Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome Tyler Major- McNicol to the writing team at Montreal Hockey Now. He will join us throughout the season to provide updates on prospects, as well as various other Canadiens-related topics.
The Montreal Canadiens have started off their 2023-24 season on the right foot, relatively speaking. Their 3-2-1 record is encouraging, but it’s also impossible to ignore how elite teams like the New Jersey Devils outclass the rebuilding Habs.
If you ask a player, they’ll tell you they expect to make the playoffs, which is to be expected. It’s also worth noting that management has put an increased onus on taking the next step forward, but player development continues to be a key part of the rebuilding process.
Most experts predict the Canadiens will finish in the bottom 10 of the National Hockey League (NHL) standings come April, which could put them in a nice position to bring another top-10 pick into the fold.
Top-10 Canadiens Prospect Options For The 2024 NHL Draft
The 2024 NHL Draft has an array of different talented players that could be available to the Canadiens.
There are goalscorers, great two-way defenders and a standout at the top who does everything right with a dynamic touch.
Here are the 10 players that will likely be waiting at the end of the proverbial rainbow for the Canadiens, should they secure a finish closer to the bottom of the standings.
Early on in the 2024 Draft season, it appears that Celebrini has held onto his ranking as the number one prospect of the draft class. He has great hands, and a high hockey IQ and his speed is a difference-maker.
What stands out most about him, is his innate ability to coral bouncing pucks and explode up the ice, and either start a great passing play or make a dash towards the net.
He is a prototypical first-line centre, who has a nice offensive flair. Nathan MacKinnon comes to mind a little bit, although it would be unfair to set such high expectations for the 17-year-old, and his skating is nowhere near MacKinnon’s.
The comparison is more leading to his straight-line attacking style and the fact that he is a very offensively explosive centreman.
There have been question marks about Eiserman’s compete level defensively, and the fact that he sometimes looks disinterested away from the puck.
He is still just 16 years old, and even though he is eligible for the 2024 Draft, he is still a year away from making his college hockey debut. He will be coached and brought along the right way, which should allow him to at least be impactful away from the puck.
The positive side of things for Eiserman, is in his offensive abilities, mainly his ability to find soft spots in the offensive zone. When he does, his brain takes over, and then the best of his toolkit takes center stage.
His shot is dynamic and explosive and he doesn’t need much space to unleash it. One-timers explode off of his stick, and he can flat-out shoot any style of shot that is required.
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Over in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Demidov started his season with SKA St. Petersburg, where he played just four games, earning starts over Philadelphia Flyers seventh overall selection in the 2023 Draft, Matvei Michkov.
Unfortunately for the 17-year-old Demidov, he was unable to secure a spot, bouncing from the Supreme Hockey League (VHL) and then down to the Junior Hockey League (MHL).
He hasn’t gotten off to the start that he would have hoped for, but he presents as a special talent, with the offensive toolkit to rival Michkov, according to one scout.
At 5’11” and 168 lbs, he needs to add some muscle to his body, but he has ample time, due to his contractual obligations in Russia. Demidov could very well end up as one of the draft class’s best forward talents, and he is expected to be selected early.
Artyom Levshunov exploded onto the United States Hockey League (USHL) scene in 2022-23, and he fit right onto the top pair of the Green Bay Gamblers. Levshunov played 62 games for the Gamblers and scored 42 points (13 goals & 29 assists).
He already has the size and frame that will allow him to compete in the NHL, at 6’2” and 198 lbs, and at just 17 years old he has time to develop at Michigan State University.
His mobility on the blueline allows him to present a constant offensive threat, and his footspeed gets him into high-danger areas regularly. Projection-wise, he looks like a sure bet future number one power play quarterback.
His shot is heavy and accurate, and while he isn’t a defensive defenseman, his physical traits should allow him to be solid at the NHL level.
Sam Dickinson flew under the radar in 2022-23, amongst a London Knights blue line featuring Canadiens 2021 first-round selection Logan Mailloux and Philadelphia Flyers 2023 first-round pick Oliver Bonk.
His deployment had nothing to do with a lack of talent or potential, but simply the fact that he was 16 years old, and the other two were 17 and 20 years old. He played 62 games with the Knights during his rookie season, and he scored 23 points (nine goals & 14 assists).
With Mailloux graduated to the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Laval Rocket, a spot opened up on the top defence pairing for Dickinson.
