Heavy Competition at Canadiens’ Training Camp

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Well here we have it folks. After a busy summer following a disappointing season, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin pulled one last rabbit out of his hat by trading disgruntled captain Max Pacioretty to Las Vegas and finds himself with a good hand entering the upcoming season. In a rare September trade in the NHL, Bergevin looks like Sam Pollock with what he received in return, particularly after seeing what the Carolina Hurricanes got for Jeff Skinner and, more recently, what the Ottawa Senators received in return for Erik Karlsson. This last trade should also make Habs’ fans feel a whole lot better about receiving Shea Weber in return for P.K. Subban as well. Now that the pieces are in place, it’s show time!

This training camp promises to be one of the most competitive we’ve seen in many years in Montreal. Bergevin and his right-hand man Trevor Timmins have done a fantastic job at replenishing the pipelines of young, quality prospects and NHL-ready players, who are ready to prove that they belong. Guys at the point in their career where they can’t take their foot of the pedal because others are just as hungry as they are to take their spot… and they’re fully capable of doing it! That’s what is called a healthy competition. This forces players to compete and coach Claude Julien will appreciate that a whole lot.

What’s nice also this year is that there will be some heavy competition at all positions. Yes, even at centre! While Bergevin failed to bring in immediate help at that position over the summer, he and his management team did bring in tons of quality depth in a position of dire need and it could start paying off as early as this year, although it’s more likely to happen in a year or two. Let’s have a look at those battles and see who could come out on top.

IN OUT
Dominique Ducharme J-J Daigneault
Luke Richardson Dan Lacroix
Joel Bouchard Sylvain Lefebvre
Max Domi Max Pacioretty
Joel Armia Alex Galchenyuk
Matthew Peca Kerby Rychel
Tomas Tatar
Nick Suzuki
Xavier Ouellet
Hunter Shinkaruk
Michal Moravcik
David Sklenicka

 

CENTRE

  • AUDETTE, Daniel
  • DANAULT, Phillip
  • DE LA ROSE, Jacob
  • DROUIN, Jonathan
  • FROESE, Byron
  • KOTKANIEMI, Jesperi
  • McCARRON, Michael
  • PECA, Matthew
  • PLEKANEC, Tomas
  • SUZUKI, Nick

From last season:

  1. Drouin
  2. Danault
  3. Plekanec
  4. Froese / De la Rose

Drouin, Danault and Plekanec are shoe-ins. Peca was acquired for the NHL and De la Rose is NHL ready. Froese is in a position to lose his spot from last year, replaced by Peca in the depth chart. In my humble opinion, I would return big Mike McCarron to the wing. Youngsters Kotkaniemi and Suzuki would need the camp of a lifetime in order to crack the line-up this upcoming season, but it would be a mistake to count them out at this point as both have offensive flair matched only by Drouin at that position.

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Newcomers Tomas Tatar and Nick Suzuki

WING

  • ADDISON, Jeremiah
  • AGOSTINO, Kenny
  • ALAIN, Alexandre
  • ARMIA, Joel
  • BITTEN, William
  • BYRON, Paul
  • CHAPUT, Michael
  • DESLAURIERS, Nicolas
  • DOMI, Max
  • GALLAGHER, Brendan
  • HUDON, Charles
  • LEHKONEN, Artturi
  • PEZZETTA, Michael
  • SCHERBAK, Nikita
  • SHAW, Andrew
  • SHINKARUK, Hunter
  • TATAR, Tomas
  • VEJDEMO, Lukas
  • WAKED, Antoine
  • WARD, Joel

From last season:

  1. (Pacioretty) – Gallagher
  2. (Galchenyuk) – Shaw
  3. Byron – Lehkonen
  4. Hudon – Deslauriers

Unlike your traditional media, I prefer talking about a Top-9 forward group instead of a Top-6, particularly in a star-deprived line-up like the Canadiens’. In my humble opinion, they will try to have three balanced offensive lines who can contribute by committee to compensate for their lack of sniper(s). Newcomers Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, acquired in the off-season, are guaranteed a spot on the Top-9, replacing Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. It doesn’t look like Shaw and Byron will be ready to start the season, giving two guys a chance to prove themselves early on. It could look something like this:

  • Domi – Gallagher
  • Tatar – Armia
  • Lehkonen – Scherbak
  • Hudon – Shinkaruk
  • Deslauriers – Addison – McCarron (if moved to the wing)

The organisation is hoping that Scherbak is ready to take the next step. Charles Hudon showed flashes of what he can do and will be looking for more consistency, with the help of his mentor Plekanec, who took him under his wing last season. I kind of like the fact that Armia is flying under the radar for Habs’ fans and media as he will open many people’s eyes this season. People forget that he was third string behind Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine on right-wing in Winnipeg, and the Canadiens don’t have that quality or right-wingers after Gallagher. Chaput, Agostino, Bitten, Pezzetta and Vejdemo will be pushing hard to make an impression and any of them could very well sneak in there. My personal dark horse is Jeremiah Addison, but I really liked what I’ve seen from Vejdemo and Bitten at rookie camp.

