PROSPECTS | Building Defensive Depth in Canadiens System

Noah Juulsen (Photo by Kevin Clark / The Herald)

by Mike Ries, Staff Writer, AHL Report

With the focus this off-season on the trade involving P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, Habs fans may have overlooked the talent that Montreal has waiting in the wings.  The Canadiens selected four defencemen in June’s NHL Entry Draft.  That addressed a need not only with the parent club but also the Montreal minor pro system. In Montreal’s three previous drafts, just four defencemen were taken in total.

Without a doubt the top defenceman in the Canadiens’ prospect pool is Mikhail Sergachev. Drafted in the first round (ninth overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Sergachev possesses the tools to make the jump to the NHL. He is now getting a nine game look by Montreal before, I expect, he will be  returned to the Windsor Spitfires for the remainder of the season.

It’s my opinion that Sergachev could make the jump to the NHL this season as a third pairing defenceman but it would be better for his development to dominate for another season in the OHL. Numerous NHL scouts that I have spoken with considered him to be the top player in the OHL last season, not just the top defenceman.  With great size, speed, shot and hockey sense, Sergachev will be a leader on the Canadiens within the next couple of seasons.

Detractors have said that he appears lazy on the ice, but it is a fact that the speed and play comes easy for him even at the NHL level. In an NHL rookie tournament this past September Sergachev was the best player on the ice of the four teams that were there ( Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Ottawa.)

The second on my list of top defenceman is Noah Juulsen, drafted in the first round in the 2015 NHL Entry draft.  Juulsen has the size and playmaking abilties to be a second-pairing defenceman at the NHL level. As captain, playing his fourth season with Everett in the WHL, Juulsen will no doubt be counted by the Silvertips on a nightly basis.

Silvertips head coach, Kevin Constantine, speaking to Jesse Geleynse of HeraldNet said, “[Noah Juulsen’s] offensive ability to use his shot and get some points was dramatically improved from Year 1 to Year 2 in terms of results, but I think the core of his game is not that. The core of his game is work and compete and be a warrior and find a way of getting better. There has been steady progress with that.” Along with Sergachev, Juulsen is at the top of my list of players not playing in the minor pro system with Montreal.

In my opinion, the top defenceman to watch on the St. John’s IceCaps this season is Brett Lernout.  Brett will never be known as an offensive defenseman.   Quite the contrary, he is a throwback to the big, stay-at-home defenceman of the past.  A third round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he has progressed through the system to be considered at the top of the call-up list during the season for Montreal.

Lernout’s stay-at-home style and ferocious bodychecks make him a good pairing with a puck-moving defenceman.  But for a big man he is a good skater and has a heavy shot.  Brett’s skating will be the quality that helps to set him apart to make the jump to the NHL.

The other prospect to keep an eye on is Ryan Johnston, some what of a dark horse in the Canadiens system.  The 24-year-old Johnston was a free agent signed by Montreal out of Colgate University.  He is a good puck-moving defenceman, but not blessed with great speed.  Having only played a half-season with the IceCaps after recovering from back surgery, Johnston adapted quickly and was rewarded with a short stint with the big club.  With more development at the AHL level, he could make his way up the Habs on a regular basis.

The Montreal Canadiens do have a decent crop of defensive prospects coming to the NHL in the near future, but they need to draft and sign depth players at that position.

(Feature photo by Kevin Clark / The Herald)


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