: Montreal: 26 GP, 4-2-6; Laval (AHL): 26 GP, 7-23-30
The 22-year-old scored 1.15 points per game with Laval aned missed six weeks after having knee surgery Oct. 30. Scherbak (6-foot-2, 192) scored a few highlight-reel goals after he was called up to the Canadiens.
The playmaking abilities he displayed in the AHL didn't translate into much offensive production in Montreal, but his puck-handling skills and creativity could help the Canadiens score more goals.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
4. Cayden Primeau, G
How acquired: Selected with No. 199 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Northeastern (NCAA): 34 GP, 19-8-5, 1.92 GAA, .931 SV%
The son of former NHL forward Keith Primeau projects as a future No. 1 goalie candidate. Primeau (6-foot-3, 181) turns 19 this month, and this is one position where the Canadiens can afford to be patient with their prospect's development.
A stellar freshman season at Northeastern, where he was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in the NCAA, and a strong showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Kamloops, British Columbia, have put Primeau in contention to play for the United States at the 2019 WJC.
Projected NHL arrival: 2021-22 season
5. Noah Juulsen, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 26 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: Montreal: 23 GP, 1-2-3; Laval (AHL): 31 GP, 1-5-6
With Shea Weber injured, the 21-year-old had a solid showing when he was paired with veteran Karl Alzner late last season. A puck mover with good size (6-foot-2, 175), Juulsen looks ready to begin the season in Montreal, and the Canadiens value his leadership qualities.
"The last month and a half I think we worked hard," Juulsen said at the end of last season. "We battled every game, you know, there weren't many games that we were completely out of it. So I think as a group, that shows just the commitment and character in this room going forward."
Projected NHL arrival: This season

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