By JD Lagrange – As we’re going through the last couple of days of August, the nights get cooler and the days are shorter. For some, like yours truly, it’s a sure sign that hunting season is around the corner. And for Habs’ fans like us, it also means that our favourite club is getting closer to hitting the ice once again.
And this season brings a new glow, a sense of hope and optimism after a nightmare season. This will be the first full season with the new management and coaching staff. Geoff Gorton, Kent Hughes, Martin St-Louis, Stéphane Robidas and several other executives will be going through their first training camp together… along with several new players.
Speaking of players, the frame of mind with which they will show up at camp will depend on their season last year, or off-season. I’ve divided them into four categories.
Eating the boards
We can expect these players to come into camp with everything to prove and a chip on their shoulder, for multiple reasons.
- Brendan Gallagher: He is coming off a bad season which can be explained by COVID and its crazy schedule, including a long playoffs’ run in between. Benefiting from a more normal off-season, Gally will want to show that last season was an exception, that he is not ready to be tagged as being on the downslope of his career. Betting against that guy would be a mistake.
- Jake Evans: Not due to any of his own doing, but the arrival of Sean Monahan and Kirby Dach has now forced him into a battle to keep his spot at center. As we just covered, he has worked on his shot and on getting bigger this off-season, and he will want to show that it has paid off.
- Kirby Dach: Acquired at the NHL Draft, this will be Dach’s first training camp with his new team. For him, it’s a new start. He too knows that the battle at center will be fierce and he will want to impress the coaching staff.
- Michael Pezzetta: Let’s face it, Pezzetta is the type of player who will always have to fight for his spot. But rest assured that he’s going in with that mentality and for a rugged guy like him, he will bring it. There’s an overload of forwards with NHL contracts and he will want to force management to keep him up.
- Samuel Montembeault: The news of Carey Price not being there at camp is a good one for Montembeault but he’s a fighter anyway. Now, he will want to stick alongside Jake Allen so this off-season will be crucial for him. Not only does he have to beat Cayden Primeau to the punch, but he won’t want management to feel like they need to get another goalie.
In the next group, you have players who are pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster. They are guys who always have a good work ethics and, unless disaster strikes, are a shoe-in on the team. But they will too feel the heat of competition, some more than others.
We’re talking about Suzuki, Caufield, Dvorak, Monahan, Anderson, Armia, Pitlick, Edmundson, Matheson, Savard, Wideman, Allen. I hesitated putting Monahan in the previous group due to his disappointing seasons but it was cause by injuries and he always has good work ethics.
Praying for success
It’s a small group, but they’re the type of players who have relied on their skills to get by. But these three players have something to prove. We sometimes wonder if they have the drive that players in the first group have, however. They’ll do what they have to do to get by.
- Johathan Drouin: Operated on two different wrists in the last two seasons, a leave to take care of his mental health, Drouin has only played two games under Martin St-Louis. He’s never been known as a “character guy”, as they call them, and one has to wonder how many setbacks he can take before folding. But he is the player on the team who could see the biggest improvement if things go his way. A pending UFA, he’s playing for a new contract and sometimes, it can serve as motivation.
- Mike Hoffman: Trade rumours are all over this guy and due to his lack of trade protection, don’t be shocked if you keep hearing his name until he does get traded eventually. If Hoffman can light the lamp and help the powerplay, it would be an improvement over last season. By the way, his defensive play isn’t as bad as some make it out to be.
- Evgenii Dadonov: Like Drouin, he is playing for a contract next season. For those who don’t know him well, he reminds me a bit of Tomas Tatar as a player and ironically, he too was acquired from Vegas as a cap dump. If all goes well, you can count on 20 goals from him but don’t rush to buy his jersey. He’s likely not going to play a full season in Montreal, as he’s perfect trade bait for trade deadline.
Then, you have the rookies, or young players, who were not in the NHL last season but who will try earning a spot and force management’s hand. As the battles are totally different between forwards and defensemen, I’ve decided to split them into two groups.
As mentioned before, there isn’t much room at the forward position so someone will have to really step up and impress in order to earn a spot. But it’s always possible. When Gallagher broke into the NHL in 2012, he earned a spot a camp. Marc Bergevin sent him to the AHL until he could make room for him, which he did. Gally got called up to never look back. Kent Hughes will have to do the same.
- Juraj Slafkovsky
- Jesse Ylönen
- Rafaël Harvey-Pinard
- Joshua Roy
- Emil Heineman
- Joël Teasdale
- Mitchell Stephens
- Jan Mysak
- Nate Schnarr
- Lucas Condotta
If we consider that Edmundson, Matheson, Savard and Wideman have a spot on the team, it leaves three empty slots on the Canadiens’ defense. That’s a golden opportunity for the young defensemen in the organization, one that the forwards don’t have. And it will play out between the following players:
- Justin Barron
- Kaiden Guhle
- Jordan Harris
- Corey Schueneman
- Otto Leskinen
- Mattias Norlinder
- Arber Xhekaj
- Gianni Fairbrother
- Madison Bowey
Barron being right handed is a huge advantage. Guhle, Harris, Schueneman, Leskinen and Norlinder all have a bit of NHL experience. But don’t count out Xhekaj, who has the physique and strength of a full grown man.
So it will be an interesting and competitive training camp. You can expect some fast pace play, high on intensity. It all starts with the rookie camp in a couple of weeks, then moving into the main camp. Hockey is just around the corner, folks!