Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as they are preparing for what could very well be a busy off-season. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.
It sounds like Michel Villeneuve learned from having lost his job at 91.9 Sports last week as some have reported that he has changed his mind and will drop his original promises to add more information to his hearsay regarding Canadiens’ head coach Michel Therrien. As we’ve touched recently in Les MisérHabs, this whole story came across as a tarnishing campain, a vendetta against the organisation and Villeneuve made the right decision to stop his non-sense. Nobody knows why he changed his mind but when someone refuses to give his sources, they leave themselves open to defamation law suits against them, which might (or might not) be part of the reason.
When TSN’s Bob McKenzie published his training camp preview on the Canadiens, he stated that Andrei Markov would be paired with newly acquired Shea Weber. Due to McKenzie’s status as an insider, many fans took his words literally. When watching and listening to the same video, he didn’t claim having been told that they would be paired together, but rather made that assumption as Markov was paired with P.K. Subban last year. Ultimately, that’s the coach’s decision and most while Michel Therrien will likely try the two together at some point during training camp and/or during the season, it is unlikely that this pairing will be the ideal one. Fully expect Beaulieu’s to get his chance to shine… unless rumours are true about him potentially being traded.
It should be an interesting battle between the pipes at camp this year. Carey Price appears to be healthy and back to his old self, which would be a huge boost to the organisation, but the backup role is up for grabs. No one in their right mind would blame then rookie Mike Condon for the poor season the Canadiens had last year, as he had huge shoes to fill. But adding the experience of Al Montoya, a much more capable goaltender than, let’s say, Ben Scrivens, will push Condon even more. And let’s not forget Charlie Lindgren who could mix the cards, although he should get some professional experience in the AHL for the St. John’s IceCaps this season.
Speaking of goaltenders, former first round pick Zachary Fucale has been a bit of a disappointment so far. After two great seasons in the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads, Fucale’s play regressed for the 2014-2015 season, his last year of junior hockey. Last season was his first year in the pros, and he had his ups and downs, as could be expected. At this year’s rookie camp however, he did nothing to impress the Habs’ brass and he will have to start showing some signs of progress soon if he wants to one day, realise his dream of playing regularly for the Canadiens, or anywhere in the NHL for that matter. This is an important season for Fucale and he should be splitting the work load with Lindgren.
The World Cup of Hockey has allowed a lot of Habs’ fans to discover the defenseman acquired in return for their beloved P.K. Subban. Let’s face it: many only watched a few Nashville Predators’ games in their lifetime, let alone pay attention to what Shea Weber brings to the game of hockey, and he is slowly but surely converting the fan base. Weber has been a favourite of yours truly for several years now, and let me tell you that what you’re seeing of him right now is only the tip of the iceberg. I am convinced that he is playing injured, likely from the cheap shot from Ryan Kesler in the first pre-tournament game. This guy has a whole other gear and fans will love him… if they give him a chance.
Much of the talks about getting a possible spot on the Canadiens’ top two lines has been on rookie Artturi Lehkonen or newly acquired young veteran Andrew Shaw. Lehknonen had a great season last year in the Swedish Elite League and Shaw is a very versatile player, much in the lines of Brandon Prust was when he was younger. But people tend to forget about another young player who started playing quite well last season. Sven Andrighetto could very well be given the opportunity to play in that spot. He has speed and good hands, finishing the year with seven goals in 44 games played last year, including a stretch of eight points in nine games in March.
There are a few players who could very much surprise at camp and make a definite push to force GM Marc Bergevin to make room on the big club for them this season. We’ve touched on Michael McCarron shedding 10 pounds over the off-season in order to help with his foot speed, and from what we’ve seen at the rookie tournament, it has worked out for him. Everyone is also talking about junior-eligible outstanding defenseman Mikkail Sergachev and rightfully so. Two guys never mentioned however and could very well make the big club are 21 year-old Jacob De la Rose and 27 year-old Bobby Farnham. De la Rose is a big body who can move very well and he is very much defensively reliable. Farnham is another player who is not afraid to get his nose dirty and to make it hard on the opponents. Both those guys are my sleeper picks to make the big club from camp.
Ideally, the Canadiens will form three offensive lines and one energy line. With the players currently on staff, there should be a very good battle for the third line. David Desharnais (unfortunately) has to be pencilled in at centre on that line, with perhaps McCarron to make a push to get him out of there. On the wings, it could be a battle between Lehkonen, De la Rose, Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Paul Byron. For the energy line, you have Torrey Mitchell, Phillip Danault, Brian Flynn and Farnham battling for spots. Of course, some of those players are interchangeable on the bottom-six.
There are players for whom this camp is very, very important for their future with this organisation, or even for their career in the NHL. Stefan Matteau is a big body who can skate, a former first round pick who has yet to be able to put it all together at the NHL level. Brian Flynn is a guy who is well liked in the dressing room and by his coaches, but he’s rather easily replaceable, particularly by players bringing more to the table. Desharnais is in the final year of his contract. Beaulieu is the centre of trade rumours, and the name of Alexei Emelin keeps popping up in rumours as well. No matter which way you look at it, there are a lot of qualified players who will be fighting for a spot on the team, which should fully benefit the Canadiens at the end.
It’s early – too early – but why not get my feet wet by predicting the Canadiens’ line-up for game one, assuming no injuries…
Pacioretty – Galchenyuk – Gallagher
Andrighetto – Plekanec – Radulov
Lehkonen – Desharnais – Shaw
Carr – Danault – Mitchell
Beaulieu – Weber
Markov – Petry
Emelin – Pateryn