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!

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Young Blueliners Bringing Hope to the Habs

RaisingTheBarHabs

When Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin said, last Fall, that his defensive group was stronger than the one from the year before, it left many people rather perplexed. It didn’t take long for that group to prove their GM wrong as David Schlemko was on the injured list, newly signed UFA Karl Alzner was showing signs of being unable to keep up and Jordie Benn, who was outstanding for the Habs the season before, wasn’t the shadow of his old self.

And to compound the issue, All-Star goaltender Carey Price, usually a saviour in the Canadiens’ net, was having a horrible start to the season. It was later discovered that he was struggling from chronique fatigue syndrome, and a concussion later in the season put him on the shelf once again. Backup goaltender Al Montoya didn’t fair any better and was later traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Prior to the game against the Buffalo Sabres, only six teams in the NHL have allowed more goals than the Habs.

Further adding to the team’s porous defense is an anemic offense, as coach Claude Julien‘s team is third in the league in offensive futility, as only the Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes have scored less goals than them. Brendan Gallagher is the team’s leading points getter with 45 points in 74 games.

Young defensemen

As the season progressed and with the team out of playoffs’ contention, the Habs’ management is able to test the development of some of their top prospects by bringing in some of the Laval Rocket’s players. Charlie Lindgren was given a shot during Price’s injury, as did Nikita Scherbak, Mike McCarron, Jacob de la Rose and Daniel Carr at forward.

VictorMete
Victor Mete

The biggest tests, however, seem to be at the Canadiens’ blue line. Surprisingly, 19 year-old Victor Mete spent the entire season with the Canadiens and he has shown that he can play in this league. The Woodbridge Ontario native won’t turn 20 until June and he pretty much has a spot on the team comes September.

Brett Lernout has been impressive since being called up. Standing at 6-foot 4-inches tall, he is an imposing physical presence with remarkably good mobility for a guy his size. The 22 year-old Winnipeg native is keeping his game simple and is a pleasant surprise so far. He is on the cusp of playing full time in the NHL.

NoahJuulsen
Noah Juulsen

Another player who has been a very pleasant surprise since being called-up is Noah Juulsen. Growing up in Surrey BC, Juulsen’s favourite player was former Vancouver Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa and we can certainly see some of the same qualities, a mobile, hard-nosed defenseman. Turning 21 in a couple of weeks, he still needs to fill-in a bit as at 175 lbs for his 6-foot 2-inches frame isn’t quite heavy enough for the rigorous NHL season and competition.

 

It is unfortunate that Rinat Valiev, the 22 year-old Russian defenseman the Canadiens obtained from Toronto in the Tomas Plekanec trade, has been injured two games into his first stint with the club as he is a big, mobile defenseman on the left side. Depending on how young Bergevin wants to get on the blueline and what he will do with the likes of Schlemko and Benn, Valiev could cause some pleasant surprises at camp next Fall.

ReillyHabs
Mike Reilly

Perhaps the most impressive to the fan base but not to yours truly, Mike Reilly is finally given an opportunity to show what he can do. When you play behind the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, your ice time and chances to showcase what you’ve got is rather difficult. I was fortunate enough to have watched Mike play here in Penticton for a full season and I remember thinking that he was the best talent playing for the Vees since… Duncan Keith! Don’t get me wrong, he won’t be the new Keith but he does have a lot of the same skills, while giving a fifth round pick to get him is a steal of a deal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him given a chance, along with Mete, to be paired with Shea Weber next Fall.

It is highly doubtful that the Canadiens’ brass would want to start with such a young line-up but as it stands right now, the youngsters have outplayed some of the veterans and do deserve a chance to show what they can contribute.

Reilly/Mete – Weber

Alzner – Petry

Reilly/Mete/Valiev – Juulsen/Lernout

So if someone tells you that there is no future talent in Montreal, do yourself a favour and ignore them. It’s far from the truth. Go Habs Go!