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Canadiens Checklist: State Of The Rebuild – Forward Prospects

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Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck Habs

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have completed their second complete rebuild season, it’s time to take a closer look at where the organization stands in terms of its long-term plans.

This series will evaluate several categories, including current NHL talent, prospect value, draft capital, trades, coaching, contracts, and management.

State Of The Montreal Canadiens Rebuild Series – Published

Today we will examine the state of the forward prospects in the organization.

Montreal Canadiens Forward Prospects Caveat

As we pointed out when introducing the series, the Montreal Canadiens have already graduated many key prospects. It’s one of the reasons the Habs are among the youngest teams in the NHL.

Both Juraj Slafkovsky and Joshua Roy have established themselves as important members of the forward core, which mitigates much of the potential among the remaining players.

Beck Leads The Charge

Beyond Roy and Slafkovsky, there’s genuinely very little to be excited about when it comes to players who project to be game-changers.

Owen Beck represents the team’s best hope regarding a player who might earn a roster spot at camp next season. The cerebral centre improved his overall scoring following his trade to the Saginaw Spirit, going from 1.2 points per game with his former team, the Peterborough Petes, all the way to 1.6 points per game with his new club.

This should quelch much of the concern surrounding his scoring pace in the OHL, as it showed that Beck can certainly produce if he’s put in a position to do so. Beck has been held scoreless in the last four Spirit playoff games, but he’s still produced 10 points in 11 games.

Beck projects as a player who could eventually pressure Jake Evans, taking over as the fourth-line pivot while absorbing important special teams minutes. Once he settles into his NHL position, there are decent odds Beck will continue to slowly, yet surely, climb the depth ladder.

In the meantime, if Beck cannot force his way into the NHL lineup there will surely be a healthy amount of minutes available in the AHL, with the Laval Rocket.

Mesar’s Value

Filip Mesar’s development in the OHL has gone a little slower than expected, especially when we consider he played two seasons of professional hockey in Slovakia before heading to Kitchener.

He improved his scoring rate slightly this season, pushing it beyond one point per game (1.15 ppg), but there was still a lot left to desire when watching him ply his trade for the Rangers.

His playmaking is top-notch, and his offensive awareness is elite, but he does tend to shy away from heading to high-danger scoring areas, and he still defers to his teammates when it comes to his own shooting opportunities. His shot rate did go up in the playoffs, but unfortunately, it only led to one goal in 24 games.

On that note, he also produced 15 assists in that stretch, leading to a very encouraging playoff scoreline of one goal and 15 assists in just 10 games.

The issue for Mesar is that his skill set, which involves exploiting open ice and mistakes made by opponents, won’t necessarily translate quickly to the professional level. That’s not to say he won’t ever make his way to the NHL, but I would suggest a year or two in the AHL would be necessary to allow him to acclimatize to the speed and lack of space involved in North American professional hockey.

Best Of The Rest

There are a few other prospects who hold legitimate potential, but the list dries up rather quickly.

Florian Xhekaj has emerged as a very interesting player who has the ideal skill set to play in the bottom six. He’s perhaps even more aggressive than his brother, Arber. More importantly, he scored a bevy of different goals in the OHL this season while almost tripling his production rate, including end-to-end highlight reel plays.

We’ll keep a close eye on his development, but like Mesar, Xhekaj will need some time in the AHL to adjust.

Cedrick Guindon had another fairly solid season with Owen Sound in the OHL, earning 26 goals and 31 assists in 68 games, but we once again saw his production fade down the stretch, a recurring issue with the Franco-Ontarian.

Oliver Kapanen enjoyed a fantastic showing in the SM-liiga playoffs, scoring seven goals and seven assists in 13 games with Kalpa. It’s an encouraging sign for a prospect that has always projected as a defensive specialist, but we also have to keep in mind he’s 20 years old, an uptick in production wasn’t just to be expected, it was necessary to keep him in the top Montreal Canadiens prospects conversation.

Luke Tuch and Sean Farrell should play important roles for the Laval Rocket next season, but like most other prospects on our list, they’ll need much more experience before we can suggest they’re ready for NHL action.

Riley Kidney and Jared Davidson had relatively quiet rookie seasons in the AHL. Some of it was due to usage, but there were certainly stretches in which Kidney looked overwhelmed by the heightened level of opposition he had to face.

Montreal Canadiens Brass Tacks

Simply put, forward prospects are an organizational weakness for the Montreal Canadiens.

With that in mind, if you add Roy and Slafkovsky to the mix, you could suggest the team is in good shape, but if we’re being perfectly honest, they’ve already reached the level where we can consider them NHL talent.

That’s good news for the rebuild, but bad news for the state of the forwards in the prospect pool.

Montreal Canadiens State Of The Rebuild Grade – Forward Prospects

Beck, Mesar, and Xhekaj have a decent chance to etch out a spot on an NHL roster eventually, but for now, we must admit there’s very little high-end talent in the forward prospect pipeline.

Grade: 2/10*

Fortunately, the Montreal Canadiens will have an opportunity to address the glaring weakness this summer, as they are set to be given yet another top-10 pick.

The team has mostly focused on adding defensive talent to the mix recently, which means they are well aware they desperately need to add a game-changing forward prospect to the group.

*If the Habs can put their hands on someone like Tij Iginla or Cayden Lindstrom, the outlook for the forward prospect group would improve significantly, as they’d instantly become the best forward prospect in the organization.

MUST READ: Cayden Lindstrom A Prime Draft Target For The Montreal Canadiens