We are only weeks away from the start of NHL training camps and fans and media are getting anxious to get going. For Habs’ fans, it’s been a testing summer and most cannot wait to see the impact of the house cleaning performed by General Manager Marc Bergevin… and no one is looking forward to it more than Bergevin himself!
In a summer highlighted by the trade sending fan favourite P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, the Canadiens made more moves to change the losing culture imposed by what was an injury plagued season, most notably to league MVP Carey Price. The addition of Andrew Shaw and the signing of free agent Alexander Radulov have all contributed to hopefully make the Canadiens a team much tougher to play against, while adding some much needed offense to a line-up in need of exactly that. Will that be enough? Time will tell but let’s not forget that there are some youngsters knocking at the door, wanting to prove that they can help the big club in that department as well.
While Bergevin has plugged a hole on the top-6 forward group in Radulov, many feel like the team needed one more goals’ scorer to help put the puck in the net. As it stands at the time of writing this article, the Canadiens have Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec and Radulov who can contribute on a regular basis on the top-6. While Pacioretty feels like Sven Andrighetto is ready to take the next step in his career and become a more consistent offensive contributor, he remains a question mark at this point.
Many – including myself – are shocked to see that David Desharnais is still with the team, he will want to bounce back from what was a very disappointing season for him. This being the last year of his contract, he will be playing for a contract, whether it’s with the Canadiens or elsewhere in the NHL. Shaw is likely to be pencilled in on the third line and head coach Michel Therrien will count on a battery of bottom-6 to choose from, Bergevin having added in the depth department this past summer.
And that’s where the team’s prospects come to play. While few are considered “blue-chip” prospects, Trevor Timmins has done a pretty good job at selecting when he was called to do his job at the podium. Bergevin has also traded for a few prospects who are getting closer to being able to take the next step in their career. I’ve counted a dozen young guys who will be vying to push the veterans for a job straight from camp and that looks very good for the team. Here’s the list of the top-12 prospect likely to surprise at this year’s training camp, and who will want to show Bergevin that he should make some room on the big club, the way he did for Gallagher a few years ago.
1- Mikhail Sergachev (D):
At 6-foot 2-inches and 208 lbs, he has good size and great skating ability, plus he’s a very aggressive defenseman who is always involved in the action. Is an all-around type who can produce offense, while also playing a shutdown role. Not only did he perform well at the team’s latest Development Camp, he was dominant which made a lot of people around the team think that he has a legitimate shot at surprising everyone and make the team immediately.
2- Jacob De La Rose (C/LW):
Excellent skater, he has good NHL size at 6-foot 3-inches, 214 lbs and has great two-way upside. Works hard, is versatile enough to play both center and wing, is aggressive in the corners. We tend to forget that he is only 21 years old. He has come close the last two seasons and he could be one of the reasons why Bergevin felt like Lars Eller had become expandable.
3- Artturi Lehkonen (LW):
He has good scoring instincts, he is very good with the puck and has great stick handling. He is highly competitive and he is not afraid to enter battles in corners. Smooth skater with good technique, he can be a major offensive threat and has excellent hockey sense. His coach in Sweden was quoted this past week saying that he doesn’t expect to see him back, as “he’s too good” and feels he will make the team in Montreal.
4- Michael McCarron (C/RW):
Is a towering presence up front who owns plenty of power-forward upside. When he’s on his game, the 6-foot 6-inches forward can overpower and dominate opponents all over the ice. Can play either center or wing. Is already solid on face-offs. He did play some NHL games already, so he’s had a taste and knows what he needs to do to stick around.
5- Nikita Scherbak (RW/LW):
Has an excellent shot and sound goal scoring instincts. He has NHL size from 6-foot 2-inches frame and he has a very high hockey IQ. Displays some grit and forechecking acumen too. Slowed down by an injury last season, he feels like he is at 100% and wants to prove that he can contribute at the NHL level.
6- Joel Hanley (D):
With the rash of injuries suffered in Montreal last year, he had a sniff with the big club and surprised many, managing to collect six assists in ten games with the Canadiens. He moves the puck swiftly and efficiently in the defensive zone and is fairly mobile. Can produce decent offensive totals at lower levels.
7- Charles Hudon (C/LW):
He is a natural with the puck and around the opposing goal. Already displays some leadership skills and puts points on the board at AHL level. Can play both center and wing but like a few of the team’s prospects, he will have to battle with the fact that he isn’t the biggest guy out there, which could play against him at the NHL level.
8- Martin Reway (LW):
The 21 year old rookie from the Czech Republic has made the news for the wrong reasons in the last couple of years but there is no denying his speed, his ability with the puck and his offensive creativity. Standing at 5-foot 8-inches and 170 lbs, he will quickly realise that the NHL is not only fast, but big.
9- Max Friberg (RW):
Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for Dustin Tokarski, The 23 year old RW is supremely skilled, he has great one-on-one ability and is quite creative with the puck. Can score goals and set up linemates with aplomb.
10- Ryan Johnston (D):
The 24 year old is a very sound defender who passes the puck well and moves it out of danger efficiently out of trouble. Can join the rush and produce a decent amount of points at lower levels. Owns good hockey sense but at 5-foot 10-inches, he has his work cut out to make the team.
11- Brett Lernout (D):
Has a huge frame at 6-foot 4-inches, 215 lbs and is a physical specimen to contend with. Has a big point shot, so he can be an asset on the power play. Is aggressive in nature and definitely not afraid to drop the glove if or when needed. He may need another year in the AHL but who knows, if he impresses enough at camp?
12- Philip Samuelsson (D):
Signed as a free agent this summer, he excels in a shutdown role. He has good size at 6-foot 2-inches and he has good defensive instincts. Has good pedigree as the son of former NHL shutdown defenseman Ulf Samuelsson.
Realistically, only one – maybe two – should make enough of an impact to force Marc Bergevin’s hand to make room on the big club. But there is no denying that all of those are very close to showing that they can contribute at the NHL level, some of them even taking on a big role with the team. Not counting the other prospects still playing junior or College hockey, the future seems quite bright for the Canadiens when it comes to their prospect pool, something Bergevin has been wanting all along.