As the Canadiens’ season continues, there is no shortage of commentary on what ails the current NHL lineup. One aspect that is called into question, as it has been for decades, is the lack of center depth. Another more recent complaint has been a need for more mobile and talented defencemen.
With only 43 of 50 NHL contracts used according to Cap Friendly, the Canadiens have room to add some youthful depth. While the upcoming draft to be held in Dallas currently has four top 60 picks in hand it is also helpful to look at more mature prospects to bring into the system that could take much less time to develop into their roles
We will begin at center.
Alexandre Alain, C, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL)
March 3, 1997 | Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
6-2, 181 lbs. | Shoots Right | @alexalain91
2017-’18: 37 GP, 21 G, 24 A, 45 PTS (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada)
Alexandre Alain is a 20-year-old center who is averaging over one point per game with the Armada this season. Alain may have a familiar name for Canadiens fans as he spent this summer on an invitation to the Canadiens’ development camp.
For a franchise in need of depth at center, he can be a good solution to try and fill the void. Alain is a capable energy player with a non-stop motor with offensive flair. He has a quick release and good vision. He is also used in all situations as his defensive game is very mature. His skating is slightly above average and while it isn’t the strength of his game, it isn’t a hindrance.
His path to this point is the story of a player who has the mental fortitude to persevere.
After being drafted by Gatineau in the QMJHL draft, doctors discovered a tumor on his spine. After successful removal and rehab he returned to play. However his lack of development time and use in an energy role did show in his lack of production.
After a trade to Blainville, he was provided more of an offensive role and enjoyed a breakout year. He led a well-balanced team offensively with a modest 52 points, and led his team into the third round of the playoffs while leading in playoff points scoring 19 points in 20 games. This season, he has almost as many points as he had last season in about half as many games, his confidence has grown since his time at the Canadiens’ development camp.
Alain has many of the assets the Canadiens’ lack in their system, he is right handed, he is a defensively responsible center with offensive ability and he has NHL size. While his NHL projection isn’t as a top six center, Alexandre Alain would be a good candidate to be offered a contract, if not an NHL entry-level deal, then an AHL contract to add some youth and talent to Laval.
Now onto the blue line. My colleague Matt Smith wrote a piece on Jimmy Schuldt who looks like he’d be an excellent target, but if Marc Bergevin is unable to sign him, there is another NCAA free agent defender who could be a good fit in the Canadiens’ organization.
Daniel Brickley, D, Minnesota State University – Mankato (NCAA)
March 30, 1995 | Sandy, Utah, USA
6-3, 205 lbs. | Shoots Left | @DanielBrickley
2017-’18: 22 GP, 6 G, 14 A, 20 PTS (Minnesota State Mavericks)
Daniel Brickley is a 21-year-old junior at Minnesota State recently named Western Collegiate Hockey Association Defensive Player of the Week. As the power-play quarterback, Brickley leads Maverick’s defensive in scoring. It is the fourth time this year he’s been named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.
Brickley has strong NHL bloodlines. His uncle Andy Brickley played with the Boston Bruins and his cousin Connor Brickley was a Panthers second round pick and is now playing with Florida.
Brickley isn’t known for blistering north-south speed, yet he uses intelligent positioning and anticipation so that he rarely loses a foot race even against faster opponents. He also has excellent lateral mobility, an asset that allows him to shake off forecheckers in the defensive zone or to move along the blue line to open a shooting lane.
His defensive play, while excellent at the NCAA level, will need to be refined at the pro level. He is still seen as somewhat raw as a prospect and may require some time in the AHL before stepping into an NHL position.
Last season, Brickley decided to return to school to finish his degree, which he will complete in just three years, instead of signing an NHL contract. The reigning WCHA Player of the Year will attract plenty of interest because of his size and offensive ability from the blue line. Two assets that are clearly in need on the Canadiens’ blue line.
Adding any undrafted unrestricted free agent player means taking a risk. These players may be late bloomers and may have started to grow into their games.
Essentially, signing undrafted UFA players is like purchasing a mid round pick. They may turn into an NHL player, or they may simply add depth to lower levels. That being said, signings such as these can be targeted to fill organizational needs. And the need for center and puck moving defencemen depth is a need worth gambling on these types of player to help fill.