The Montréal Canadiens, sadly, are already preparing for next season, instead of keeping busy slaying Bruins. Not an exciting time for most fans, except that this is the season during which a lot of the work that makes a franchise successful is done.
The first order of business is to sew up the players the Canadiens presently own the rights to but who must be signed to a contract before these right expire. General Manager Marc Bergevin has already started this process by giving a contract to Magnus Nygren and Sebastian Collberg.
The former was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and had two strong seasons in the Elitserien in Sweden, winning the Borje Salming Trophy this season, awarded to the best defenceman in the league. The scouting report and highlights on the web show a guy with decent size who can play physically, but whose strength is on the offensive side of the ledger. He has a booming shot on the powerplay, and shoots right, so he's a welcome addition to the organization. Where he'll end up next year, whether in Sweden for another season, or in Hamilton to acclimatize to the North American game, is not clear yet.
Sebastian Collberg was drafted last season early in the second round, so his rights didn't expire this June, contrary to his countryman, but Mr. Bergevin evidently figured there was no point in waiting. The scouting reports describe a very talented scoring winger, with lots of speed and a wicked shot. He shoots right but reportedly can play either wing. He will need to get bigger and stronger, as most young players do, and will probably stay with Frolunda next season, where the head coach Roger Rönnberg is also the coach of Sweden's National Junior Team, for which Mr. Collberg is expected to play next December.
The other players who the Canadiens must make a decision on are Kyle Klubertanz, Daniel Prybil, Dustin Walsh and Olivier Archambault. The first player is only on the books in the technical sense, since he has played in the Finnish League for years, and the organization has no designs on him. His rights will expires on June 1.
Daniel Prybil is a tantalizing prospect in that he combines size, being listed by the Canadiens at 6'4" and 194 lbs, with a long reach, and playmaking and scoring ability. So far, he's not wowed anyone with his production, he's mostly a young prospect with potential, but the Canadiens should be patient with such a player. At 20 years old, knowing how big players often take time to grow into their bodies, and taking into account that he plays against grown men, he should be given an entry deal and allowed to mature and realize his potential. He'll eventually need to come over to North America, but the team can determine if he'll be better served by playing another season in the Czech Extraliga.
As far as the other two players are concerned, this is where the business side of hockey dictates that the Canadiens shouldn't offer them a contract. Long gone are the days when an NHL team could own a vast system of junior and senior teams and have an endless supply of players vying for a spot on the Grand Club. To promote parity, as well as to avoid situations where players are stuck in one organization with no chance to crack the big leagues, a number of rules were enacted by the League to limit how many players any team could have control over.
One rule limits each team to a maximum of 90 players they own the rights to, signed to a contract or not. Further, each team is limited to 50 players under contract at any time. While that may seem a generous number, when one considers that an NHL team usually has 25 players on its roster, if allowing for a couple of injured players, and a farm team with an equivalent number, and we see that this maximum number is easily reached. To allow for this, teams will usually have a number of players on their AHL 'farm' team on AHL-only contracts, which don't count against this limit.
In any case, it's important to understand that these 50 roster spots are precious, not to be squandered on players who have a low probability of ever making the NHL. And this brings us to Messrs. Walsh and Archambault.
Dustin Walsh was drafted in the 6th round in 2009, and then played four years of NCAA hockey at Dartmouth. In that time, he battled injury and didn't produce much offensively. The scouting reports show that he has size and skill, but he hasn't developed into a player who projects to play in the NHL. At 22, it's debatable how much upside he still has. If anything, he might be a good candidate for an AHL contract, but I doubt he merits an NHL entry-level deal.
Olivier Archambault is a player who showed great talent, being the #1 overall pick in the LHJMQ draft in 2009 by the Val d'Or Foreurs. He seemed promised to a great career, but his development stalled in many respects. He measured 5'10" at the time, but has only grown one inch since then, and remains relatively slight physically. His work habits on and off the ice are inconsistent, as well as his offensive production. More worrisome, he clashed with his coach and teammates in Val d'Or, to the point where he was traded before the NHL draft to Drummondville.
The Canadiens took a chance on him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft (ahead of Messrs. Nygren and Prybil), but to all appearances it has not panned out. His two seasons in Drummondville have not shown much improvement, his offensive numbers being flat instead of increasing. Once the Drummondville Voltigeurs' season was done this April, he was signed to an Amateur Tryout Contract to finish out the Bulldogs' season. In ten games, he tallied a goal and an assist, and the reports from Hamilton were not encouraging.
Mr. Archambault also would seem to be a poor fit within the team concept promoted by Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien. He comes across as petulant and arrogant, and has a reputation for being moody and hard to coach. Further, the attributes he brings to the table are those the Canadiens' organization already has an excess of. Smaller, skilled players who are offensively talented but might not thrive in a physical playoff series abound in the system. Charles Hudon, for example, roughly fits the same profile as Mr. Archambault, and is more than a year younger, yet received glowing reviews for his showing in Hamilton, having also finished the season there. Does the team have room for more of these types of players? If we choose one, which one do we go with, the player who represents Canada internationally on the World Junior Team, or the one who battles with coaches and teammates?
It's an easy call. If anything at all, Mr. Archambault should receive an AHL contract, nothing more. In fact, there's a rumour that the Canadiens have already made such an offer, but he's balking at it, not wanting to battle it out in the ECHL and AHL to eventually earn an NHL contract. Which is not encouraging.
If there were no roster or contract limits, the Canadiens could afford, certainly, to sign all their draft picks and hope they deliver, but since that's not the case, and since contract slots are valuable, let's offer one to Daniel Prybil, but not to Dustin Walsh, and especially not to Olivier Archambault.