Habs Training Camp: Making a Push

Here we have it folks, hockey has returned! Players have worked their butts off all summer to come to camp in good shape and just about every team in the NHL thinks that they have a shot at making the playoffs, and therefore winning the Stanley Cup. In Montreal, they are hoping that a second injection of youth will have the same effect has it had last season, where the team had a 25 points improvement over the previous season. And this time, it seems like the talent is oozing from some of the rookies coming into camp.

No matter what some fans or media claim, you never know who will make the team and who won’t. Few had Jesperi Kotkaniemi getting picked third overall and even fewer gave him a chance to make the big club in his first year pro in North America. We know the rest. Same goes for Victor Mete who, at 20, was playing alongside one of the NHL’s best defensemen in Shea Weber, on the top pair. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the top candidates with the best chances to earn a spot on the 2019-2020 Montreal Canadiens.

DEFENSE

We know that Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot will be there in early October, and Mete is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the team too. That leaves a strong battle for Brett Kulak, Mike Reilly, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen and a handful of prospects to earn a spot on the Canadiens’ defensive brigade. Here’s a look at the most likely to cause a surprise:

51 – GUSTAV OLOFFSON

Image result for gustav olofsson
AGE:24SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT: 6’3″WEIGHT:194 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Very good size and has puck-moving skills. Smooth skater and true all-round defenseman. His offensive ability is also on the rise and has good potential. Unfortunately, he had a season ending injury last season with the Laval Rockets after only two games, so we barely saw what he can do. He is healthy and ready to go.

64 – OTTO LESKINEN

Image result for otto leskinen
AGE:22SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:5’11”WEIGHT:183 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Mobile puck moving defenseman with good speed. Also has very good offensive acumen. A bit undersized for the NHL so needs to rely more on positioning to defend. He was one of the best defensemen at this year’s rookie camp and the fact that he’s left handed gives him a slight advantage, as it’s the weaker side of the Habs’ defense.

46 – JOSH BROOK

Image result for josh brook
AGE: 20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:193 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Excels at rushing up ice with the puck, mostly due to great mobility. Very good at making accurate and quick first passes out of his zone. Positionally sound most of the time and a fairly reliable in his own zone. He was one of the last players cut last year and went on to have a stellar season.

83 – CALE FLEURY

AGE:20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:205 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Good skater, he moves the puck well out of his zone. His progress was constant last season, his first as a pro, to the point that coach Joel Bouchard singled him as one of the most improved players on his squad from start to finish. He has some offensive upside and managed 23 points in his rookie year in the AHL.

FORWARDS

The forward position is also one of contention and the battle will be fearced. Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Paul Byron, Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen pretty much have their permanent stall in the dressing room. We can also almost guarantee a spot for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, although some new youngsters are ready to battle hard to get his third line centre position. If the one nicknamed KK is ready for a 1st or 2nd line role, Domi will likely move to the wing. Otherwise, his spot could be in jeopardy… but it’s unlikely.

Newcomers Riley Barber, Nick Cousins and Phil Varone were added in the off-season as was Nate Thompson who signed after finishing the season in Montreal last year. They join Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca in a tight battle for a spot. But they’re certainly not alone. Some young men are determined to take their job and some have a legitimate shot. Let’s have a look at them:

25 – RYAN POEHLING

Image result for ryan poehling
POSITION:C
AGE:20SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:6’2″WEIGHT:204 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: How can someone top a first NHL game like he had in the final game of the season last year? A hat trick and a goal in the shootout! Good size for the NHL, he is mature beyond his age. While he will never be confused with Paul Byron, he moves well on the ice for a bigger guy. Has very high hockey IQ and every coach that he’s had is raving on him. He is compared, at times, to Canadiens’ assistant-coach Kirk Muller. Coming from the NCAA, this is his first professional camp.

