Welcome back to Catch the torchwhere we keep tabs on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how they’re evolving week-by-week.
The preparation phase of the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships has come to an end and the opening games of the tournament are just a short wait away. This means we can look back at the highlights of the tournament and discuss the various storylines waiting to unfold as the group stage moves on and teams are eliminated.
First and foremost, let’s take a look at Joshua Roy’s impressive pre-tournament performances and the accolades they brought him from Connor Bedard, the shining star of Team Canada and the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Then we look at the performances of Lane Hutson, Filip Mesar and Adam Engstrom, all three poised to impress as the tournament progresses.
Joshua Roy, LW/C – Canada (Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL)
Roy was fantastic against his age group in his final year of qualifying for the World Juniors, winning back-to-back multi-point games on December 19 and 21 before being knocked out of the scorer’s table in Canada’s final group stage match against Finland two goals and two assists.
Aptly nicknamed Sniper Beauceron, he demonstrated his skill at scoring, increasing intensity and speed of play, and physical dominance against the weaker defenses of Switzerland and Slovakia.
One solo effort in particular stands out, where Roy shoved the puck at the faceoff right after Brennan Othmann’s goal towards opposing defenders, attacked them head-on as they struggled to control the loose puck, intercepted the D-to-D pass and returned the puck on the backhand when he was alone against Slovakian goalkeeper Patrik Andrisik.
A recent media crum asked some of Canada’s world-class prospects about Roy’s game and his descent into the depths of the fifth round of the 2021 NHL Draft:
“It’s absurd,” observed Logan Stankoven, the Dallas Stars prospect. “One of those weird years with COVID so they didn’t really get a good look at him. He was a big sleeper in our design and he shows why. He’s one of the best players.”
Bedard also praised the Habs’ 150th overall election in 2021:
“He’s the player that caught my eye the most. I didn’t know too much about him before summer and he’s amazing. You watch him practice and I don’t think he misses a shot. He’s so smart. He’s someone I like to watch.”
Bedard knows what a good shot looks like. The predicted pick of the 2023 NHL Draft has a release to rival the best in the NHL, from Auston Matthews to Cole Caufield. To praise Bedard’s comments highly is an understatement.
Team Canada head coach Dennis Williams also had rave reviews of Roy, calling him a “jack of all trades” and praising his ability to forecheck, play the boards, complete passes and backtrack defensively.
The Saint-Georges-de-Beauce native even earned promotion to the top power play of a stacked Canadian team when Shane Wright momentarily left the game after a blocked shot. After Wright’s return, Roy occupied the bumper point with man advantage.
All this checked; Roy has a professional frame, professional physical tools and an amazing shot. His habits are also refined away from the puck.
However, Roy seems to have added something interesting: comfort in transition.
Where Roy used to pass early and assist play off the puck, he now carries the puck himself down the offensive blue line and only delegates when necessary or appropriate.
Maybe it’s a tactical difference from what he’s supposed to do at Sherbrooke, but that wasn’t an obvious development in his toolbox before joining the Maritimes. This is a new habit.
I’ll be keeping a closer eye on Roy when he returns to the Phoenix – hopefully with gold around his neck – to assess this new development in his game and see if it shows up more often.
Lane Hutson, LD – Team USA (Boston University Terriers, NCAA)
Lane Hutson forced Team USA to hand. The prospect hasn’t watched a special teams unit yet, but the prospect still managed to get two assists in two games before the tournament for the Americans. Both, as it happens, were a direct result of the two most likely ways for an NHL defenseman to score points: walking the blue line and activating offensively.
Let’s start with the former – let’s go down the blue line:
Unfortunately, the most important detail of this sequence is missing in this particular clip: Before the puck even reaches Hutson, the young defender’s feet are already in motion. Especially with blueliners, it is a crucial detail that often separates success from failure when changing the angle of attack.
What happens next is a textbook Hutson manipulation tactic. He walks the entire blue line while taking the ice given to him – rather than staying as close to the color and as far from the net as possible – and then freezes his man by faking a shot down the inside lane while simultaneously dropping his shoulder, bows his head and aims his stick at the net.
His check bite, Hutson continues to wave sideways and then stops to offer an easy pass to the point that ends in a goal. In one sequence, Hutson soloed changing the angle of attack from left to right, shifted the Finnish box around, and then instead of riding the wave of a sweet play, attempted to force a point for his name with an off-balance shot or a risky slot- pass, he played smart play, easy play, and earned a secondary assist.
Hutson’s mobility, hands, manipulation, intelligence and patience earned him that point.
Next offensive activation:
This is a completely different scenario with a new twist that Hutson’s draft year game was often missing. The undersized Blueliner’s newfound comfort in leaping into storms has added a whole new dimension to its offensive capabilities.
Where Hutson used to shy away from eagerly and aggressively leaping into the charge before being chosen by the Canadians, the undersized Blueliner now shows much more courage in his activations. In this piece he reads the intelligent interior cut of Logan Cooley and rushes into the space left behind him.
He takes the drop pass on the move, freezes the defender with a stutter step, and goes on the backhand. At this point most players, especially defenders, would go around the net or cut back. In fact, they wouldn’t even have seen the player crash into the net.
However, Hutson knew Cutter Gauthier was coming. He spotted it as soon as he received Cooley’s ID with a glance so quick I had to rewind the clip a dozen times to find it. But that’s all he needed. He slides the backhand pass through the Swedish defender’s body and finds a wide-open unmarked Gauthier in the low slot for a tap-in.
Once again, Hutson’s agility, hands, manipulation, intelligence and patience earned him that point.
It’s too early to project Hutson with any accuracy or guarantee, but these are the details of a top pair attacking defender. He’s forcing Team USA — an organization known for favoring older, taller defenders in this tournament — to acknowledge that he’s giving them a better chance of winning it all.
If Hutson and the Americans continue to dominate, only Canada could stop them.
Thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting to learn more about Habs prospects and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!
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