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Canadiens Top-5 Most Improved Prospects in 2022



Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj

The Montreal Canadiens have put a focus on bringing along their youngsters this year, but a handful really took the next step in 2022.

It’s been an interesting year following prospects, with the organization’s gaze focused directly on the future.

In adding all this talent, GM Kent Hughes has focused on developing and bringing these talented youngsters along.

But five prospects currently stand above the rest as being massive surprises for the Montreal Canadiens over the last year.

Montreal Hockey Now lists them below:

Kaiden Guhle

Kaiden Guhle has had quite the year.

After getting traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Canadiens’ defenceman took his game to another level; quickly establishing himself as the key piece on a championship-calibre roster.

During his exceptional run in the WHL playoffs, Guhle was able to notch eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in 19 games, on top of being a force on the defensive end. His eight goals, the insurance marker in the championship-winning game, set a record for the most amount of goals recorded by an Oil Kings defenceman during the playoffs.

Guhle’s improved offensive play, clutch goal scoring and sound defensive ability earned him MVP honours during the WHL Playoffs. In being named MVP, Guhle became the first defenceman to win the award since former Edmonton Oil King Griffin Reinhart won it eight years ago.

Guhle carried that momentum with him into the 2022-2023 pre-season, where he looked like a seasoned veteran from the moment he touched the ice.

So far this season, he leads all rookie defencemen in the NHL with 13 even-strength points in just 31 games.

Guhle’s 13 even-strength points, through just 32 games, is the second highest the Montreal Canadiens have seen since the 1990-1991 season. P.K. Subban had the highest in that span with 20 points, through 77 games.

Guhle is on pace to surpass even Subban’s even-strength production, and despite being used solely at even strength and on the penalty kill.

Going from Major Junior to the defacto No.1 defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens in a matter of months is no small feat; and the best is yet to come for the 20-year-old.

Top 3 Reasons Canadiens Guhle To Get Calder Consideration

Arber Xhekaj

In less than a year, Arber Xhekaj has seemingly gone from an interesting prospect to a can’t-miss player on the Montreal Canadiens.

Starting off his 2022 by landing in his hometown Hamilton Bulldogs via trade, Xhekaj was a major component of an eventual OHL Champion roster.

Xhekaj then built on that stellar season in the OHL by cracking the Montreal Canadiens’ opening-day roster; effectively being the only non-drafted player to make the jump straight from CHL to NHL in the last 30 years.

Xhekaj not only became an instant fan-favourite due to his electrifying fights, but he’s also leading all rookie defencemen in the NHL in goals with four.

He’s quickly become an essential member of the Canadien’s blue line and continues to grow, game after game, into a player that could one day play a regular role in a contending top-4 for the Montreal Canadiens.

Not bad for an undrafted signing, wouldn’t you say?

WATCH: Arber Xhekaj Fights Nic Deslauriers

Owen Beck

When Owen Beck was drafted 33rd overall last summer, many viewed him as your prototypical 3rd-line centre in the making.

However, it was important to note that Beck missed out on what would have been his rookie season in the OHL, due to Covid forcing the OHL to cancel the 2020-2021 season. Beck came into his draft year as a rookie in the OHL, meaning he had to catch up on lost time very quickly, something the player himself has said was a difficult process.

But Beck’s biggest strength remains his brain.

He took in all the information and built on it right away. After being drafted, he impressed at both Canadiens’ development camp and Team Canada’s summer camp, while also being the standout prospect at the Canadiens’ official training camp in the fall.

Beck was sent back to Mississauga with an entry-level contract in hand, and, where most prospects would bask in their accomplishments, Beck simply became more motivated to perform.

Beck nearly doubled his points-per-game ratio from last season, going from a .75 to a 1.44 in just a year, but he’s doing this while remaining the top defensive player in the OHL.

Despite missing some games due to Canadiens’ training camp and Team Canada’s selection camp, Beck still leads his team in scoring with 26 goals and 23 assists for 39 points in just 27 games.

He is now the offensive and defensive leader of his club, a drastic uptick in performance that deserves recognition.

Lane Hutson

For those who have watched Lane Hutson dating back to 2021, his progress over the last 12 months has been remarkable.

When many had their eyes on Seamus Casey or Ryan Chesley as the top defenceman of the United States National Development Program (USNDT), Hutson was there, waiting for his moment.

After putting on nearly 10 pounds of weight during the season (yes, you read that right), Hutson had a very strong 2022. He made a statement with his inspiring performances at the U-18s for Team USA and just continued to improve from there on out.

Hutson was the most noticeable player at the Canadiens’ development camp in July and immediately began to receive the monicker of “Steal”, given his electrifying style and immense talent.

Then, the true test arrived: how would he play against bigger and stronger opposition in the NCAA?

The answer: Seamlessly.

Hutson is having an historic season at Boston University, ranking second in team scoring with seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in just 16 games. And what’s more impressive is that a grand majority of his points are at even strength, destroying the pre-conceived notion that he was simply a power play merchant.

Hutson is the most successful defenceman in the NCAA at this time , posting the best points-per-game ratio for a defender in the entire league; all while being surprisingly efficient defensively.

Big things were expected from Hutson, but this is something else.

Justin Barron

Justin Barron had to swallow a tough pill when he was sent down to the AHL to start the season, but he’s making the most of it, and it’s paying off.

Barron is turning heads in Laval as of late, and he credits much of his success to the development he’s been able to do in the AHL.

Having been acquired by the Montreal Canadiens in a 2022 NHL Trade Deadline move that saw Arturri Lehkonen head over to Denver in exchange for Barron, there were a lot of expectations on the young man’s shoulders.

It’s been a good transition for him, the 21-year-old, who took the experience he gained in the Colorado Avalanche organization, especially their AHL affiliate Colorado Eagles, to help him hit the ground running with the Laval Rocket.

He’s certainly developed his offensive game without question, as Barron currently sits third in the AHL with seven goals for a defenceman, while also having nine assists for 16 points in just 25 games this year.

Barron continues to lbe the top defenceman for the Laval Rocket this season and his responsibilities continue to grow. His progress is a testament to the change in developmental approach that Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes has brought in, and, if Barron has his way, it’s like to pay for them in 2023.

Canadiens Justin Barron On Development In Laval, Finding Identity

HM: Oliver Kapanen

Oliver Kapanen has looked like a player transformed this season in the Finnish Liiga for KalPa. Often seen as a responsible and feisty centre capable of playing in multiple situations, the Montreal Canadiens’ 2021 2nd round pick has seemingly taken his offensive game up a notch and is playing with much more confidence than last season.

As a 19-year-old, Kapanen will be a big part of Team Finland’s roster at the world Junior Championship, as well as being an important source of secondary, or perhaps even tertiary offence, whereas Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell are expected to do most of the heavy lifting

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Kapanen is great but he’s more known for his Faceoff Abillity then anything else and his defensive play. Its why he’s consistently representing his country as he’s almost guaranteed that 3rd line Center job every tournament. Sometimes in the Championship Hockey League Tournament he get’s top 6 in international tournaments but never global.

Beck,Kidney and Kappanen are all on a collision course fighting for 3rd center.

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