Top Cheese: September 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as training camp is in full force and the team and players are battling for a position on the opening day roster. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

Charles Hudon is having a great start to this year’s training camp. He is no longer intimidated and at awe for simply practicing with the big boys. He now wants to be one of them more than ever. After a good season last year in the AHL, where he collected an impressive 27 goals and 49 points in 56 games for the St. John’s IceCaps, the 23 year-old winger feels like he’s ready to take the next step in his career and his three assists night in the White vs Red scrimmage was a step in that direction.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, but just like we as fans and/or media following the Canadiens, shouldn’t read too much in early poor performances, we should remain level-headed with a young player’s early success. Training camp is just starting and will only get tougher and tougher as we get closer to opening night on October fifth. It is, admittedly, better to have a good start than the other way around, no doubt.

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Jonathan Drouin has been omni-present on the Montreal scene, representing the Canadiens, ever since he was acquired. He signed his contract soon after, then attended a press conference with GM Marc Bergevin. He made headlines for training with captain Max Pacioretty, with whom he seems to have developed a good friendship. He made a couple of videos for Canadiens.com already. He attended the Just for Laughs Festival.

Now, Drouin announced that he will be making a $500,000 donation over 10 a ten-year period and also pledges to raise $5M through a variety of initiatives for the CHUM. But can we stop with the verbal diarrhea already? Stuff like this:

The fact is that Drouin did something good for the city. Just like Subban didn’t follow anyone’s lead, or other former Canadiens’ did as well, the young Canadiens’ forward committed a great gesture by helping an organization in need of funding. That alone should be the news, not the mention of other players before him.

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In fact, what is the infatuation of some with former Habs? Whether it be Subban, Radulov, Markov… heck, even Darren Dietz made headlines in the Canadiens’ fan base recently for their activities, quotes or actions elsewhere. Unless there is some kind of sick agenda behind such behaviour, I cannot think of any good reason to put any importance on what former players who are with other teams do.

Subban has been gone for over a year. Get over it. Radulov decided to take the same contract the Habs had offered and to continue his career in Texas. His choice, let it go. Markov waited too late to accept a one-year deal and declined the Canadiens’ offer, preferring continuing his career in his homeland. Done.

You know what? Shea Weber is doing a fantastic job for the Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin is an exciting news both on and off the ice. You have Brendan Gallagher trying to bounce back from a rough season. You have Tomas Plekanec playing for a new contract. You have one of the NHL’s best goals’ scorer in the past 5 years on your team, and the best goaltender in the world. You have young guys like Artturi Lehkonen to focus on. You have young prospects knocking at the door at all positions. You have a pool of junior and College players to get excited about. Tons to focus on without digging dirt on other teams.

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McCarronOne of those young guys is Michael McCarron, who has apparently focused his summer training towards gaining some much needed foot speed. Just like it’s too early to get overboard about Hudon’s strong start, it is also too early to panic about the big centre after one exhibition game where he didn’t look his best. Traditionally, big bodies like him take a while to get going. Management knows that, fans and media should keep that in mind. If he can raise his level of play, McCarron is a type of players that the team lacks of, a big physical body with some sand paper. We can start worrying a bit more if he is cut comes October.

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Another guy who had (or still has) high expectation placed on him is young Nikita Scherbak. Like many young forwards his age, he has struggled a bit with his adaptation to the professional game but that is nothing to be alarming, at least for now. Few seem to remember that guys like Plekanec spent three full seasons in the minors prior to cracking the NHL level and Scherbak is still young at 21 years old. He has a good attitude and wants to improve. I think that he’s one who can greatly benefit from the farm team being relocated in the Canadiens’ backyard in Laval, and that he still managed 41 points last year in St. John’s. Patience is key here.

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Karl Alzner

Twitter can be very depressing at times, particularly if you follow the Habs’ hashtag. The puck hasn’t even dropped and Karl Alzner is taking more than his fair share of shots by some fans, often the same ones mentioned above, the ones focussing on former players instead of the Canadiens. At 6-foot 3-inches and 217 lbs, Alzner is the team’s second biggest defenseman behind Weber. If you’re expecting a gazelle here, you will be disappointed. But he does bring some grit, some shot blocking abilities and sound positioning to the team. He is a better hockey player than Alexei Emelin was, and he is his replacement… not Markov’s. Also, the new number 22 will turn 29 on September 24th, not 39 years old, as some make it sound like! Like Benn, I think that he will be a very pleasant surprise and will be a strong contributor to this team. Give it time folks.

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Well, well… Matt Duchene‘s name is resurfacing in the news, or rather in the rumour mill. While everyone is saying that Bergevin doesn’t have the needed pieces to make it happen, the Canadiens are mentioned as one of the potential teams by every reputable insider out there. Why? Maybe it’s because Joe Sakic will have to lower his expectations for a return for Duchene. Maybe there is no one ready to sacrifice a top bluechip young defenseman for a guy now a year from free agency.

