Habs Training Camp: Making a Push

Here we have it folks, hockey has returned! Players have worked their butts off all summer to come to camp in good shape and just about every team in the NHL thinks that they have a shot at making the playoffs, and therefore winning the Stanley Cup. In Montreal, they are hoping that a second injection of youth will have the same effect has it had last season, where the team had a 25 points improvement over the previous season. And this time, it seems like the talent is oozing from some of the rookies coming into camp.

No matter what some fans or media claim, you never know who will make the team and who won’t. Few had Jesperi Kotkaniemi getting picked third overall and even fewer gave him a chance to make the big club in his first year pro in North America. We know the rest. Same goes for Victor Mete who, at 20, was playing alongside one of the NHL’s best defensemen in Shea Weber, on the top pair. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the top candidates with the best chances to earn a spot on the 2019-2020 Montreal Canadiens.

DEFENSE

We know that Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot will be there in early October, and Mete is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the team too. That leaves a strong battle for Brett Kulak, Mike Reilly, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen and a handful of prospects to earn a spot on the Canadiens’ defensive brigade. Here’s a look at the most likely to cause a surprise:

51 – GUSTAV OLOFFSON

Image result for gustav olofsson
AGE:24SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT: 6’3″WEIGHT:194 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Very good size and has puck-moving skills. Smooth skater and true all-round defenseman. His offensive ability is also on the rise and has good potential. Unfortunately, he had a season ending injury last season with the Laval Rockets after only two games, so we barely saw what he can do. He is healthy and ready to go.

64 – OTTO LESKINEN

Image result for otto leskinen
AGE:22SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:5’11”WEIGHT:183 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Mobile puck moving defenseman with good speed. Also has very good offensive acumen. A bit undersized for the NHL so needs to rely more on positioning to defend. He was one of the best defensemen at this year’s rookie camp and the fact that he’s left handed gives him a slight advantage, as it’s the weaker side of the Habs’ defense.

46 – JOSH BROOK

Image result for josh brook
AGE: 20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:193 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Excels at rushing up ice with the puck, mostly due to great mobility. Very good at making accurate and quick first passes out of his zone. Positionally sound most of the time and a fairly reliable in his own zone. He was one of the last players cut last year and went on to have a stellar season.

83 – CALE FLEURY

AGE:20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:205 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Good skater, he moves the puck well out of his zone. His progress was constant last season, his first as a pro, to the point that coach Joel Bouchard singled him as one of the most improved players on his squad from start to finish. He has some offensive upside and managed 23 points in his rookie year in the AHL.

FORWARDS

The forward position is also one of contention and the battle will be fearced. Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Paul Byron, Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen pretty much have their permanent stall in the dressing room. We can also almost guarantee a spot for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, although some new youngsters are ready to battle hard to get his third line centre position. If the one nicknamed KK is ready for a 1st or 2nd line role, Domi will likely move to the wing. Otherwise, his spot could be in jeopardy… but it’s unlikely.

Newcomers Riley Barber, Nick Cousins and Phil Varone were added in the off-season as was Nate Thompson who signed after finishing the season in Montreal last year. They join Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca in a tight battle for a spot. But they’re certainly not alone. Some young men are determined to take their job and some have a legitimate shot. Let’s have a look at them:

25 – RYAN POEHLING

Image result for ryan poehling
POSITION:C
AGE:20SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:6’2″WEIGHT:204 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: How can someone top a first NHL game like he had in the final game of the season last year? A hat trick and a goal in the shootout! Good size for the NHL, he is mature beyond his age. While he will never be confused with Paul Byron, he moves well on the ice for a bigger guy. Has very high hockey IQ and every coach that he’s had is raving on him. He is compared, at times, to Canadiens’ assistant-coach Kirk Muller. Coming from the NCAA, this is his first professional camp.

14 – NICK SUZUKI

Image result for nick suzuki
POSITION:C/RW
AGE:20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:5’11”WEIGHT:201 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Plays a very mature two-way game for a young player. Is a talented playmaker who is also adept at finishing off plays himself. Due to his hockey smarts, he can be used with the game on the line and in defensive situations. He has done his homework and has gained weight and strength. One of the last cuts last year, the Habs asked him to play faster which he did as he went on to be one of the best players in the OHL.

34 – MICHAEL MCCARRON

Image result for michael mccarron
POSITION:C/RW
AGE:24SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’6″WEIGHT:230 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a towering presence up front who owns plenty of power-forward acumen. When he is on his game, he can overpower and dominate opponents all over the ice. Can play either center or wing. Is solid on face-offs. Lacks consistency and it became evident that his foot speed was lacking, something he’s been working on all along. He seemed to have turned the corner last season under the coaching of Joel Bouchard in Laval, but got injured and needed surgery. This camp could be his last chance in Montreal.

54 – CHARLES HUDON

POSITION:LW
AGE: 25SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:5’10”WEIGHT:196 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a natural with the puck, and around the opposing goal. Already displays some leadership skills and puts points on the board at lower levels. Owns a lot of scoring ability but struggling to put it all together at the NHL level. Does not have ideal size for the National Hockey League game, so he may face an uphill battle trying to become a top-six forward at the highest level. Likely his last chance in Montreal.

71 – JAKE EVANS

Image result for jake evans
POSITION:C
AGE:23SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:181 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a work in progress and was singled out by Joel Bouchard as one of his most improved players from start to finish for the Rockets. He started last year on the bottom-six in Laval and finished as the top line centre. His 45 points in 67 games were good for second on the team behind Alex Belzile. He can pass and he can shoot the puck.

