By Bob Trask – When a team is rebuilding as the Montreal Canadiens are, the competition for spots is wide open. Everyone will be fighting for a job with the NHL team. Returning NHL players have the inside track followed by top prospects but every once in a while someone unexpectedly impresses management enough to earn a spot on the team or at least at occasional call-up from the minors.
Players who arrive with a lot of hype wouldn’t be considered longshots. This group includes Cayden Primeau in goal, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Justin Barron on defense and perhaps Jesse Ylönen at forward. Last year the only longshot to make the team was Michael Pezzetta.
There are no longshots in the goaltending picture. While he might not make the team, absolutely no one would be surprised if Cayden Primeau was called up and played the occasional game with the Habs. The only longshot in the pro system at the moment is Joe Vrbetic and since it seems like he will be starting in the ECHL with Trois-Rivieres, the chances of him seeing the ice at the Bell Centre in the next two years seem infinitesimally small.
Best candidate: None
The player who might be the closest to earning a few games is Arber Xhekaj. He is physically strong enough and has the temperament to play on the third pairing but lacks experience. His skillset is not too dissimilar from the recently departed Alexander Romanov and may be one reason why Kent Hughes was willing to include the Russian defender in a trade.
Otto Leskinen and Mattias Norlinder are both puck moving defensemen who could potentially fill the role of PP quarterback but they would have to prove themselves in Laval first. Gianni Fairbrother is another player in the mold of Alex Romanov but with Guhle and Xhekaj ahead of him the opportunity to see some ice time with the Canadiens might make him the longest shot of all.
Best candidate: Arber Xhekaj
Jan Mysak is the only center among minor league prospects that seems to have a remote opportunity to see any ice time with the Canadiens this year. He has 22 AHL games under his belt and has been lauded for his 200 foot game. With the Canadiens depth a center relatively thin, Mysak could be called up for a few games.
Best Candidate: Jan Mysak
The Canadiens have a lot of depth on the wings. None of the talent there could be called elite, although Caufield and Slafkovsky could develop into that category. The situation makes it tough for those in the minors to get an opportunity but a trade or two could change the depth chart significantly.
While many talk about Rafael Harvey-Pinard has a younger version of Brendan Gallagher, the dark horse here is Emil Heineman. Injuries cut his season short last year but Heineman has been described as another player who plays a 200 foot game and who is an excellent skater with good size. Depending upon what he shows in training camp, a fourth line role would not be out of the question but that remains a long shot. A year of seasoning in the AHL where he can become accustomed to the North American ice, playing style and life style is more probable.
Joel Teasdale’s career has been plagued by injuries and his lack of speed will probably put a job in the NHL out of reach.
Best candidate: Emil Heineman
As with left wing, Montreal has a glut of player on right wing which means that RW prospects have a huge hurdle to overcome if they expect to make the team. Not only do the prospects have to prove themselves against proven NHLers, they have to show more potential than Jesse Ylönen who has two years of AHL experience.
Both longshot candidates here are still only 18 years old and they are extreme longshots.
Joshua Roy had a breakout season in the QMJHL last year but he either plays in Montreal or the Q. At his stage of development, Roy will probably benefit more from lots of ice time and PP opportunities than he will from playing a few games in Montreal.
First round pick, Filip Mesar, is an intriguing case. He can play in Montreal, Laval, Europe or in the OHL this season. He has played the last two season, as a 16 year old and as a 17 year old, in the Slovakia men’s league. With that kind of experience he could be ready for the AHL and be available for call-up. His performance at training camp will probably determine his fate.
Best candidate: Filip Mesar
Longshots vs Call-ups
The longshots are those who unexpectedly impress and earn at least some ice time with the Canadiens this year – and a permanent position this year or next. It doesn’t include players who will not be available this year – players like Jakub Dobes, Sean Farrell, Blake Biondi or Luke Tuch. Nor does it include veterans who could be recalled on an emergency basis – player like Alex Belzile, Nate Schnarr, Mitchell Stephens and Madison Bowey.
Kent Hughes still needs to make a few roster roster moves. They could be minor moves to simply create cap space or major trade could see a significant NHL player added to the lineup. These moves could involve some of the prospects discussed here or they could open up a spot for one of the prospects
One thing is certain, the training camp for the Montreal Canadiens will feature a lot of new players who will be competing fiercely for a few open spots. It should make for an interesting pre-season.