Connect with us

Habs Prospects

Canadiens Checklist – State Of The Rebuild: Defensive Prospects

Published

on

Montreal Canadiens david reinbacher

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.

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

State Of The Montreal Canadiens Rebuild Series – Published

A Foundation For Success

Few, if any NHL franchises can rival the talent and depth the Montreal Canadiens possess in their defensive prospect pool.

While the forward prospects are lacking in several categories, the defencemen have provided general manager Kent Hughes with an embarrassment of riches.

It’s particularly impressive because as it stands, the Habs already have one of the youngest bluelines in the NHL, headlined by 22-year-old Kaiden Guhle, as well as a pair of 23-year-old defencemen in Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris.

Seeing as he only played a little over 45 minutes in the NHL, we’re still going to consider Lane Hutson as a prospect, though given his success during his limited ice time, it will surely be one of the last times Hutson will qualify as such.

On top of earning primary assists in both games, Hutson showed flashes of brilliance that you usually see from the NHL’s elite, not a 20-year-old player making the most difficult jump in his hockey career after a busy NCAA season that also saw him capture a gold medal with Team USA at the 2024 World Junior Championship.

His ability to effortlessly walk the blueline quickly translated to high-danger scoring chances, immediately increasing the amount of time the Canadiens spent tiring opposing defenders in the offensive zone.

Hutson is far from perfect, something fans must keep in mind as the team relies on him to perform the bulk of the puck retrieval and clean breakout duties.

He will lose the puck.

He will lose the puck a lot.

Such is life as a puck-moving defenceman.

Fortunately, despite facing an unreasonable amount of criticism and scrutiny at every level of his career, the good outweighed the bad significantly in Hutson’s case.

MUST READ: How Lane Hutson’s Chaotic Approach Will Benefit The Montreal Canadiens

He’s also faced heightened expectations, however, that’s mostly a product of his excellence, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue he hasn’t blown most of those elevated expectations out of the water.

Simply put, Hutson is not just a breath of fresh air in the Canadiens lineup, he represents the next great hope for a storied franchise that has had more than its fair share of elite defencemen.

Montreal Canadiens Defensive Prospects – Left Side Depth

Beyond Hutson, there are a handful of players who have a legitimate chance to etch out a roster spot on the left side of the blue line.

Jayden Struble could have been included in the NHL list, though it must be said that his strong numbers in the NHL quickly faded as his number of games increased. The play was moving very fast, and Struble had a hard time keeping up. That’s perfectly normal, seeing as Struble had less than 25 games of AHL hockey under his belt before he received the call from the Habs.

With a little more time to iron out his weaknesses, Struble should be able to jump into an NHL lineup and become a quality depth option, with the potential to eventually feature in the top four. Due to the logjam on the left side of the blue line in the NHL, there are healthy odds Struble will be counted upon to play important minutes for the Laval Rocket next season.

He’ll be joined by defenceman William Trudeau, a player who saw his stock drop dramatically after earning his entry-level contract with a fantastic performance at Canadiens training camp. The good news is that Trudeau’s play improved by leaps and bounds as the season unfolded in the AHL.

Finding ice time for Trudeau may be a challenge, as European prospect Adam Engstrom is one of the next players expected to sign his entry-level contract with the Habs. Of course, there’s always the possibility Engstrom could be loaned to a European club if he doesn’t make the NHL roster.

Engstrom is currently playing in the SHL finals, picking up important minutes for a Rogle team that is in the midst of a Cinderella run of epic proportions. His mobility and offensive creativity mesh perfectly with the brand of offensive hockey Martin St-Louis expects from his defencemen.

Montreal Canadiens Defensive Prospects -Right Side Depth

The right side of the blue line was once considered an organizational weakness. From the very get-go, Hughes attempted to bolster the right-side defensive depth via trades and targetted drafting.

You could argue he went a little overboard, seeing as the forward prospects also needed an influx of talent, but the end result is a very healthy group of prospects in one of the most important positions on the ice.

The star piece is the fifth overall pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, David Reinbacher.

We followed Reinbacher’s season in the NL closely, and there was no doubt he was put in a very difficult situation. He played for three different coaching staffs, dealt with an early injury that limited his mobility, and for the most part, seemed to be regressing rather than developing.

He finished his season with just one goal, an empty-net marker.