In a year where he is looking to show off what he can do ahead of the ‘24 Draft, he will have increased playing time, likely on both special teams units. Defensively he is great, and his mobility and long reach aid him, but offensively is where he could stand to grow and he has shown glimpses of his potential. He looks to be in a top-four defensive role when he reaches the NHL.
Cole Hutson has been described as better in some areas than his older brother, Canadiens 2022 second-round selection Lane. He will almost certainly be drafted higher than his brother, and the secret is out about the Hutson brothers, they are competitive, highly skilled, mobile defenders who take up the attention of opposing defences.
Currently playing for the USNTDP U18 squad, Hutson is committed to Boston University, just like Eiserman, and he will join Celebrini, and possibly Lane for the 2024-25 season.
He has dynamic edge work, and the ability to escape danger because of his strong skating. Although he is on the smaller side, he uses a smart stick in the defensive zone and he uses his lower centre of gravity to push attackers to the boards or out of his goaltender’s line of vision.
Like Lane, he anticipates plays very well and when there’s an opening, he explodes into it deking around defenders and he is always open to make plays or challenge goalies with a quick shot on the net.
Konsta Helenius has an advantage over every player listed so far, other than Demidov because he has been playing in a professional men’s league, the Finnish Liiga, since he was 16 years old.
The right-shot centre/right winger projects as a number one centre, whose offensive skill allows him to produce with either his good playmaking skills or heavy shot. As a 16-year-old, he played 33 games with Jukurit and scored 11 points (three goals & eight assists).
He is no longer a rookie, and teams know to watch for him, but he has proven again that he can produce on the scoresheet and defend the middle of the ice well. Through 11 games this season in Finland, Helenius has four goals and one assist.
Ideally, he would probably like to see an increase in his production, but at seventh overall, he presents a nice package, he will have two professional seasons of play under his belt when he gets drafted.
Very seldom do players make the jump from the Canadian Hockey League ranks to the NHL immediately, but Catton could join Buffalo Sabres overall selection Zach Benson in doing so. He isn’t the biggest guy 5’11” and 163 lbs but he is tenacious and has some great problem-solving skills, paired with a nice toolkit that makes him a threat from the opposing blueline.
Catton had a strong sophomore season in the Western Hockey League with the Spokane Chiefs, scoring 55 points (23 goals and 32 assists) in 63 games.
He has gotten off to a quick start this season, with 11 points (six goals & five assists) through seven games. Catton looks to be a versatile top-six winger or center, who will produce plenty of offence, because of his motor, and he is so smart.
Alongside Ryder Ritchie, Catton helped lead the Canadian U18 team to a Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold medal, with a tournament-best eight goals, and 10 points, which also led the tournament.
Adam Jiricek is the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets ‘22 sixth overall selection David Jiricek. He isn’t quite as good offensively as his older brother, but he is a brilliant skater and projects as a good top-four defender. If he can unlock a little more offence, he could find himself in a top-pair defensive role at the NHL level.
Standing 6’2” tall and weighing 176 lbs, Adam is smaller than his brother, but he has a year to grow and develop before he walks the draft floor. He has split the beginning of the ‘’23-‘24 campaign in Czechia between the U20 squad, and the main team.
It’s a tough proposition to play against men as a defender, so his lack of offensive production is in no way an indicator of how good the younger Jiricek could end up becoming.
Think skating and a transition mastermind, and that’s what Aron Kiviharju will provide for whichever team selects him. He isn’t huge, just 5 ’10 ” and 165 lbs, but he is both quick and fast, he moves around the ice fast and makes quick decisions with the puck, which is why is so elusive.
Last season, Kiviharju split time between the TPS U20 team in the Finnish U20 SM-Sarja, and TPS in Liiga, he produced a total of 23 points (two goals and 21 assists), 18 of which came with the U20 team.
Kiviharju had a strong start to his draft season, with a goal and one assist through seven games, but he has been sidelined with an injury, which has limited his time for scouts to view his play. If he can get back in for some games, he should be able to cement himself as a top-10 talent and provide a team with nice value at 10th overall.
The Canadiens could stand to benefit in their rebuild with any one of the 10 players discussed above.
And with another top-10 selection, for what would be the third consecutive season, the rebuild would benefit nicely from another high-potential prospect. Ideally, the team would add a talented forward to the mix, given the prospect pipeline lacks elite forwards.
Things will change throughout the season, and there’s plenty of hockey to be played, but there are some great consolation prizes for the Canadiens at the end of the season if they finish last in the Atlantic Division and near the bottom of the league standings.
Canadiens potential Draft target videos via Elite Prospects.