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Ranking The Top-5 Canadiens Forward Prospects at Camp

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Montreal Canadiens

With the top-5 defensive prospects already ranked, it’s time to take a look at the young forwards that stood out since the start of the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp in mid-September.

Like the defencemen, all forwards 25 and under, currently signed to an NHL team that actively participated in training camp scrimmages and preseason games, shall be considered. The rankings are based purely on their performances from the start of rookie camp.

1. Owen Beck, 33rd overall, 2022.

The cerebral centre didn’t just stand out at camp as one of the best prospects, he was arguably the Montreal Canadiens’ best player in every single scrimmage, intrasquad game, and preseason matchup.

His excellent play earned him an entry-level contract, as well as an impressive rise among the organizational prospect rankings.

“He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old,” said head coach Martin St-Louis. “He plays a very mature game. He took advantage of his opportunities.”

Saying he took advantage of his opportunities is an understatement. It’s crucial not to put too much pressure on a young prospect, but given his play at camp, all eyes will be on Beck throughout his season in the OHL, where he’s expected to become a dominant presence with the Mississauga Steelheads in his Draft+1 season.

2. Filip Mesar, 26th overall, 2022.

If you were to predict which Slovak forward would stand out before the start of camp, odds are you would have pointed to the first-overall pick at the 2022 Draft, but it was Juraj Slafkovsky’s childhood friend, Filip Mesar, that stole the show.

It’s a clichĂ©, but Mesar has a nose for the net. The moment he enters the offensive zone with control of the puck, he quickly makes his way to high-danger areas.

His offensive prowess isn’t just powered by his situational awareness, though that certainly plays a big part. He uses his fantastic stickhandling to carry the puck through high-traffic areas, which, in turn, opens up passing lanes, open ice, and scoring opportunities for his linemates.

Mesar may be assigned to the OHL this season, but as it stands, he’s earned an opportunity to play in the AHL with the Laval Rocket.

3. Emil Heineman, 43rd overall, 2020.

The Swedish forward entered camp with little to no fanfare, but he’s leaving camp as one of the most interesting forwards in the prospect pool.

His shot is already among the best in the organization, not only because of his sneaky release and his pinpoint accuracy but also because he can get the puck through traffic no matter the situation.

He also showed great anticipation in the offensive zone, which led to a bevy of high-danger scoring chances for his linemates. He’ll never be nominated for a Selke trophy, but he does bring an impressive offensive skillset to the table, one that few prospects share.

Unfortunately, Heineman picked up an injury in the Canadiens’ last preseason game, which means he’s unlikely to play in the team’s final two games, but he’s done enough to dramatically increase his stock, both among fans and Canadiens management.

4. Xavier Simoneau, 191st overall, 2021.

Those who have had the privilege of watching Xavier Simoneau play in the QMJHL probably weren’t surprised by his showing at camp. But for many, the 5’6″ forward’s intensity was a revelation.

“I worked very hard to make it to this point,” said Simoneau before the start of camp. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

It was more than a great experience, Simoneau was one of the better forwards in the lineup on any given night.

He plays every single shift as if his hockey career depends on it, and given his diminutive size, it’s a very wise approach. He’s more than just a player that will drive his opposition up the wall, though that’s certainly a big part of his game.

He goes into the dirty areas of the ice, accepting cross-checks from defencemen with a smile on his face. He also possesses an underrated offensive toolset, evidenced by his 86 points in 48 games with the Charlottetown Islanders last season.

If you haven’t been impressed by Simoneau’s play at camp, you simply haven’t been paying close attention.

5. Juraj Slafkovsky, 1st overall, 2022.

Filling out the top-5 is the player who has faced the most scrutiny since hearing his name called first overall at the 2022 Draft: Juraj Slafkovsky.

Kent Hughes described his performances as underwhelming, whereas his St-Louis took a measured approach when discussing Slafkovsky’s play.

Given the anxiety fans are feeling from the Montreal Canadiens’ inability to properly develop high-end draft picks, the heightened scrutiny was to be expected.

But despite the criticism and the inevitable fatigue that comes with being under the spotlight in a hockey-crazed market, Slafkovsky has shown the type of potential that reinforces the idea he deserves a longer runway than most first-overall picks.

Slafkovsky has an innate sense for driving the play in the right direction, which led to several close calls in the offensive zone in the preseason. His timing and decision-making need to be improved, but his skill set does have the foundation of a player that could become a dominant force in the NHL.

He has an impressive wingspan and a very active stick, which allows him to break up plays in the defensive zone, and quickly push the puck up the ice.

In Slafkovsky’s case, it’s worth remembering this isn’t just the beginning of his development. It’s the beginning of the beginning.

Honourable Mentions

Overage winger Pierrick DubĂ© didn’t garner a lot of attention, but he was one of the most intense, focused players for the Montreal Canadiens during their development camp.

The same can be said for Anthony Richard, who should play a crucial role for the Laval Rocket this season. He’ll be joined by fellow standout Rafael Harvey-Pinard, and the aforementioned Simoneau, giving head coach Jean-Francois Houle a trio of players that play the pest game to perfection while also providing excellent auxiliary offence.

The Montreal Canadiens are unlikely to make the playoffs this season, but based on what we saw at camp, Rocket fans are in for a very entertaining year.

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