Recrutes Mailbag – Volume ll
December 13, 2022
By Grant McCagg
Here is the second edition of Recrutes Mailbag. Thank you once again to everyone who participated.
Grant: NHL teams try not to overload on smaller players. They are aware that you can’t have a team with half of the roster under 5-10. Do any of those three play small or are they skinny? We know that Caufield doesn’t get overwhelmed by size because he’s so quick, elusive, and strong on his skates. He rarely gets knocked down, with last night’s cheap hit being an exception, The same can be said for Farrell and Hutson. Neither puts himself in a position to get hit very often and when they do, they protect themselves well… unlike BigBaby Slaf.
I think you can get away with having three or four undersized forwards and one or two undersized defencemen in your lineup at the same time if you’re hoping to win at playoff time. Anything more than that, and you’re stretching it. It depends somewhat on whether some of them are special talents, and we know that is the case with Caufield. We’ll see with the other two.
Do I think, for instance, that the Canadiens could be fine with Bedard, Caufield and Farrell in the lineup and Hutson on defence? Absolutely. You are talking about some elite talent in that quartet, and they’re all competitive.
Blain: Size. That is the question. Whether this is nobler in the hearts of scouts to suffer the slings and arrows for not taking the BPA, or to take up arms against a sea of social media discontent and oppose them? Just as you don’t want a bunch of slow meatheads, you don’t want all smurfs. It’s a balance. While more size in itself is necessary, skill has to factor in too. Suzuki is with Caufield now, and he isn’t huge, but he does “play bigger”, Dach is huge, but doesn’t play a traditional power forward game. Realistically, if the small player is able to compensate for his deficiencies in strength/size with an ability to outthink/outskate opponents, there should be room for all three on the roster
Grant: If Farrell maintains his pace and ends up being one of the top three points-per-game scorers in the NCAA, then I think he will likely sign after this season. Mind you – it can’t be easy to pass up a third year of free education at Harvard.
If his linemate Matt Coronato turns pro, then I have a hard time envisioning Farrell returning to the Crimson. I expect the Canadiens to offer him a contract at the season’s end, and I think he’s ready to play at the AHL level. He may not be far off from cracking the Canadiens roster either.
Blain: Do I think Sean Farrell has anything left to learn as a player in the NCAA? Not after this season. Will he sign this summer? Hard to say. If he thinks he needs time to add more strength, he won’t. That may be the major reason he wouldn’t yet. That’s because it’s clear there’s room for him to advance quickly in the Habs’ system with a deficiency in possible top six left wingers in the pipeline
Grant: If you go back over Montreal’s lineup over the past 30 years, you will notice very little continuity in the defence roster. I have attempted in the past to project Montreal’s defence pairing two or three years down the road and never come close to getting it exact.
You may not see many additions or subtractions to Montreal’s defence group. I expect at least two of Matheson, Savard and Edmundson to be on the roster in a couple of years. Perhaps one of the veterans is gone, to be replaced by Barron or Mailloux. Those two are the most likely to win roster spots over the next two seasons. I would have included Fairbrother going into the season but he suffered yet another serious injury. I will list William Trudeau as a darkhorse. When Hutson signs, he may be best served adjusting to the size/strength of pro hockey players at the AHL level for a season or two. I suspect he will play at least one more year of junior.
Grant: That player in my estimation is Oliver Kapanen…but only one person has been singing his praises…and that would be me. 🙂 I think that in three weeks’ time plenty of Habs fans will be talking about him. I expect him to have a solid World Junior tournament.
Kapanen has middle-line center potential for me. He plays a solid all-around game already in Liiga. Good on faceoffs, stout defensively, chipping in plenty of offence, and playing a key role on a men’s team at the age of 19. I consider him to be Montreal’s biggest sleeper.
Blain: I think you’re asking about prospects. If so. Owen Beck.
Grant: I have difficulty answering that question in mid-December. I can’t say “who stands out” when the player I name may end up being a top-five pick. So much changes between now and June when it comes to rankings, and we have no idea where teams are going to pick. I will say that unless the Canadiens end up selecting in the top five, I will not be miffed if they end up drafting Ryan Leonard or Mikhail Gulyayev. Leonard is going to help a team win playoff games, and Gulyayev may be a star.
