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2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 1-5
2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 1-5(2011-09-17 20:07 posted by B. La Rose)

We've finally hit the top-5 portion of this year's prospect rankings.  Unlike last season which had a unanimous top prospect (P.K. Subban), this year was a lot different as four players got first place votes from our writers.  Which one will rise above the rest?  Read on to find out.

Overview

This year, we changed things up a little.  The top-10 have been voted on by members of our HW writing staff while the remainder of the rankings were done by yours truly.  Here are the criteria that each player had to meet to be eligible to be in these rankings:

1) The player must be 24 years old or younger as of October 1, 2011
2) The player must have no greater than 40 games of NHL experience (including regular season and playoffs)
3) The player has to be signed on an NHL contract

As the Habs brought several youngsters up last season, this year's list will look a lot different as many of the top prospects are no longer eligible.  Here are the departures from last year's list:

Graduated: David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Frederic St. Denis, P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber, Ryan White, Alexei Yemelin
Released: Patrick Johnson, Petteri Simila, J.T. Wyman
Traded: Mathieu Carle, Ben Maxwell, Ryan Russell

Recently acquired Michael Blunden also does not qualify for prospect status due to NHL experience while Raphael Diaz does not meet the age requirement.

Rankings

#5) Aaron Palushaj
Right Wing, Hamilton, AHL
2nd round pick (44th overall) in 2007 (acquired via trade from St. Louis)

The player drafted right after the Habs took Subban, Palushaj had a breakout campaign with the Bulldogs last season.  Although his wingers were either called up or injured frequently, he kept producing no matter what.  He also has bulked up this offseason which was something he needed to do to withstand the higher checking game at the NHL level.  Defensively, he still needs some work which I think will work against him as he vies for the 13th forward spot in training camp.  He could benefit from another campaign with Hamilton as now he'll be 'the guy' to lead the attack.

2010-11 Stats: 68 GP, 22-35-57, 42 PIMS, +22
Previous HW Ranking: 11th

#4) Danny Kristo
Right Wing, North Dakota, WCHA (NCAA)
2nd round pick (56th overall) in 2008

The first half of his 2010-11 season was mired with a bad case of inconsistency and bad judgment (the frostbite incident).  When he returned from that though, he was a rejuvenated player as he led the Fighting Sioux on a late run to end the season.  He projects as a speedy, well-rounded offensive second or third line winger at the NHL level, provided he actually gets around to signing.  As we noted this summer, he can declare himself an unrestricted free agent next offseason.  I suspect the Habs will make a push to sign him in late March/early April to avoid the risk of Kristo declaring.

2010-11 Stats: 34 GP, 8-20-28, 18 PIMS
Previous HW Ranking: 4th

#3) Jarred Tinordi
Defenceman, London, OHL
1st round pick (22nd overall) in 2010

Although a lot of people were calling Tinordi's first OHL campaign a disappointment, I think a lot of that stemmed from expectations that were probably a bit too high.  His scoring numbers weren't anything to write home about and he struggled at the beginning adapting to a new league.  But, at the end of the year, he was on the shutdown pairing and will likely find himself on the Knights' top pairing this season so he couldn't have played as bad as some suggest.  His ceiling is a second pairing shutdown blueliner but his importance to Montreal in a few years will be determined by a lot more than just where he is on the depth chart.

2010-11 Stats: 63 GP, 1-13-14, 140 PIMS, -8
Previous HW Ranking: 7th

#2) Nathan Beaulieu
Defenceman, Saint John, QMJHL
1st round pick (17th overall) in 2011

Projected by many as a top-12 selection, Beaulieu surprisingly fell to the Habs on draft night.  Though his defensive reads can be shaky at times, he is decent in pretty much every facet of the game with the Sea Dogs; that's why I remain puzzled he slipped as far as he did.  He probably won't be flashy like Subban or as physically dominant as Tinordi but should be a dependable top-4 blueliner with the Habs in the future.  He should also contend for a spot with Team Canada at the upcoming World Juniors.

2010-11 Stats: 65 GP, 12-33-45, 52 PIMS, +44
Previous HW Ranking: N/A

#1) Louis Leblanc
Centre/Right Wing, Montreal, QMJHL
1st round pick (18th overall) in 2009

Leblanc probably isn't going to be an offensive star in the NHL but he certainly has the potential to be a core piece for the Canadiens for years to come.  His defensive game is above average while his offensive game is good enough to the point where he can be a versatile top-six forward.  If you're thinking this description sounds a lot like Tomas Plekanec, you're right; Leblanc could very well wind up being a bigger version of the Czech-born centre, perhaps with just a bit less of a scoring style.  He'll start the year in Hamilton but could see action with the Habs as a callup at some point this season depending on his development with the Bulldogs.

2010-11 Stats: 51 GP, 26-32-58, 100 PIMS, +20
Previous HW Ranking: 3rd





Also Read
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 6-10 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 11-15 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 16-20 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 21-25 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 26-30 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 31-35 posted by B. La Rose
- 2011 HW Prospect Rankings: 36-40 posted by B. La Rose
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