If you happened upon his HockeyDB page without knowing the context behind his season, you’d probably suggest it was a rather poor pick by the Montreal Canadiens.

But HockeyDB doesn’t know Reinbacher was playing for an EHC Kloten team that was a complete and utter mess.

Once Reinbacher recovered from his injury we did see progress, progress that was even more evident once he landed in North America and participated in a few games with the Rocket.

It took Reinbacher exactly one shot to register his first goal in the AHL.

Beyond his improved offence, which saw him score two goals and three assists in 11 games, Reinbacher looked a lot more comfortable playing on a team with structured strategies and talented linemates, which is often the case for prospects.

Again, context is everything when evaluating these young players.

Elite players can turn a bad team into a good club, but those players are few and far between.

American Hockey League Bound

Reinbacher will need time in the AHL to polish his defensive positioning, gap control, breakouts, and other aspects of his game that could stand to be improved.

He’ll do so in a lineup that features several other talented right-handed players attempting to earn a job in the NHL.

Logan Mailloux was one of the very positive development stories hailing from Laval this year. He still has defensive deficiencies, as do most 21-year-old defencemen, but he quickly established that he’d be able to help out offensively, a very important contribution in his case.

Mailloux will never win a Norris trophy, but with a little more experience and a lot more coaching, his defensive woes can be overcome.

His offensive instincts, on the other hand, would either translate to the professional level or quickly fade once he was facing a high level of opposition in the American Hockey League.

The latter would have spelled the end of his NHL aspirations, but fortunately, his high-end shot selection, powerplay prowess, and breakout passes slowly, but surely, came to the forefront.

Justin Barron will have an opportunity to earn a job in the NHL next season, but for now, we will continue to consider him an AHL-bound prospect.

The good news is that every time he spends significant time in the AHL, Barron has returned to the NHL with a renewed sense of confidence. Consequently, his decision-making improves, making him a much more valuable NHL commodity.

His defensive woes are impossible to ignore, but they’re balanced by his underrated offensive instincts. Even though he only played 41 games for the Canadiens last season, Barron finished second amongst defencemen in goals scored, with seven.

Another way of putting it would be that Barron outscored all the young defencemen that we tend to place well above him on the depth chart, and he did it in fewer games.

Best Of The Rest – Montreal Canadiens Defensive Prospects

A trio of Russian defenders round out the options on the right side of the defence: Daniil Sobolev, Dmitri Kostenko, and Bogdan Konyushkov.

With all due respect to Sobolev and Kostenko, Konyushkov leads the charge when it comes to NHL hopefuls hailing from Russia.

The 21-year-old was one of the busiest defencemen in the KHL, playing big minutes in all situations for head coach Igor Larionov. Keep in mind, just like the NHL, the KHL doesn’t give an abundance of opportunities to young players, particularly young defencemen.

Not only did Larionov buck that trend, but he also named Konyushkov the team captain midway through the season.

With six goals and 22 assists in 65 games, Konyushkov used his offensive creativity and bold decision-making to cement his place among the Montreal Canadiens prospects with the most NHL potential.

He recently signed an extension in the KHL, which means we should not expect him to come to North America any time soon, but in the meantime, we can be certain that he’s getting every chance to develop into an impact player by his Russian club, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

Brass Tacks

The defensive depth becomes a little more clear once you list all the names of Montreal Canadiens defencemen in play.

Not every player will make it. We’ll probably look back and laugh at some of the names involved, but I’d suggest those highlighted in blue have relatively healthy odds to one day play in the NHL. With a solid season in the AHL under his belt next year, we could also include Trudeau on the list.

Once we add the players who are already playing for the Habs, the overall strength of the position becomes quite evident.

Montreal Canadiens depth chart

It also provides the Canadiens with the type of depth at a very important position that could lead to interesting trades, especially if the Habs attempt to bolster their forward depth this summer.

Remember, the Canadiens will have upward of $15 million in salary cap space next season. They also have 12 draft picks at the upcoming 2024 NHL Entry Draft.

Don’t be surprised if they use their defensive depth to turn an area of weakness into yet another position of strength for the organization.

Montreal Canadiens State Of The Rebuild Grade – Defensive Prospects

The Habs don’t just have depth, they have an overabundance of talent among their defensive prospects.

More importantly, thanks to Hutson, they also have a player who projects as a game-changing player, a rarity throughout the organization.

Grade: 9/10