14 – NICK SUZUKI

Image result for nick suzuki
POSITION:C/RW
AGE:20SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:5’11”WEIGHT:201 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Plays a very mature two-way game for a young player. Is a talented playmaker who is also adept at finishing off plays himself. Due to his hockey smarts, he can be used with the game on the line and in defensive situations. He has done his homework and has gained weight and strength. One of the last cuts last year, the Habs asked him to play faster which he did as he went on to be one of the best players in the OHL.

34 – MICHAEL MCCARRON

Image result for michael mccarron
POSITION:C/RW
AGE:24SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’6″WEIGHT:230 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a towering presence up front who owns plenty of power-forward acumen. When he is on his game, he can overpower and dominate opponents all over the ice. Can play either center or wing. Is solid on face-offs. Lacks consistency and it became evident that his foot speed was lacking, something he’s been working on all along. He seemed to have turned the corner last season under the coaching of Joel Bouchard in Laval, but got injured and needed surgery. This camp could be his last chance in Montreal.

54 – CHARLES HUDON

POSITION:LW
AGE: 25SHOOTS:Left
HEIGHT:5’10”WEIGHT:196 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a natural with the puck, and around the opposing goal. Already displays some leadership skills and puts points on the board at lower levels. Owns a lot of scoring ability but struggling to put it all together at the NHL level. Does not have ideal size for the National Hockey League game, so he may face an uphill battle trying to become a top-six forward at the highest level. Likely his last chance in Montreal.

71 – JAKE EVANS

Image result for jake evans
POSITION:C
AGE:23SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’1″WEIGHT:181 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Is a work in progress and was singled out by Joel Bouchard as one of his most improved players from start to finish for the Rockets. He started last year on the bottom-six in Laval and finished as the top line centre. His 45 points in 67 games were good for second on the team behind Alex Belzile. He can pass and he can shoot the puck.

60 – ALEX BELZILE

Image result for alex belzile
POSITION:RW
AGE:28SHOOTS:Right
HEIGHT:6’0″WEIGHT:180 lbs

SCOUTING REPORT: Some players are born futur NHL players, others take a bit longer and that’s exactly what he has done. Is benefiting greatly from Alex Burrows‘ advices, he who too took a long time to develop. At 28, he doesn’t have many years left to prove his worth but his 19 goals and 54 points last season was his best AHL production so far. He’s a long shot for sure but when you can score goals, the coach will have a very close look at you.

As you can see, the competition was going to be tight just with players on one-way NHL contracts so when you add the youngsters coming in, the level promises to be at the highest it’s been in years in Montreal… and that is a good thing, a very good thing as the Canadiens will be in a battle for a playoffs’ spot once again. Go Habs Go!

Time To Put Up or Shut Up For Habs’ Hopefuls

HabsNeedChange

North America, both in Canada or in the United States, is known as the land of opportunities. This is where people are entitled to dream. Where people can hope to make it big, whether it be in business, on the movie screen, in pro-sports. While in most environments, opportunity can come knocking at any time in one’s life, the same cannot necessarily be said in hockey, a league already known for giving chances to younger and younger players each year, or so it seems. For some of them, the window is already starting to close before they will have to make important decisions when it comes to their future in hockey… or elsewhere.

The Montreal Canadiens have a few of those players, those who have turned pro a few years ago. While every opportunity is important, this 2018 training camp is particularly crucial for a few Habs’ hopefuls as time is running out and other younger prospects are pushing hard behind them for their own opportunity. Let’s have a look at the most prominent in this year’s crop for the Habs, as they are getting ready to hit the ice for what could be the last time wearing the red, white and blue.

Byron Froese (1991) – C

After bouncing from the AHL with short stints in the NHL, he managed to crack the Habs’ line-up last season with a career high 48 games with the Canadiens. Sound defensive player, the fact that he is playing centre on a team desperately seeking help at that position helped him, but he did steal the job from veteran Torrey Mitchell. He is one who won’t be pleased to see Tomas Plekanec coming back and Matthew Peca coming into play. To make matters worse, Jacob de la Rose seems ripe for a breakout season. At 27 years of age, time is the essence for him.

