Comparing the Habs’ Top 4 Defensive Prospects

By Chris Boucher
The Montréal Canadiens began each of the last two NHL Entry Drafts by choosing a defenseman with their first pick. Ron Hainsey was grabbed 13th overall in the 2000 draft, while Mike Komisarek was picked 7th overall in 2001. These picks, combined with 2 other players (Matt Shasby, Chris Dyment) mean the Habs’ top four defensive prospects (22 or under) are products of the NCAA.

One of the more interesting ways to judge prospects is to compare their statistics with an established NHLer who once played at the same level. Current Colorado Avalanche star Rob Blake is arguably the best defenseman to emerge from college hockey in the last 12 years. This analysis is not meant to prove whether or not these players will enjoy the same success as Blake; it is simply an interesting experiment, with equally interesting results.

Blake was the Los Angeles Kings’ fourth pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. He played four years for Bowling Green University before joining the Kings in time for the 1990 playoffs. His current 6’4″, 225-lbs frame compares favourably to that of Komisarek, while his mobility and puck skills resemble those of Hainsey.

Statistically, Blake averaged 0.30 points per game as a freshman during the 1987-88 season. Dyment, a senior at Boston University averaged 0.24 points per game during his freshman year, while Shasby was slightly better at 0.28 PPG. Hainsey however, with a 0.36 PPG average had slightly better numbers than even Blake, while Komisarek was the most productive of the five, as he ended his freshman year with a 0.38 PPG average.

Jumping ahead to each player’s sophomore year, we see Hainsey take a big jump ahead of the pack. His PPG average improved to 1.09 that season, compared to Blake’s sophomore average of 0.70. Komisarek’s average to date this season is 0.77 PPG, while Dyment’s 99-00 (sophomore year) average of 0.74 PPG is only slightly behind. Shasby closes out the five with his 00-01 (sophomore year) total of 0.51 PPG.

Comparing junior seasons is slightly more difficult, as not every defenseman in our experiment played three NCAA seasons. Hainsey played only two NCAA seasons. Choosing to sign with Montréal following a very successful sophomore year. He’s playing this season in Québec City with the Citadelles, although he’s currently out of action with a wrist injury. Komisarek is in the process of playing out his sophomore year, so there’s obviously no junior-year stats to study.

That leaves Blake, Dyment, and Shasby. Which is an unfair fight, as the numbers clearly prove. Blake exploded during his junior season. Tearing up the league on his way to averaging 1.40 PPG. Dyment on his part, struggled last season (junior year), as his PPG average fell to 0.30. To date, Shasby has been able to improve slightly on last year’s numbers, averaging 0.56 PPG this season (his junior year). In Chris Dyment’s defense, his numbers (0.63 PPG) have rebounded this season (his senior year), and are back up to a level comparable to previous seasons; his junior year could still prove to be a statistical anomaly.

Beyond the numbers, we need to look at what each player brings to the rink. Matt Shasby is arguably the best skater among the Habs’ four. The 6’2″, 198-lbs defenseman moves exceptionally well, although he possesses an unusually erect skating style. He already has NHL-calibre speed and mobility. Shasby also plays on a team where he is the only NHL-draftee on the roster, which puts him at a disadvantage in a sport that is ultimately a team game. This however, has provided him with an opportunity to put up big numbers as far as ice-time is concerned. The Alaska native is on the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s top powerplay and penalty-killing units, and often plays upwards of 34 minutes per game.

Dyment is also a strong skater. He’s a right-handed defenseman who has excellent vision. The 6’3″, 207-lbs defenseman is at his best when he keeps the game simple, and will likely need at least one year of seasoning in the AHL before he’s ready to make the ultimate jump. The BU co-captain does not excel at any one facet of the game, but makes up for it with his ability to do everything well.

Hainsey has the skills to be a top-2 defenseman. He can skate, shoot and pass exceptionally well. The 6’3″, 200-lbs defenseman has solid vision, and might easily develop into a powerplay quarterback. He was putting up excellent numbers in Québec (6 points in 7 games) before the wrist injury slowed him down.

Komisarek is big, strong right-handed defenseman who’s offensive skills are improving with each passing game. He has good mobility for a man his size, and consistently makes a solid first pass coming out of the defensive zone. However, the 6’4′, 230-lbs defenseman’s greatest asset is the fear he puts in the hearts of opposing forwards. Komisarek loves to hit. It is the one part of the game that he proposes to enjoy the most.

Analyzing these players using point per game totals in no way gives us concrete answers. For these players the biggest test is still to come. To reach the next level each of the four must still improve his game substantially. For some this might mean improving their overall strength, but for most it means learning what it takes to play defense at the NHL level.

This doesn’t mean that the Habs have four Rob Blakes coming up the pipeline. But it certainly shows that the Montréal Canadiens’ defense is much deeper than the franchise’s NHL and AHL rosters might indicate.

Freshman PPG

Sophomore PPG
Komisarek–0.77 (current season)

Junior PPG
Shasby——0.56 (current season)

Senior PPG
Dyment——0.64 (current season)