Almost every year, during training camp, there is a rookie or two to surprise management and fans. It is also true that some players disappoint and are being sent down to their junior team or in the AHL sooner than expected. We can all remember Guillaume Latendresse who was dominant for two consecutive camps, forcing management to keep him instead of sending him back to his junior team. And last year, Max Pacioretty said openly that he didn’t want to get called up as he felt the need to dominate in the AHL in order to build his confidence.
So who will wear those shoes this year? Let’s have a look together at the young guys who will get the opportunity to impress, showing everyone that they’ve done their homework this summer, and that they’re ready to fight for a spot on the final roster.
LOUIS LEBLANC :
The Canadiens’ first round pick at the 2009 draft has now completed his first season in the QMJHL after deciding to play junior hockey instead of continuing at Harvard. While some feel he didn’t perform to what they expected, Leblanc had a good season adapting to a new league, with 26 goals, 58 points and 100 PIM in 51 games with the Montreal Junior. He also managed to make Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, where he performed well. It would be surprising to see Leblanc make the team and he will likely find himself playing in Hamilton even if he has a good camp.
JARRED TINORDI :
The big guy also made the jump from US College hockey to join a CHL team, in his case with the OHL’s London Knights. After a rough start to the season, he found his rhythm and finished the season with 14 points and 140 PIM in 63 games under head-coach Dale Hunter. Tinordi should see some pre-season action with the Canadiens but he should go back to junior to continue his development and add some muscle mass.
AARON PALUSHAJ :
Young Palushaj came to the organisation in a trade for Matt D’Agostini and he is one of the players capable to cause some surprises at camp this year. He just finished his first full season with the Bulldogs, compiling 22 goals and 57 points in 68 games. He was saying in a recent interview that he wants to surpass 24 year old D’Agostini’s production of 21 goals and 46 points with the Blues. Palushaj isn’t big and he will have to produce early in order to impress Jacques Martin and his two Randy.
ALEXANDER AVTSIN :
Many had some unrealistic expectations on the 20 year old player when he chose to continue his development with the Bulldogs instead of going back to the KHL. In spite of rather limited ice time, the native of Moscow still managed 5 goals and 20 points in 58 games under Conneyworth. With Desharnais and Pacioretty graduating and with Boyd and Dawes moving on, Avtsin will likely return to the AHL where he should get a bigger offensive role on the team.
BRENDON NASH :
The 24 year old defenseman was a pleasant surprise last year and he passed many other prospects in the Canadiens’ depth chart last year. Nash is a reliable player because he keeps things simple, which is Jacques Martin’s type of player. With Yemelin coming over and with Diaz signing a contract, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to impress enough to make the team at camp. In my opinion, he should start the season in Hamilton but he shouldn’t stay too far from his phone if a regular gets injured in Montreal.
ANDREAS ENGQVIST :
The 6’4″ Swede had a good first season in North America with the Bulldogs, collecting 25 points (10 goals) in 71 games. His performances didn’t go unnoticed as he was called up for 3 games with the Habs, games in which he didn’t look bad. Unless Gauthier finds a way to plug the spot occupied previously by Jeff Halpern, Engqvist will get every chance to take the fourth line center position this fall.
BROCK TROTTER :
After two good seasons in the AHL with the Bulldogs, Trotter tested the water in the KHL last season. While he didn’t do badly on the ice, it seems like adapting to the lifestyle wasn’t as easy as predicted since Trotter signed a one year deal with the Canadiens for this season. In my opinion, he’s one of the more mature and NHL ready prospects that the Canadiens have. But time will tell if he gets the opportunity or if he will have to be traded to prove himself. At 5’10” and 185 lbs, he doesn’t bring much to the table that the Habs don’t already have. Unless he has an outstanding camp, it is to be expected that he will be sent back to Hamilton and let’s not be surprised if he is trade (at his request) if that’s the case.
GABRIEL DUMONT :
Young Dumont drew a lot of attention to himself at last year’s camp with his feisty attitude and his relentless work ethics, fearless in spite of his smaller stature. The former Drummondville fan favourite had a good first pro season with the Bulldogs, getting 18 points and 79 PIM in 64 games. We know that we’ll see Dumont give it his all at camp but unless a miracle, he should return to the Bulldogs to continue his development.
ALEXEI YEMELIN :
Finally! The 6’2″ and 223 lbs left-handed defenseman has signed his firm professional contract with the Canadiens, after spending 4 seasons in the KHL. Last year was a breakout year for Yemelin, getting 26 points (11 goals) and 117 PIM in 52 games. With Markov coming back playing the role of big brother, it will be interesting to finally see what he can do at the highest level of hockey in the world. Because of his pro experience, it would be rather shocking if he didn’t make the team this year. He does have a clause in his contract stating that he can return to the KHL if he is cut. So the chances of seeing him in Hamilton are slim to say the least.
RAPHAEL DIAZ :
Lots of praise is coming from Europe for the Swiss defenseman. Even if he agreed to a two-way deal, one has to expect that Diaz will get every opportunity to show the Habs’ brass what he can do at camp and in pre-season. Something tells me that he could be a player to cause some surprise and find a spot on the final roster, due to the fact that he’s 25 and that he has some good experience at the pro level.
ANDREW CONBOY :
Rugged player standing at 6’4″, Conboy is now 23, a good age for a forward to take the next step, especially considering that the Canadiens only have White and Moen up front as tough players, and that he now has 3 pro seasons under his belt. His last season with the Bulldogs was his best, getting 23 points (10 goals) and 116 PIM for Hamilton. It would be a disappointment to see him leave camp early.
ALAIN BERGER :
Not very well known, the young Swiss who stands at 6’4″ will do everything to get noticed. Ignored at the amateur draft, he had a good season last year in the OHL playing for the Oshawa Generals, where he scored 29 goals in 65 games. Regardless, unless a major surprise, Berger should join the Bulldogs next year to continue his development. He did sign a 3 year, two-way deal with the Canadiens.
We must remember something: Randy Conneyworth was the head coach in Hamilton last year and he knows many of those players, and what they can bring to the team. One would think that he will have his say in the decisions made at camp.
En français: Canadiens : Que celui qui veut un poste se lève!