It is said, with some legitimacy, that the Canadiens farm system cupboard is bare. Well, maybe “bare” isn’t the accurate word. The Canadiens won’t be bringing many technical ‘rookies’ from Hamilton in the coming season because injuries forced them to recall many of their young players last season at a critical and premature stage of their development. Many of them lost official ‘rookie’ status.
The rule is, any player who plays more than 26 games in any given season will lose rookie designation. Alexei Emelin (67 NHL games); Rafael Diaz (59); Louis Leblanc (42); Aaron Palushaj (38) all will be considered second year players in the coming season. Only Frederic St. Denis (17); Blake Geoffrion (13); Andreas Engqvist (12) and Gabriel Dumont (3) will go into next season still eligible for the Calder trophy.
The rookie cupboard may be thinned but the Canadiens have a solid youth movement in progress. Along with the eight first-year player last season David Desharanais, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller and Ryan White were rookies the previous season.
Rookie of the Year – Alexei Emelin came to the Canadiens as a fully developed 25-year old, well blooded in the KHL and world hockey championships. After some early adjustment problems he wound up averaging 17:17 in ice time. There were those 236 hits, leader among NHL rookies. But he also registered 46 giveaways which wasn’t good.
Second choice – Rafael Diaz.
Most Promising – Louis Leblanc. I can hardly wait for him to grow up physically and he may do a lot of that this summer. Shoulder surgery kept him away from off-season weight training last year. Despite the fact he was a 180 pounder playing against 200 pounders there is a fearless component to his game, witness his 68 hits and 18 blocked hsots in 42 games.
Solid Asset – Frederic St. Denis. Named Hamilton’s top defenseman. Very much in the Canadiens plans next year.
Looking for Speed – Blake Geoffrion. A summer with a power skating instructor might be useful.
Needs to Find a Role – Aaron Palushaj – Would have had a 30 goal – 80 point season in Hamilton if he hadn’t been recalled five times. Wasted as a checking third and fourth line forward in Montreal. .
Pleasant Surprise – Gabriel Dumont. Part of the same 2009 entry draft as Louis Leblanc. 139th overall. Has made impressive progress.
Unknown Quantity – D-Brendon Nash – Big defenceman spent the entire year on the disabled list after training camp surgery following an outstanding rookie pro season at Hamilton in 2010-2011.
Time Running Out – Andreas Engqvist. Shared Hamilton MVP honours with veteran non-prospect Brian Willsie. Number one goalscorer in Hamilton but showed nothing in his brief appearances with the Canadiens where he was used as a fourth line checking centre. Restricted free agent who wants to continue his development in Hamilton.
Still On the Farm – Rookie pro Joonas Nattinen – 6’2” 200lbs. 60GP 11 goals -9 assists 20pts. Good second half. Nine goals last 24 games after 2 first 36. RW-Ian Schultz – So-called throw-in as part of the Lars Eller/Jaroslav Halak deal. Made remarkable progress this season.
Turning Pro – RW-Patrick Holland Tri City of the WHL is the fifth junior aged player to sign a three year entry level contract by the Canadiens effective next season. D-Jarred Tinordi, who is playing for the London Knights and Vancouver Giants forward Brendan Gallagher signed in November, Shawinigan Cataractes forward Michael Bournival was signed in December. D-Greg Pateryn University of Michigan & D- Morgan Ellis, also with Shawinigan, signed in April. All will be part of what should be a packed Hamilton roster next season. Also watch for the Canadiens to make use of Nathan Beaulieu’s December birthdate to take him out of junior with a year if eligibility remaining.