by Nic Phelan, Lead Correspondent, IceCaps Hockey Report
ST. JOHN’S, NL. — The Montreal Canadiens were the healthiest team in the NHL in 2014-15 with the fewest Man Games Lost at 88 (team reported.) By contrast, the Columbus Blue Jackets topped the list with a whopping 508 Man Games Lost. Given the low number of injuries we saw typical Hamilton callups like Christian Thomas, Sven Andrighetto, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn. It was good to see Pateryn, Nathan Beaulieu and Jacob De La Rose earning their keep playing big minutes in the Habs playoff run.
We can only hope for similar luck in 2015-16, but in case it doesn’t happen Bergevin definitely feels comfortable with the pieces in the system. This year the organization has an exciting crop of young guys waiting for their chance to make a jump, whether that be from junior to the pros, or the AHL to the NHL.
McCarron was drafted 25th overall by the Habs in 2013. Bergevin had visions of the 6-foot-6-inch, 230 pound ‘man-child’ meeting Milan Lucic at centre ice while making the Habs a much tougher team to play against. Times change, the NHL continues to get faster, and the Bruins have lost some of their edge with Dougie Hamilton and Lucic heading west in separate draft day deals.
McCarron still remains an interesting prospect because of his development. This time last year Habs fans heard whispers of “bust,” a word rarely used before a player even leaves junior. In his first year with the London Knights, McCarron struggled to find the back of the net. This year he found his touch playing with speedy playmakers like Max Domi and Mitch Marner. Unfortunately, due to politics by USA Hockey (they aren’t fond of American players who choose the CHL as a development path), for the second straight year McCarron was snubbed from the US Junior Camp.
Meanwhile a trade was in the works to move McCarron to the Oshawa Generals. McCarron didn’t see the same production in Oshawa, but remained close to a point per game player. More impressively, McCarron was counted on to play major minutes at the center position for the eventual Memorial Cup winners while impressing scouts with his ability to shut down top guys on opposing teams on a big stage. Once again Bergevin drools over the prospect of having a big body up the middle, something we’ve lacked in Hab land since, well, since McCarron was born.
Ceiling – Two-way center, potential 20-goal scorer. Think Brian Boyle 2.0
Floor – John Scott, look out Phil Kessel.
Without a doubt the flashiest player on this list with the apparent highest ceiling, Nikita Scherbak was drafted 26th overall by the Canadiens in 2014. After coming into the Canadiens camp at 6-foot-1-inch, 175 pounds last fall, Scherbak made noise this year growing an inch and adding another 25 pounds to his now 6-foot-2-inch frame. His wide skating stance and creativity with the puck had comparisons to another young Hab of Russian descent, No. 27.
In junior, Scherbak came to Canada to prove his commitment to playing in the NHL, as a part of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades in 2013-14; he led all rookies in scoring with 78 points in 65 games, and followed it up with a modest 82 points in 65 games with Everett this past season. Nikita figures to compete in camp for a top-6 role on the big club, with potential to show his worth following news of Max Pacioretty missing most of the preseason (knee injury). With that said, following the recent Alexander Semin signing it is more likely he will spend some time with the St. John’s IceCaps this upcoming fall and before cracking the Habs lineup sometime in 2015-16.
Ceiling – Perennial 60+ point scoring winger.
Floor – Somewhere in Russia.
Drafted by the Canadiens 122nd overall in 2012, Hudon has spent his hockey career under the radar. In junior, he made Team Canada in 2012, just to suffer a back injury in the pre-tournament games and missed the tournament. The following year he was selected to play for Canada again, registering a couple points, but never really standing out. His junior career was highlighted scoring 273 points in 235 games, but his 5-foot-10-inch, 180 pound frame never considered to carry over to the NHL.
Last year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hudon was off to an incredible pace, leading the AHL in scoring with 27 points through 25 games as a 20-year old. However everything slowed down with just 30 points in his final 50 games. It is important to note that Hudon was a winger throughout junior, and was asked to play center position by the Hamilton coaching staff. It is yet to be seen if Hudon will ever become a bonafide NHL’er, but it appears that he will at least be given a chance, and is a current favourite to take over the vacant top-6 spot for the Habs; that is so long as the next prospect doesn’t have anything to say about it.
Ceiling – 40-50 point guy, 2nd-3rd line. Derek Roy.
Floor – Gabriel Dumont, career AHLer.
An unlikely hero in last year’s regular season, he was a bright spot on an inconsistent Hamilton Bulldogs team. Carr led all AHL rookies in scoring with 24 goals, and found chemistry with Hudon. He spent four years at Union College, New York in NCAA Divison I. Scoring 78 goals in 160 college games, he helped bring Union College its first National Championship in school history.
Carr is a bit of a wildcard for the Habs, however they lost nothing by signing him as an undrafted free agent, and have been pleased by his development under Sylvain Lefebvre. Much like his line-mate from last season, he will by vying for that top-6 position in camp this September. The Habs’ brass hopes he proves to be a diamond in the rough for a team who may be depending on Alex Semin to address the lack of scoring. Bergevin and company have been adamant about the potential of a young player rising to the occasion and Carr figures to be just the type of guy they are looking for.
Ceiling – Brad Boyes, 30 goal threat.
Floor – Jason Jaffray, career AHL’er.
The only thing more jammed up than Carey’s starter role is his trophy case back in Kelowna, BC. Because of this, Fucale is likely the furthest away from a Habs debut on this list, barring an injury to Mr. Price (let’s not go there.) Fucale will be fighting for a roster spot on the IceCaps with fan favourite Eddie Pasquale, who led the IceCaps (as part of the Jets organization) to a conference final and Calder Cup Final in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Along with the return of incumbent starter Mike Condon, Fucale now finds himself in a predicament. After shattering records for goaltending in the QMJHL, Fucale will get his first taste of the Pro’s this fall.
Fucale was the beneficiary of playing behind one of the greatest junior lineups in the last decade with players such as Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Martin Frk, and more recently Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier. He found himself traded to the 2015 Memorial Cup Host Quebec Remparts following his Gold for team Canada in Toronto this past January (his second kick at the cat as starter for Team Canada). The QMJHL has always given goalies the benefit of the doubt as a high scoring league with no defence, so Fucale’s stats were never considered to be an issue. His calm and sometimes cocky demeanor had scouts comparing him to No. 31 for Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge. The pedigree is there for Fucale, but it’s yet to be seen if he can follow through with the IceCaps this year or perhaps the organization deems it more valuable for him to gather more starting minutes with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL. Best case scenario for the Habs is he becomes the Schneider to Carey’s Luongo in 4-5 years.
Ceiling – Franchise No. 1 Starter, Potential trade bait or successor.
Floor – Justin Pogge anyone?
Ice Caps Hockey Report is a sister site to All Habs Hockey Magazine
Published by Rocket Sports Media, Inc.