I’m not saying this to raise anyone’s hopes up, as I too believe that the Habs are a long shot to land the coveted centre, but where there is life, there is hope. While the team will be experimenting with Drouin at centre, Duchene would fit in nicely on one of the top two lines by providing depth at a position where the team has very little in the short term.

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With the regular season about two weeks away, the Canadiens will tune their line-up with exhibition games against Washington tonight, and will be facing Ottawa twice, Toronto twice, and one game against New Jersey and Florida. The team will then start the season with a three-game road swing starting in Buffalo on Thursday, October 5th, and will have their home opener the following Tuesday, October 10th, as they will receive the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre. Real hockey is just around the corner folks! Go Habs Go!!!

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Who Is Jonathan Drouin?

DrouinStreet

Contrarily to what some want you to believe, trading in today’s National Hockey League is far from easy. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the hard salary cap back in 2005, the number of trades completed have dropped more than half of what they were prior to it. It’s easy to understand why. Teams obviously have to look at the fiscal impact on their team, and they also have to plan ahead, looking at whose contracts will need to be renewed in the foreseeable future. Hockey is a business more than ever and Habs’ fans had a hard reality of it when team General Manager Marc Bergevin had to let lifetime defenseman Andrei Markov walk away to the KHL late this summer.

Getting some young and productive talent at a reasonable cap hit is what will often make the difference in the mid to long term and Bergevin understands that. When he completed yet again one of the biggest trades of the summer in acquiring 22 year-old Jonathan Drouin, in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ GM landed a top-end offensive juggernaut for a player who might (or not) become a stud on defense… but there is no denying that he is the one who received the proven asset versus potential.

Immediately after the trade was announced, Bergevin was on the phone negotiating a shiny new contract with Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh (yes, him), agreeing to a six year, $33 million contract, ensuring that there was no doubt about the commitment between the team and the newly acquired fan favourite.

Who exactly is Drouin?

Jonathan Drouin was born on March 28, 1995 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Few people remember that as a 17 year-old, he failed to make the roster to start the season with Halifax in the QMJHL despite being the second pick in the entry draft, so he had to return to play AAA midget hockey, until he was called up by Halifax December 9, 2011. Drouin made an immediate impact, getting two assists in his first game, including the primary assist on the winning goal. From that point, Drouin proved to be one of the top players in all of junior hockey. As a matter of fact, Drouin was named player of the year in the CHL. He was then chosen with the third pick overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, two spots behind his Halifax linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

Drouin was among the final cuts in his first training camp with the Lightning and was returned to Halifax for another season, where he finished with 108 points in 46 games in 2013-14 and had 41 points in 16 playoff games. He joined the Lightning in the 2014-15 season, playing in 70 games, and enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 14 points in 17 games, including four goals in the Eastern Conference Final.

Dispute with Tampa Bay

In a much publicized even, Drouin’s dispute with the Lightning drew a lot of negative attention on himself starting in January 2016. It was no secret that there was a relationship issue between Drouin and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and one day after being reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Walsh issued a statement on behalf of his client. The agent revealed that Drouin had made a trade request back in November, but had kept the matter private. Walsh referred to it as an untenable situation and that it was in everyone’s best interest that Drouin be allowed to move on and play hockey.

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While some people claimed that he was a head-case, others said that he was given bad advice from the people around him. Either way, this wasn’t good news for either the Lightning or the player. But Lighting GM Steve Yzerman stuck to his guns and on January 20, 2016, he suspended him indefinitely without pay for a failure to report to the Crunch’s game against the Toronto Marlies. It’s not until March 8, 2016 that Drouin finally reported to Syracuse for the first time since being suspended. On April 4th, the Lightning called up Drouin from the AHL after a nine-game stint, a stretch in which he recorded nine goals and an assist. The young forward wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored the game-winning goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay.

Impact of the trade for the Habs

No one understands better the need for local talent with the Canadiens than Bergevin and team President Geoff Molson, and getting arguably the best young Quebecois in the entire NHL was a very impactful feat in itself. As we have touched on this very blog back in May, there was no doubt that if Drouin was made available, the Habs would be all in… and they were!

As much as people loved P.K. Subban, Jonathan Drouin will have an even bigger impact. He’s a mature young man, well beyond his age, and he speaks the language of his fans in his home province. Before even putting foot on the ice, he has already been utilized by the organization for many public appearances and marketing events, and fans have responded to him in a very positive manner, making him feel welcome. Of course, what he does on the ice is what will matter most, but judging from what he has already shown in the NHL, at such a young age, the future certainly appear to be bright for both the player and the Canadiens’ organization. Training with team captain Max Pacioretty, Drouin seems to have already found a home in Montreal. Until we get to see him work his magic in a Habs’ uniform, let’s enjoy together a few highlights of what he has done and what’s to come for the fans. After watching this, you will join me in wishing that the season started now! Go Habs Go!