Before the start of the 2017-18 season, the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool was one of the worst in the NHL. The season prior, 2016-17, was the season that saw the team win the Atlantic division in the regular season, only to be eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers.
Former general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin had the 25th overall pick in the 2017 Draft and used it to select Ryan Poehling. The first half of this exercise is a look back five years, to the prospect pool as it was in 2017, then, compare it to the prospect pool as it stands in 2023. It was decided to go back five years as that is the time frame most scouts believe that a player will have had enough time to develop to reach their potential. We can see where the prospect pool sat, and how these players fared.
Canadiens 2017 Prospect Pool Review
Jonathan Drouin had yet to suit up for Montreal and was already being touted as the next great Francophone to don a Habs sweater. Alex Galchenyuk was expected to have a breakout season and surpass his 30-goal 2015-16 campaign. The team’s prospect pool had few strengths and many weaknesses. There were high hopes for late first-round picks Nikita Scherback and Noah Juulsen, but neither panned out for Montreal or became NHL regulars. Victor Mete, a fourth-round pick for Montreal, has played almost 250 NHL games, mostly with Montreal and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 2017 Canadiens prospect pool lacked depth, high-end skill, and a proper development path; only two players graduated from the minor league system under then-head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. Injuries and mismanagement left far too much uncertainty in regards to this group’s development. The bulk of these prospects never played in the NHL, and those who did, haven’t been impact players, with Mete, Jake Evans and Micheal Pezzetta being the most successful prospects from the prospect pool in 2017.
Canadiens 2017 Top Prospect – Nikita Scherbak
In 2017, Scherbak was the Canadiens’ top prospect. He finished his junior career averaging 1.23 points per game, making him a potential late first-round steal. He would step up into the professional ranks in 2016, and in that first season, he showed flashes of the offensive skill that drew the eye of scouts in his draft season in 2014.
Despite struggling in his first professional season, Scherbak seemed to turn things around in 2016-17, notching 13 goals and 41 points in 66 games with the Canadiens American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate St-John’s Ice Caps. He never produced as well after that. He suffered several injuries and never seemed to find his confidence or rhythm in the NHL. He was also sent back and forth between the AHL and the NHL.
The Canadiens’ only prospect at that time to amount to an impact player was Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens 2016 first-round pick, and he did so as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canadiens can blame their current rebuild on the non-existent development program at that time.
The loss of Carey Price to injury in the 2017-18 season caused the Habs to drop from 104 points to a woeful 71 points and miss the playoffs by 26 points. This was the red flag that should have forced management to begin a rebuild. Instead, the team limped on for three more years before embracing a rebuild.
Canadiens 2023 Prospect Pool
In stark contrast to the 2017 prospect pool, the current talent pool is one of the stronger ones in the NHL. While it still lacks star power, that’s where the similarities end.
Latest News & Highlights
The Habs now have depth at every position coming up the pipeline. While they added a behemoth power-forward in Juraj Slafkovsky, selected first overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, their biggest area of strength remains their defensive prospects. Lane Hutson, despite being undersized, has shown promise of becoming a significant offensive threat, in the mould of modern defenders such as Quinn Hughes. He will need time to adjust defensively at the professional level, perhaps with a full season in the AHL, but there is significant confidence in his offensive skills.
The addition of the 2023 fifth-overall pick, David Reinbacher can only help Hutson in the future. As a big, mobile blueliner, he was paired with Hutson at the 2023 prospect camp, and the duo got fans excited for a possible future where the two defenders are anchoring the Habs Blueline.
Canadiens 2023 Top Prospect – David Reinbacher
Reinbacher is an offensively capable, two-way defender. The 18-year-old had a strong start to his season playing for EHC Kloten in the Swiss National League (NL), the top-tier professional league in Switzerland in 2022-23. He played in the top four, earning time on the power play (PP) and scoring three goals and 22 points in 46 games. The 6-foot-2, 187-pound right-hander was also a key component for Team Austria at the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Halifax. While he could not keep his nation from being relegated, scouts got a glimpse of the type of player he could become.
Some believe that Reinbacher lacks a high-end or elite skill set that would make him stand out offensively. Instead, he does a little bit of everything to generate offence well. Specifically, he is an excellent transitional player who can carry the puck or make a quick and accurate pass, all to provide controlled zone exits and entries. This is how he described his offensive style after his final game of the WJC:
“Moving the puck, using my long stick, playing the body try to create something in the offensive zone. Be calm. That’s what I try to do every game”.
– David Reinbacher
His performance at that tournament led many to believe he would be the top defenseman of his class, and they were right. But he is still only 18 and needs time to develop his game further. At 17, he became the top defenseman for EHC Kloten, playing on the top pair and the top power-play unit. Reinbacher also has all the “intangibles” that should help him reach his full potential: strong work ethic, intelligence, desire, and attitude – all of which are good indications that he will become an impact player in the NHL.
The 2022-23 edition of the Canadiens had five rookies play on the blue line, and all of them proved they could be NHL regulars. Some, like Kaiden Guhle, showed they could become cornerstone pieces of a competitive, even contending team. While the prospect pool lacks a superstar, it does boast two dozen NHL-quality young players and a well-defined development department that is a major leap forward from the team’s position just five years ago.