November Prospect Rankings
November 19, 2019
By Grant McCagg
November Prospect Rankings
1/ Cole Caufield (1)*
2/ Nick Suzuki (2)
3/ Cayden Primeau (5)
4/ Alex Romanov (4)
5/ Ryan Poehling (3)
6/ Jesse Ylonen (6)
7/ Josh Brook (7)
8/ Cale Fleury (10)
9/ Noah Juulsen (8)
10/ Jordan Harris (9)
11/ Mattias Norlinder (12)
12/ Jayden Struble (11)
13/ Gianni Fairbrother (13)
14/ Lukas Vejdemo (20)
15/ Rhett Pitlick (15)
16/ Brett Stapley (HM)
17/ Otto Leskinen (14)
18/ Jacob Olofsson (17)
19/ Gustav Olofsson (20)
20/ Jake Evans (15)
20/ Michael McCarron (18)
*October rankings are in brackets. A player must play 50 NHL games in the past year to no longer qualify as a prospect.
There has been some movement in the top five. Ryan Poehling had been given some benefit of the doubt earlier on because of his training camp injury, but concerns have crept in about his ability, thus far, to adapt to the pro game. Poehling has struggled mightily in the faceoff circle, so much so that he is seeing a lot more time on the wing in the past month, especially on faceoffs.
It is an issue that goes back to last season, so it is not simply just a question of him adapting to the stronger, more experienced centers playing pro hockey. Given that Nick Suzuki has demonstrated an ability to play center effectively in the NHL 20 games into his career (he was promoted to second-line center on Nov. 16), it is looking more and more likely that Poehling could end up playing on the wing unless he is able to turn around his faceoff woes.
Whether he ends up being a winger or a center, that is not the main reason Poehling has dropped to fifth in the prospect rankings. He is simply not playing that well one quarter of the way into the season. Poehling has collected five points in 16 AHL games, and even the most pessimistic Habs fan would not have been expecting that after Poehling began his NHL career with a hat trick in his very first NHL game last April.
One cannot help but wonder if Poehling’s terrific NHL debut was ultimately a bad thing. It is apparent that Poehling thought he should have made the Canadiens out of training camp even though he only played 20-25 minutes the entire preseason, and missed most of the exhibition games with a concussion. He admittedly moped the first two weeks in Laval, and now he is struggling with his confidence.
Another reason for Poehling’s drop in the rankings was the stellar play of rookie AHL goaltender Cayden Primeau, who picked up his first pro shutout this past weekend.
Among goalies who have appeared in at least seven AHL games this season, Primeau sits second in goals against average with a sterling 1.87 mark, and tied for fifth in save percentage at .934. Among rookie AHL goalies, he is first overall in both categories.
The other significant shift in the top-ten rankings was Cale Fleury moving from tenth to eighth as he continues to show that he is a legitimate NHL defenceman.
Fleury moves ahead of fellow defence prospects Noah Juulsen and Jordan Harris in large part because he has “been there, done that” this season, and not looked out of place.
Fleury scored his first NHL goal on Saturday night, and it showed off his burgeoning offensive skills. Fleury is not afraid to join the rush and possesses a hard and effective point shot. Moreover, he has had plenty of scoring opportunites, so when you add it all up, it points to a blueline prospect who projects to have decent offensive upside.
Defensively, there have already been encouraging signs as well. A willingness to be physical that has led to several bone-crunching hits (wait until he gets even stronger), decent mobility, smart reads and gap control add up to solid defensive play with the exception of the odd puck-moving gaffe, such as the flagrant giveaway on Saturday night.
Those are to be expected from time-to-time from every defenceman; let alone one who just turned 21, so as long as they don’t become commonplace, I would not expect to see him sitting out any more games or going back to the minors any time soon, if ever. He is here to stay.
Noah Juulsen drops a spot predominantly because of Fleury’s play. He remains a solid NHL prospect, and he has looked more and more comfortable since returning to action following that severe orbital bone fracture last spring.
Poise, mobility and competitveness will remain Juulsen’s primary traits, and what will surely lead to a solid NHL career barring further injuries. Offensive upside remains the big concern, and whether he can produce enough to secure a top-four role at the NHL level some day. Juulsen has scored one goal and added seven assists in 44 career AHL games…those numbers are going to have to start going up. It would be less disconcerting if he was creating offence and just ran into some bad luck, but he is not showing much inclination to be involved in the play.
Juulsen has the speed to jump up in the play and still be able to get back if an offensive chance is thwarted. He also has a hard point shot, and sees the ice well, so there is no reason not to expect him to start putting up some points at the AHL level once he finds his comfort zone.
