Five Most Underrated Montreal Canadiens Prospects
The Montreal Canadiens have a deep prospect pool filled with some high-profile players, but some others seem to be flying under the radar.
The Montreal Canadiens have done a solid job of adding a lot of interesting players to their prospect pool over the last five years, which speaks to the quality depth they’ve been able to build recently. The Canadiens currently find themselves in a logjam on left defence and on the wings due to the acquisition of quality youngsters that will be pushing veterans as of this season for spots in the NHL. Nonetheless, there are some prospects that continue to perform well, whose development is headed in the right direction and seem to be passing under the radar for many Canadiens fans.
Here are five prospects that you should keep an eye out for moving forward:
Arber Xhekaj went from undrafted free agent to one of the most intriguing prospects in the Montreal Canadiens organization. The 6’4 defenceman has been a revelation this year due to his exceptional progression throughout the season; earning him praise from draft experts like Craig Button along the way. Starting the season off in Kitchener, Xhekaj was tasked with doing it all and he thrived in the process. He was able to show off the improvements in his mobility, his decision-making and even his offensive abilities. It’s not for nothing that the Hamilton Bulldogs targeted and traded for him at the OHL trade deadline, as the key to completing their defensive brigade.
With Hamilton, Xhekaj made it nearly impossible to enter the zone while he was on the ice. If an opposing forward was able to get the puck by him for a dump-and-chase, they were met with consequences along the boards. He was the Bulldog’s top defenceman on route to an OHL Championship; scoring important goals and coming up clutch in the most important moments. Xhekaj was at his best as the stakes got bigger and bigger, and that bodes very well for a youngster that is set to turn pro and join the ranks of the Montreal Canadiens. Next season will prove to be a very important one for the young man, as he looks to establish himself with the Laval Rocket and eventually earn a call-up to the Montreal Canadiens down the line.
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) June 28, 2022
Riley Kidney has gone from a late riser in last season’s QMJHL season to one of its most dangerous players this year, making him one of the most exciting players in major junior right now. His progress has been remarkable in his own right, building off an exceptional 2021 QMJHL playoffs and using that momentum to push his game to new heights this season. Kidney’s playmaking abilities and puck protection skills were some of the things that stood out the most in early-season viewings during the QMJHL. However, his game really began to grow to another level after the Acadie-Bathurst Titans proceeded to a coaching change on November 29th, naming Jason Clarke as the new bench boss for the young club.
Since that point, Kidney has been on an offensive tear, posting 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points in just 66 games. Kidney has improved his decision-making; seconds throughout the season and has become a more polished two-way player, consistently used by the Titans in all situations. He capped off the end of his year by following the Laval Rocket through their AHL playoff run and even being named to Team Canada’s goal-medal-winning World Junior team this August. Kidney is gearing up for another massive season in the QMJHL, where he’ll be tasked with doing it all for the Titans, while also playing a more important role for Team Canada going into the 2023 World Juniors.
— Titan Acadie-Bathurst (@ABTitan) April 27, 2022
Owen Beck was the first pick of Day 2 at 33rd overall. The two-way centre from the Mississauga Steelheads was a rookie in the OHL this year and was one of the best two-way centres in the league. Beck possesses excellent hockey IQ, allowing him to impact the game at both ends of the ice. In a conversation with Montreal Hockey Now, Beck compared his game to that of former Montreal Canadiens Phil Danault. He plays with a relentless motor and is always in the right place at the right time; allowing him to create offence out of his opponents’ mistakes. Some may view him as just another 3rd line centre in the making, but there may be much more offensive potential in Beck’s game than most realize. Going into his second season in the OHL, Beck will be tasked with evolving his role on the Steelheads next season by being more involved in the offensive production of the club during a full season; a task he believes he’ll thrive in.
Owen Beck (MTL) checks off a ton of boxes: above-average tools, inside-driven, defensive skill, give-and-go game. Easy to envision him playing in the NHL, and there’s plenty of runway for improvement. pic.twitter.com/C5WeAPO033
— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) July 8, 2022
Jakub Dobeš was seen as a periphery prospect for the Canadiens after being selected in the 5th round of the 2020 NHL Draft, but a very strong rookie campaign in the NCAA this past season has changed the perception of many toward the 21-year-old goaltender. Although he faced some adversity in his post-draft year in the USHL, that adversity served him well when he jumped to the NCAA with Ohio State this past season. Dobeš’ play at Ohio State was clutch, helping to keep his teammates in the game whenever they were slumping, and that extra adversity helped him go above and beyond to win some very heated games. Dobeš finished his freshman year in the NCAA with a 21-12-2 record, an impressive 0.934 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA en route to winning the Big-10’s Goaltender of the Year award. He credited his improved physical form and the immediate confidence shown by his coaching staff for being the reasons why he was able to hit the ground running in a much tougher league. Should he continue to improve on his performances this season in the NCAA, the goaltending cupboard might not be as bare as some might have previously thought.
Logan Mailloux has been a hot topic since the moment he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens at 31st overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. Although the focus with Mailloux has been geared toward off-ice issues, he remains a very intriguing prospect on the ice. Unfortunately for Mailloux, he hasn’t played many games over the last 18 months due to the pandemic, OHL suspension and injuries that have come his way. When he has played, it is very easy to see why former general manager Marc Bergevin decided to select him in the first round; as his offensive potential is intriguing, to say the least. The combination of size, speed and offensive tools make him a rare commodity in the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool and, once he’s healthy in early October, he should be ready to start a very important season in his development. He has the potential to one day play a top-4 role in the NHL, if all goes right; it’s now just a question of taking it step by step.
HM: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Emil Heineman, Frederik Dichow