With just 2 pro games under his belt, all signs point to 19 year old Carey Price starting in goal for the Hamilton Bulldogs tonight as they open the AHL playoffs on the road against the Rochester Americans. Montreal Canadiens goaltending coach, Rollie Melanson has stated that Price has "earned it" and Bulldogs coach Don Lever has been nothing but impressed with what he's seen so far in the young goaltender. This is yet another indication that Carey Price is on the fast track to the NHL.
In addition to keeping an eye on Price, much attention will be on the next wave of talent who are close to making the jump to Montreal next season. Habs GM Bob Gainey and the Director of Player Recruitment & Development, Trevor Timmins will watching a large group of forwards that will be expected to compete for and possibly even win jobs next season in Montreal.
Maxim Lapierre and Andrei Kostitsyn have already secured roster spots for next year while Habs management will be watching Mikhail Grabovski, Kyle Chipchura and Matt D'Agostini very closely for signs they are ready as well. All 3 are expected to make serious runs at roster spots with the Habs while time is running out on Duncan Milroy and Corey Locke to show they have true NHL potential.
On the blueline, there are currently no prospects that can be expected to handle a top 4 pairing assignment in Montreal. Mathieu Biron, an 8 year veteran who has bounced between the NHL and the AHL has offensive skills but is already 27 while Dan Jancevski , a 6 year AHL veteran also has offensive talent but is now 26. Jean-Philippe Cote is 25 so the time is now for him to impress. Of the defencemen currently in Hamilton, only rookie Ryan O'Byrne has true NHL potential though he'll need at least another season in Hamilton before he can be expected to seriously push for a roster spot with the Habs.
In a good year, an NHL team can at best hope for 1 and at most 2 prospects making the jump and sticking with the team. Last season, Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Komisarek and Alexander Perezhogin all established themselves in Montreal while this season saw Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mark Streit all make their mark.
It is very rare for an NHL team to get 3 or more prospects graduating in a given year and Montreal has done it two years running with all signs pointing to yet more contributions coming next year as well. Habs management and fans alike will be following Hamilton through the AHL playoffs with great interest.