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Xavier Ouellet

DEFENSE

  • ALZNER, Karl
  • BENN, Jordie
  • BROOK, Josh
  • DESPRÉS, Simon
  • FLEURY, Cale
  • JUULSEN, Noah
  • LERNOUT, Brett
  • METE, Victor
  • MORAVCIK, Michal
  • OUELLET, Xavier
  • PETRY, Jeff
  • REILLY, Mike
  • SCHLEMKO, David
  • SKLENICKA, David
  • TAORMINA, Matt
  • VALIEV, Rinat
  • WEBER, Shea

Just as it did last season, the absence of Shea Weber will give someone an opportunity to showcase what they can do. At the end of last season, it was something like this:

  1. Reilly – Petry
  2. Mete – Benn
  3. Alzner – Juulsen
  4. Schlemko – Lernout

Only Petry, Alzner and Benn are pretty much guaranteed a spot to start the season. Schlemko has the most to lose as many youngsters are showing signs of being ready to contribute in the NHL, with Reilly and Mete starting a couple of strides ahead of the others. Juulsen did well with Alzner at the end of last year but don’t count out Brent Lernout folks. Rinat Valiev will be pushing hard and we’ve heard a lot of good about the two Czechs Moravcik and Sklenicka. Let’s not forget that Matt Taormina had 52 points in 63 games with the Rockets, finishing second on the team in points! Then you have Xavier Ouellet and Simon Després with NHL experience and lots of talent. That’s a lot of healthy competition and some will likely force the hand of GM Bergevin to trade in order to make room for the most deserving. Yes folks, it will be an improved defense over last year.

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Charlie Lindgren

GOALIES

  • LINDGREN, Charlie
  • NIEMI, Antti
  • PRICE, Carey

Price says that he’s in the best shape of his life and wants to make amend. That doesn’t look good for those trying to put the puck behind him and it’s reassuring to both fans and the team. Yes, the Canadiens signed Niemi, who did well backing up Price at the end of last year, but it would be a huge mistake to count Charlie Lindgren out. He is NHL ready and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him steal the spot of backup. Although, it’s also possible that even if he beats Niemi to the job, he could start the season in Laval to get more games. It’s the old dilemma: is it better for a goalie to be a backup in the NHL or a starter in the AHL?

Yes folks, the on-ice preparation for the 2018-2019 NHL season is starting and players, coaches, management and fans are chomping at the bit to see what will pan out comes October and who will be in the line-up on October 3rd in Toronto for the season opener. One thing is for sure: the competition will be intense. Enjoy the ride folks, your team will be competitive and will provide an effort unmatched in recent years. Go Habs Go!

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To Grit or Not To Grit

ToGrit

The meaning of the “to be or not to be” speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been given numerous interpretations, each of which are based. The purpose of it does, in general, question the righteousness of life over death in moral terms, a non-quantifying element of life itself.

Much (even too much) has been said about NHL analytics, and extremists have taken stats to a whole new level in trying to make people believe that if it cannot be measured, then it must be a non-factor of at least, not one worthy of taking into consideration. Yet, those involved in the game will tell you that this self-preserving excuse is as far away from the truth as it gets. Intimidation, a hit, a blocked shot, a fight… all have the potential of changing the momentum of a game and either lift, or deflate a team during a hockey game, even tipping the balance in a playoffs’ series.

Had Shakespeare been a hockey fan, or a Habs’ fan, he might chose “to grit or not to grit”, that it the question. Grit has been given multitude of meanings and definitions and the purpose is geared towards toughness or fortitude also in moral terms and also a non-quantifying element of the game itself.

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Chris Nilan is the definition of “Grit”

For years, the Canadiens shied away from the rough stuff. I remember listening to Guy Carbonneau when he was coaching the Canadiens – who, ironically, spent most of his career in Montreal with none other than Chris Nilan on his wing – tell reporters that they didn’t need toughness. He stated that all they had to do was to capitalise on their power-play opportunities. While it may sound great in theory, it’s far from being a practical and realistic approach to the problem. After all, is there one NHL team not trying to have a better power-play? I’m guessing that recognizing and saying that it needs to improve or simply trying harder doesn’t mean better results?