60 – ALEX BELZILE

Image result for alex belzile
POSITION:RW
AGE:28SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’0″WEIGHT:180 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Some players are born futur NHL players, others take a bit longer and that’s exactly what he has done. Is benefiting greatly from Alex Burrows‘ advices, he who too took a long time to develop. At 28, he doesn’t have many years left to prove his worth but his 19 goals and 54 points last season was his best AHL production so far. He’s a long shot for sure but when you can score goals, the coach will have a very close look at you.

As you can see, the competition was going to be tight just with players on one-way NHL contracts so when you add the youngsters coming in, the level promises to be at the highest it’s been in years in Montreal… and that is a good thing, a very good thing as the Canadiens will be in a battle for a playoffs’ spot once again. Go Habs Go!

Habs Prospects Turning Pro

Byron Pulsifer, a great motivational speaker and seminar leader, once said: “What is past is past and it does not forebode well to relive past mistakes or transgressions. Move forward rather than being stuck in the past. No one can redo the past but everyone can create a better future.” Admittedly, I am a sucker for motivational quotes and positive vibes. What can I say? I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy. And this quote by Mr. Pulsifer is one that relates greatly to the current management of my very favourite professional organisation: the Montreal Canadiens.

This past summer, after a dreadful year that saw cornerstone Shea Weber playing only 26 games – one one leg – before missing the rest of the season, Marc Bergevin convinced Montreal Canadiens owner and President Geoff Molson that he had a plan: get younger, faster and change the attitude in the dressing room. Out went team captain Max Pacioretty and enigmatic Alex Galchenyuk, and in came Tomas Tatar and Max Domi. Looking at the season the Canadiens just finished, just missing the playoffs with a 96 points season, a 25 points improvement over the previous season, force is to admit that Bergevin was right and so was Molson for trusting his General Manager.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where this team can improve on, but looking at the 180° turnaround, the foundation is there. The young core of Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and the “mint duo” of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete, combined with young veterans like Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Tatar, there are some strong building blocks in place for some of the team’s young prospects on the verge of joining the team in the next few years. And we haven’t mentioned the top leaders on this team, led by captain Weber and supported by Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Paul Byron.

“Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future.” ~ Peter F Drucke

After a couple of very strong drafts, Trevor Timmins has proven to be one of the NHL’s top draft specialists and the Habs are in an excellent position in the pipelines. As a matter of fact, the team likely has the best prospect pool they have had in decades, thanks to Bergevin and Timmins. As the NHL Playoffs continue, the Canadiens are looking at their prospect pool and they are in the process of evaluating which ones are about to turn pro, and how close they all are to making a push to make the big club starting next season. Ryan Poehling has decided to make a case for himself in his one and only professional game with a hat trick and a goal in the shootout to help the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the last game of the season. But there are others…

This being a downtime for the Canadiens, we have touched on the team needs as well as the class of 2019 pending free agents that might be of interest this upcoming summer. Now, let’s have a look at the prospects who are ready to make the jump to the professional level in North America, as well as those playing pro hockey in Europe.

“It will also help you realize that though you cannot change the past you can work on the future and make it the way you want it to be, so that the next time you look at your old pictures you will be even more proud of what you see.” ~ Raymona Brown

PRO NORTH AMERICA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Jake Evans22C/RWAHL0.67
Michael McCarron24C/RWAHL0.66
Daniel Audette22CAHL0.55
Lukas Vejdemo23C/WAHL0.44

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Noah Juulsen22DAHL/NHLInjured
Gustav Olofsson24DAHLInjured
Cale Fleury20DAHL0.38
Brett Lernout23DAHL0.12

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Charlie Lindgren25GAHL2.94.884
Michael McNiven21GAHL2.52.902

CHL/NCAA

At forward

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Nick Suzuki19COHL1.59
Joël Teasdale20LWQMJHL1.21
Allan McShane19COHL1.11
Cole Fonstad18C/LWWHL1.09
Ryan Poehling20CNCAA0.86
Samuel Houde19CQMJHL0.67
Cam Hillis18COHL0.67

On defense

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Josh Brook19DWHL1.27
Scott Walford20DWHL0.76
Jarret Tyszka20DWHL0.73

In goal

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEGAASV%
Cayden Primeau19GNCAA2.09.933

PRO EUROPE

NAMEAGEPOSITIONLEAGUEPTS/GP
Joni Ikonen20CLiiga0.77
Jesse Ylönen19RWLiiga0.51
Jacob Olofsson19CSHL0.26
Alexander Romanov19DKHL0.09

You have quite the variety in there, some players being closer to the NHL than others, but most are thought to have a bright future in the NHL. Some will be pushing for a spot starting next season, others will take 3, 4, 5 years before they’re ready to be key contributors. Others might not ever pan out. That’s life and it’s the reality of the draft, when trying to not only evaluate the talent of a 17-18 year old, but to determine when he will hit his plateau and stop improving. It’s not a pure science, that’s for sure.

The obvious names that come to mind are Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook, both of whom made a very strong impression at last year’s training camp, being the last ones cut. They both had an amazing season in the OHL and WHL respectively and as Marc Bergevin always told young players: “Force my hand to make room for you and I will do it.” He has kept his word with Gallagher, Mete and Kotkaniemi, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t do it again this year if any prospect shows that he can contribute immediately.

I don’t know about you folks, but I haven’t been this excited about the Canadiens’ prospect pool as a whole for decades. There are no guarantee that today’s prospects will develop as predicted and have an impact at the NHL level. But look at when Bergevin took over in 2012. The top prospects were Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Danny Kristo, Sebastian Collberg, Brendan Gallagher, Morgan Ellis, Dalton Thrower, Michael Bournival, Steve Quailer, Patrick Holland, Tim Bozon, Darren Dietz, Daniel Pribyl and Joonas Nattinen. It’s quite the turnaround isn’t it? The future is bright Habs’ fans! Go Habs Go!