Habs: Junior impact

When the NHLPA and the NHL finally agreed and signed the last CBA, everyone in the hockey world knew that there would be some major changes in the way teams manage their finances and mostly, their roster. But while some teams had some vision, others still tried to build their team like they did before. The teams with the most success are the ones whose GM understood the importance of drafting and of player development, as the more productive young players are at the entry level contract, the more money they have to pursue higher end UFA’s. More and more teams now understand that concept and Pierre Gauthier and the Canadiens are no different.

With the rapid emergence of P.K. Subban, arguably the top defenseman already in Montreal, with Carey Price being named the most valuable player last year, and with the breakthrough of Max Pacioretty, the Habs are benefiting first hand of this phenomena.

I don’t recall the last time when I was this excited about a group of young players this early in the season. Wait… yes I do. I saw first-hand what the Sherbrooke Canadiens did in 1984-85 in my hometown, and I recall my excitement at the 1985 main camp when Brian Skrudland, Stéphane Richer, Patrick Roy, Mike Lalor, Gaston Gingras and Serge Boisvert (amongst others) were coming in after winning the Calder Cup.

Alexei Yemelin is another player who, in spite of being 25, is on an entry level contract and he is one player who has opened my eyes so far. This guy can play hockey. We knew about his physical attributes but what impresses me the most is his skating and puck handling abilities. I’m becoming a fan!

But I want to focus today on some prospects who are still kids, playing junior hockey and who are shining in the spotlight of what’s considered one of the toughest places to play in Montreal.

Nathan Beaulieu amazes me. He has some Subban in him. He’s poised, fast, mobile, and he makes good decisions with the puck… at 18 years of age! Josh Gorges, when asked about his pairing partner, said that the young Beaulieu would one day be a star in this league. Big words coming from a young veteran.

Is there anything that Brendan Gallagher can’t do? After being one of the best players at the WJC camp for Team Canada this summer, getting praised from the coaching staff, the 19 year old is making some pros look like amateurs out there, within the organization. Humble, he knows that he’ll find himself back in Vancouver for another year but this camp put him much higher than thought on the radar.

We were given the opportunity to watch the twin towers at the blueline at camp, in Hal Gill and 19 year old Jarred Tinordi. While not as flashy as Beaulieu and Gallagher, the 6’6” defenseman has shown some improvement over last year and his progression is heading the right way. I still like his decision to go through the CHL ranks instead of college, especially playing under the Hunter brothers. Invited to represent the US at the WJC, this year will go a long way in seeing what he can become as a player.

And I’m not touching in this blog, other great junior prospects like Darren Dietz, Michael Bournival, Olivier Archambault or Colin Sullivan, or any of the young prospects in Europe. Yes folks, for the first time in a long time, Habs’ fans have true reasons to get excited about what they see.

En français: Canadiens: impact junior

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