Simon Després (1991) – LD

Després is a different kind of bird all together. Once seen as a top prospect with the Penguins and the Ducks, he already has just under 200 NHL games under his belt. Injuries, particularly concussion issues, have contributed to his set-back and the 27 year-old signed a Professional Try-Out contract so he’s a good gamble for the Canadiens and if anyone could help get his career on track, it might just be Joël Bouchard. The skills are there. The confidence and ability to put it all together is what’s lacking here.

Michael Chaput (1992) – C

Chaput has been on the fringe with both the Blue Jackets and the Canucks and at 26, the native of Île Bizard, QC, is hoping that some home cooking will have the same effect on him as it has on Nicolas Deslauriers. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, he has the size, grit, determination and physicality to be a great agitator. Further, he is very versatile and can be counted on in all situations in all three zones. He signed a two year, two-way contract with the Canadiens this summer.

Kenny Agostino (1992) – LW

Agostino is a newcomer in the Canadiens’ organisation and the 26 year-old is a prolific points producer at the AHL level, but has yet to be able to put it all together in the NHL. Like the other players brought in this summer, Agostino has, you guessed it, a solid two-way game to his repertoire. His game is based on speed and the 26 year-old winger likes to play an up-tempo game.

Xavier Ouellet (1993) – LD

Ouellet
Xavier Ouellet

Ouellet is perhaps Marc Bergevin‘s most publicized acquisition of the summer after Max Domi. Born in Bayonne, France, the former QMJHL star has 145 career NHL games under his belt with the Detroit Red Wings. The 25 year-old excels at moving the puck up ice. He has excellent mobility from the back end, as well as some offensive ability. He also owns an accurate point shot. Like Chaput, he and the Canadiens’ organisation are hoping that some home cooking will launch his career for good.

Hunter Shinkaruk (1994) – C

I hesitated putting a 23 year-old on that list but this will be Shinkaruk’s third team already. Recently acquired in a trade with the Flames for Kerby Rychel, Shinkaruk was once perceived as one of the Canucks’ blue-chip prospects. In his post-trade assessment of the trade which saw the youngster traded to Calgary, Canucks’ GM Jim Benning told the press that they had analyzed his goals in the AHL and figured that it wouldn’t translate to offense at the NHL level. Fans in Vancouver were very upset at Benning for trading him. It now remains to be seen if Bergevin hit a homerun with this one, or if it’s another one of his low-risk, possible high-reward moves.

Rinat Valiev (1995) – LD

Acquired from the Maple Leafs along with Rychel and the Leafs’ second round pick in 2018 (Jacob Olofsson) in the trade for Plekanec, Valiev owns excellent size (6-foot 3-inches, 215 pounds), plus the ability to use it to shutdown opponents as well as play a physical game. He does have some offensive ability. He is only 23 but the Canadiens’ defense is starting to get pretty crowded with guys with his abilities so he will need to step up his game in order to earn himself a spot.

Michael McCarron (1995) – C/RW

What hasn’t been said about McCarron that could be added here without sounding redundant? Again, we’re talking about a 23 year-old here but would a 6-foot 6-inches, 231 pounds towering forward with power-forward acumen clear wavers if sent down? In my opinion, the Canadiens need to stop trying to make him a centre and play him on the wing, where he can be more efficient. This will be a very important training camp for the Michigan-born young man, one that could very well determine his future with this organization.

 

Don’t believe the anti-Bergevin naysayers forks: the Canadiens’ organization is on the right path and even THEY know it. They simply don’t want to see him succeed for reasons that are well beyond hockey matters. The depth in the organisation is as good as it’s been in many years and the prospect pool is in the Top-6 in the entire NHL according to Corey Pronman, prospects specialist for The Athletic. With competition comes pressure to perform and with that, a team full of players who will have to give their all every day, not to lose their jobs to others who want it just as much. Go Habs Go!