Since Marc Bergevin took over as the Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager, he understood the need to protect his best players, allowing them to do their thing without the fear of being abused by opponents. His first move was to sign then UFA Brandon Prust to a four-year contract. Later, he went out and added the likes of Parros, Weise, Allen, Kassian, Shaw, Weber, Martinsen, King, Ott, Farnham, Deslauriers. Not all were success stories in Montreal, but the fact remains that Bergevin’s goal was none the less clear, by providing some sandpaper to a line-up in dire need of it.

I can already hear some who are chumping at the bit to tell me that skills wins game, that you can’t replace talent by grit. This is the extremists’ way of thinking. No, you don’t need to “replace” talent by grit. You need to “surround” your talent with grit. And in today’s NHL, which is now stuck with the worst rule in hockey, the instigator rule, grit doesn’t stop at fighting. You see, Bergevin is too often being ridiculed with his choice of words when putting the emphasis on “character” and “attitude” but guess what? He’s referring to grit!

Grit is blocking a shot, taking a hit to make a play, arriving first to the corner to get the puck, planting yourself in front of the net knowing that Shea Weber is shooting. Grit is defending your teammate, regardless of the size of the opponent. Grit is also doing everything to win games. No, grit is NOT penalties. Grit is being the instigator and not the retaliator.

Grittiest Canadiens

But just who does Claude Julien have available, which players will go to war for him, for his team? Here are just a few, just to highlight the work, sometimes the beating, some of those players are taking. Oh there are more, particularly amongst the younger prospects.

Who is the first one to come to mind? You guess it: Brendan Gallagher. Smallish, but one of the toughest – pound for pound – in the business. When asked who was the most difficult player was to play against, former Senators Marc Methot picked Gallagher “because he’s relentless”.

Bergevin acquired a guy who will soon become a fan favourite in Max Domi, another guy who wears the heart on his sleeve, a relentless worker. The guy doesn’t take a shift off, he can pass, he can score, he goes to the net, he will defend teammates and will drop the mitts if or when needed. Montreal fans – and most hockey fans – love that type of players.

Andrew Shaw is getting a bad rep by a group of “fans” unfortunately, but his usefulness has been severely affected by his style of play. A bit like Prust, Shaw is going up against the bigger guys. The guy has no fear and will also do whatever it takes to win, and as proven with the Blackhawks, he is a big game player. They don’t come much grittier than this guy. Here’s hoping that he’s back healthy. The Habs will greatly benefit.

Bergevin acquired Nicolas Deslauriers in hope that he could bring exactly what he has provided and the Lasalle native seems to be giving a little extra playing for his home team. In addition to the grit he brings, he has been a surprise offensively as he has shown that he can contribute in that aspect of the game as well.

It really is too bad that the fans didn’t get to see the real Shea Weber quite yet, as it seems like when he’s been in the line-up, he’s been battling injuries which, ultimately, ended up sidelining him. Yet even hurt, he’s producing like the top defensemen in this league still. Voted by his peers as the most difficult defenseman to play against, he can hurt you in many ways and you’ll find more grit in his fingernail than most have in their entire body.

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Jeremiah Addison could be a surprise at camp

Here’s an oddball for you folks as I picked Jeremiah Addison. Unfortunately, he also got hurt last season and Laval missed him greatly. This guy is a warrior and he will do whatever it takes to help his team win games. I pick him as a surprise player to steal a spot in Montreal this season. Call it a gut feeling.

Habs fans will remember Steve Begin but in Michael Chaput, they have a similar player. He will give and take hits, he will grind it out and he has surprisingly good hand. Eating home cooking and playing under Rockets’ coach Joël Bouchard could see Chaput earn a call-up if he doesn’t make the team at camp.

Okay, I admit, I like Brett Lernout. Physically dominant, he is most effective when he keeps his game simple. Many don’t see him making the big club but I feel like it will be between him and Juulsen. All will depend on which one has a better training camp. Either way, Lernout will bring tons of grit.

Now a second year pro, Noah Juulsen was giving a shot at the end of last year and he didn’t disappoint. His favourite player is Kevin Bieksa and he plays just like him. He will get the puck and if his opponent has it, they better keep their head up as Juulsen will hurt you.

We know that Mike McCarron is a tough cookie. He would be more physical if he was a better skater but he is quite gritty, as he’s shown it already at the NHL level. Both he and the Canadiens are hoping that he’s done enough this summer to improve to the point of earning a spot with the big club.

An honorable mention goes to Ti-Paul Byron, who will also do everything in his limited power to help his team win. See, grit isn’t just about fighting. Grit, character, attitude (hating to lose), all play into making a team hard to play against. If you combine and mix that with some skills like Jonathan Drouin‘s, it’s a recipe for success. Remains to see if the youngsters are ready to help the veterans in that aspect. Go Habs Go!