Blain: I think Will Smith is an intriguing player in that range. If Hughes is willing to get jiggy with it.
Grant: He’s not putting up big numbers but he’s being asked to shut down other teams’ top lines, and he’s doing a decent job in that regard. We forget that he only turned 21 in September; he is by no means one of the elder statesmen in college, so there are still things to learn and improve upon. I expect Struble to be more effective in the pro game than he is in college; where you get kicked out of the game for fighting or even hitting an opponent too hard sometimes.
Struble has the raw physical skills you like to see in a defence prospect. Size, strength, mobility and toughness. Give him a couple of years in the AHL, and if the Canadiens don’t have a spot for him, expect NHL teams to come knocking.
Blain: Struble’s game is a throwback to an era to when physical play was the basis for a defender. He likes mixing things up too. He has good mobility, and moves the puck well. He’s the top defender and is used in all situations at Northeastern. He’ll be a UFA this summer and with the depth on D in the system I wouldn’t be surprised if he is used as trade bait at the deadline
Grant: His play this season is no shock for those who have been fortunate to see him as much as I have since I’m located in Ottawa. He was a first-line center for the 67s last year, and has just taken the next step expected of him. He has the smarts and puck skills to lead an OHL offence.
Where things will get tougher for Rohrer is at the pro level. Will he have enough speed to compensate for his lack of size? He’ll need to continue to keep getting stronger and improving his quickness. His NHL upside in an organization full of young talent is likely as a fourth-line center or bottom-six winger. Caufield, Suzuki, Slafkovsky, Beck, Kapanen, Farrell, Mesar, Roy and Ylonen are all ahead of him on the depth chart today, and a few more are in his range (Pitlick, Guindon, Tuch, RHP, Mysak), so he has a steep hill ahead of him. What works in his favour is his work ethic and having only turned 18 in September. If he keeps improving he will compete for an NHL job in a few years.
Blain: I see a lot in Rohrer’s game that translates to the pros. He will not be able to play as physically as he lacks the size to play that style against larger players. But his determination, work ethic, forecheck and speed can help him to become a 3rd line winger
Grant: Divisional strength is often cyclical, so I can’t envision the Canadiens paying much heed to divisional strength when it comes to their long-term goals. You have to beat the best regardless of whether they are in your division or not if you hope to win the Cup, and that is the long-range plan of the Canadiens. They are trying to build a Cup contender, and if they do that, then they will be fine within their own division.
The top-three teams in the Atlantic may not be the top-three teams three years from now, so to try to build a team that can beat one specific one (a la the Calgary Flames trying to beat Edmonton in the late ’80s) is not something I see the club spending much time focusing on. There are seven other strong teams in the division, so the goal is to build the best team possible and hopefully become good enough to beat them all.
Blain: The division is the toughest in the league right now. That and the loss of cornerstone players forces Hughes’s hand in the rebuild. It should also cause a few extra losses this season, and that could push them down the standings a little more than if they played in another division. Long term, that will help as they get a slightly better prospect to add to the pool, and when their window opens, the industry on the top teams in the Atlantic will be closing. So the timing is right for the Habs
Grant: I will let Blain answer that one. My prospect rankings are something I reveal to my subscribers only. They are kind enough to support me – so in return, I give them exclusive content. We do have top-30 rankings that are posted and frequently updated for subscribers. I appreciate your question, and that goes for all of the other ones as well.
Thanks for the Q. For me, I would place them in this order: Barron, Hutson, Engstrom, Trudeau Mailloux. Trudeau is ahead of Mailloux because I see a more mature defensive game, one that will be the basis of a reliable NHL defender. As for Barron, I placed him at the top of that list because he’s an excellent skater. While he isn’t a wizard with the puck and won’t be a power-play guy when the Habs enter their window, he can make an accurate first pass, or leg the puck up ice in transition. He projects as a reliable two-way defender on a 2nd pairing who can play against good players thanks to his mobility while also helping in transition.