Patience is still required in Juulsen’s case as he has missed more games than he has played as a pro, appearing in only 90 games since graduating from the junior ranks in the spring of 2017. We should have a better idea of where his career is heading by the end of this season. Hopefully, he once again shows the promise he displayed as a 20-year-old playing on the big club before injuries curtailed his ascendancy.
Jordan Harris drops one spot because of Fleury’s NHL performance. Fleury is bigger, stronger and more proven, so it was difficult to keep him behind Harris even if I remain just as high on the Northeastern sophomore defender.
Harris sits in the top ten in defence scoring among all NCAA defencemen All but two defenceman with more points are either juniors or seniors, and that has to be capturing the attention of USA hockey as they make final decisions on who to invite to the World Junior camp.
Considering that he was exceptional at the World Summer Showcase in his first-ever appearance in an international event, it is hard to see a Team USA without him on the blueline. Six American defencemen were taken ahead of Harris in the top two rounds of the 2019 draft. All six are playing college hockey. None have more than five points, and they six of them have scored one goal between them. Harris has three goals and seven assists in just 12 games.
The two American defencemen playing college hockey who were drafted ahead of him in 2018, K’Andre Miller and Matt Samuelsson, have four goals and ten points combined. So Harris is outscoring, and frankly, outplaying eight defencemen drafted higher than him who are also eligible for the World Juniors.
Needless to say, there is not a wide gap between Josh Brook, Fleury, Harris and Juulsen in the prospect rankings – they are all solid prospects offering different skill sets. Fleury has the edge right now on Harris and Juulsen because he is the one proving his worth at the NHL level, but two years from now the order may be reversed.
Mattias Norlinder has scored several highlight-reel goals for Modo this season that his clearly demonstrated his prodigious puck skills and mobility. His six goals has him tied for second overall in Allsvenskan goal scoring by defencemen, and his +13 plus/minus mark is sixth overall in the league, tangible proof that he is not just all about offence.
Impressive stats for a teenager playing in Sweden’s second-best professional league, and a solid indicator that his selection by Montreal in the third round of last June’s NHL draft was a sage one. Norlinder moved up one spot ahead of Jayden Struble, who recently made his NCAA debut for Northeastern after missing the early part of the season with groin injuries.
Struble has predominantly played a third-pairing role on a heavily-stacked defence corps, and he is still finding his way at the collegiate level after making the formidable leap from high school hockey. Struble picked up his first NCAA point last weekend, and both Northeastern and the Canadiens will be banking on that being a confidence booster for a raw freshman attempting to find his way at the NCAA level as a recently-turned 18-year-old. The organization will be patient with Struble, and we should expect him to play a minimum of three seasons at Northeastern.
The largest jump in the rankings comes from Lukas Vejdemo, who is coming into his own offensively in his second AHL season after a slow start production-wise. Vejdemo has played well all season, but it has only been recently that he was given a more offensive role and productive linemates after starting the season in bottom-line roles.
Vejdemo has quite arguably been Laval’s top forward this season, excelling in a defensive role since Game 1. After starting the campaign with four points in his first 12 games, Vejedmo has collected eight points during a six-game point streak the past two weeks, vaulting him into a tie for first overall in team scoring.
In the preseason, I expressed some concerns with Vejdemo’s skating speed, but, in the past month in particular, his skating has been more than adequate. Certainly, his speed looks to be above average at the AHL level, and when you combine his various assets, which include size, hockey sense, competitiveness and puck skills, Vejdemo offers intriguing NHL potential as an all-purpose NHL center. Hopefully he gets a callup to Montreal at some point this season – he has earned it.
The other significant jump in the rankings comes from Brett Stapley, who has found a spot back in Recrutes’ Top 20 Habs prospects after a tumultuous start to his sophomore collegiate season, being under club suspension for an off-ice incident.
It took Stapley a few weeks to get back in the coach’s good books, but now he is driving much of Denver’s offence in a first-line center role. Before being shut out by North Dakota, Stapley had notched nine points in a seven-game stretch, including two eye-opening goals that exhibited his elite lateral agility and puck skills.
I may be totally in left field but it seemed to me that there was a bit of sense of entitlement in Poehling’s behaviour and comments early in the year (frustrated having been sent down for example). The assignment to Laval should have been an opportunity to work hard and get back to game shape after the injury. Hopes he shakes that up and gets back to what we saw at draft time and end of his last NCAA season.