With multiple league post-seasons suspended/canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, we look back at what we saw from Canadiens’ prospects south of the border and what the next step might be in their development.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (Big Ten, Hockey East, NCHC)
RW Cole Caufield #8, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
He came as advertised. He did what he told us he would do. He is a man of his word. In all seriousness, this was a great freshman year for the Canadiens top prospect and in fact one of the better seasons among NCAA players. Looking back at an awful year where Wisconsin was badly outplayed and outscored, we saw this in the 2 game playoff matchup vs. a more mature Ohio State team, Caufield was one of the only bright spots with the Badgers. Even highly thought of prospects like Alex Turcotte and K’Andre Miller found this season a lot tougher. It was a mess and that’s being very conservative.
Now what? Caufield confirmed last week that he would be returning to Wisconsin for his sophomore year. He could have imitated his teammates in Turcotte and Miller who signed entry-level contracts with the Rangers and Kings, the teams who drafted them. It would have made sense knowing he could play for coach Joel Bouchard in Laval but instead he thought it was best to continue to progress in a league where he could once again score. He ended the up first in goals and points among Big 10 players and was a finalist for Player of the Year. He did this in his first year.
LW Jack Gorniak #11, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
There is not much to say for Gorniak. He is a work in progress and didn’t do much offensively that warrants any level of excitement. He hasn’t taken the next step in his development that would show something positive. I’m not trying to sound negative or mean towards him but it hasn’t been a great for him as a whole. There are games where he is efficient and performs but it seems those are far and few in between and he has become an extra on a team that couldn’t find any luck
He is staying in the NCAA for the 3rd straight season and hopefully, it’s a better one. At this point, Wisconsin is looking for something to get themselves into better shape on the ice after a disastrous season.
LD Jordan Harris #2, Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East)
Harris was supposed to be a long term project with a slow and steady progression. Since last year his progression has increased at a faster rate and this year was not any different. He was given a bigger load by coach Jim Madigan and was relied on heavily to both produce offensively and stop opposing players from scoring. He finished the shortened season with 21 points in 33 games surpassing his previous high by 8 points in 6 fewer games. He also played for the US at the World Juniors where he was one of the few bright spots on a team who could not find success. Moreover, he scored the game-winning goal for the Huskies in the Beanpot final which was his 2nd title in as many years, 3rd for Northeastern in as many years.
Jordan is set to return to Northeastern for his junior year. This news comes from Sportsnet Eric Engels who spoke with coach Jim Madigan and he told Eric that Harris had committed to the team for the next season. This is not surprising as he is one of the more important players on the Huskies and with rumors of multiple players possibly turning pro, Harris would be even more valuable to the team. Coach Madigan depends on him a lot and another year in NCAA will do no harm.
LD Jayden Struble #3, Northeastern Huskies (Hockey East)
Starting the year injured was not a great thing for Struble and it kept him out of the lineup at the beginning of the year. It also took him some time to get into game shape and get comfortable in his role with the Huskies but when he did it showed why he was highly ranked by the Canadiens. Struble played really well for the most part and showed off a lot of his qualities and skills which made him a threat to opposing teams. His offensive abilities and edge were attributes that separated him from his peers and helped Northeastern a lot. It’s a shame that he got hurt and sidelined for the rest of the season. He is expected to make a full recovery before the 2020-2021 season begins.
Regarding his future, he will stay at Northeastern for obvious reasons and continue to refine some rough edges and possibly play on a bigger role as some senior defensemen are expected to turn pro next year. He should get a chance to have a bigger role and make a bigger impact next season. Will we see a 4th Beanpot in as many years?
C/RW Brett Stapley #7, Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
The former 7th round pick out of the BCHL turned a corner this year and was way more productive and efficient in his second season with the University of Denver. As mentioned in previous articles Stapley will not wow you with speed or puck skills but what he does on the ice he does well. He continued his progression this year in a more demanding role as coach David Carle needed him to take on more responsibilities and he did it well. Stapley finished the season with 5 goals, 25 assists for 30 points in 35 games surpassing his previous totals by 11 points in 3 more games. His sophomore year was important for Denver as he helped an already good team secure the 3rd spot in the NCHC conference
Brett will continue his NCAA career at the University of Denver as there is no rush to sign him and the Canadiens need the contract spots available for more ready prospects. He will likely have a bigger role in his Junior year and continue his constant and positive progression when the 2020-2021 season begins.
United States Hockey League
LW Rhett Pitlick #9, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
We can look at Pitlick’s progression in two parts: his games with Omaha and then his games with Muskegon. To start his USHL career as well as the 2019-2020 season Pitlick played for the Omaha Lancers where he suited up for 17 games and recorded 4 goals, 7 assists for 11 points. He later got traded to the Muskegon Lumberjacks where he finished with 13 goals, 18 assists for 31 points in 28 games to end the season with 42 points in 45 games. He finished 27th among skaters in the USHL. He really tore it up with Muskegon which will help him with his confidence when he plays in the NCAA as he committed to the University of Minnesota which has a good program.
His 2020-2021 season will be his freshman season in the NCAA which is good news for the Canadiens as it extends their hold on him as a prospect and won’t have to rush a pro-contract. He’s really trending in the right direction and some seasons in the NCAA will help with his overall game and more reps vs. mature players and adults. Great 2nd half for him.
To sum up the year for these Canadiens prospects, it was a successful year. They should all gain some extra time to train for next season and for the most part they should all be in the NCAA next year. It was really fun getting a chance to watch these kids play this year and hope to do so next year.