Montreal Canadiens fans and analysts were left wondering why the Canadiens would pass on a player like Brad Lambert for Filip Mesar. And because there is still such a small sample size, we will have to be patient before coming to any conclusion on who the better player is. Mesar had a brief stint in Laval, before going to the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. Meanwhile, Lambert also had a brief AHL spell, but then spent his time in the WHL, dominating with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
If we were simply evaluating one season, Lambert’s play would reign superior above Mesar’s in the OHL, but that isn’t necessarily going to be the case long term. Mesar’s skating and high hockey IQ are his calling card, unfortunately for him, the expectations garnered from the fact he has previously played pro weren’t met. It was believed by many that he and Francesco Pinelli would provide a dynamic duo for the Rangers. That, however, didn’t happen in the way that was expected, as Mesar just missed out on a point-per-game pace with 51 in 52 games. That’s not terrible by any stretch, but he struggled for stretches of games which was not anticipated.
But with each new season, the past one is merely just a memory in the rearview mirror. Having secured a full season of playing the North American game, Mesar should surely have a fantastic sophomore season in the OHL. Should Mesar be sent back for a second season, you have to think the Rangers would be gleaming from ear to ear, and the Habs management would follow suit while he shows how much better he can be at that level.
Having put all things into perspective, let’s predict just what Mesar could do for the Rangers. His skating is pro-ready, so getting the rest of his game polished and up to speed could go a long way. Certainly, Kent Hughes and the Habs scouting team saw something.
Second Season in the “O”
In Mesar’s first OHL season, the native of Spisska Bela, Slovakia, suited up for 52 games, posting 17 goals, and 34 assists. Mesar displayed flashes of his playmaking, which went hand-in-hand with his speedy, buzzsaw-style skating. But expectations for both himself and the Canadiens management are certainly higher for the 2023-24 campaign. And it’s hard to imagine that Mesar doesn’t meet, and exceed those last season’s totals with a full season now under his belt.
Playmaking is certainly his calling card, and his shot isn’t exactly the biggest threat in his toolkit, with a little work on it, it could go a long way in making his game more deceptive. Unless he is in close trying to dangle around the goalie, he isn’t scoring many goals outside of the perimeter. So with a little work on his shot, he could certainly become a dual threat, which would bode well in padding his statistical output. But that’s not all, the more well-rounded his game is, the more likely he is to earn himself a role in either Laval or Montreal much sooner.
Should he return to the OHL and play another full season, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for Mesar to eclipse the 85-90 point range. Should things go right, 100 points might not be out of the conversation. But in the interest of tempering expectations, and letting the player play first, I think 30-35 goals and 45-50 assists could be a realistic projection.
Mesar is an interesting player, and I believe the possibilities are endless for him. Another season in the OHL, then heading to Laval would be best for the prospect. He has plenty of time to develop, and try to elbow his way onto the Habs roster in 2025-26 when the Canadiens young core is ready to compete.
The storyline of two Slovakians being selected with the Canadiens’ first two selections in the 2022 Draft was a nice one. But the best is yet to come, Juraj Slafkovsky and Mesar terrorizing NHL defences, is just what Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes had envisioned when selecting the childhood friends.
They just need to take their time to see the plan play out properly. Rushing Mesar to the pro level when he was merely good at the Junior level last season wouldn’t be best for his development. Letting him dominate at the OHL level while continuing to adjust to living in North America would be the best option for his long term growth.
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