By JD Lagrange – Well there you have it. The Rookie Camp/Tournament is over and fans got to see some of the Canadiens’ top younger prospects in action. After what seems like forever since being able to watch our favourite team, watching the rookies wearing the red, white and blue provided a sense of hope for a fan base who hasn’t had much to cheer for in a long time.
It is important to point out to some Habs’ fans that a rookie tournament like this one is not to judge the team record (wins/losses), the special teams or overall team chemistry. These young men play all over the world in different leagues and never got to seriously practice together, nor does the coaching staff work on systems. Such tournaments are solely to see the teams’ top players against their peers, and gauge the progress these young men have accomplished since the last time they were on the ice.
With that being said, there were some players who have drawn interest. For some, it was to be expected but for some other cases, there were some very pleasant surprises. I have watched most of the three games and here are some of my observations for some of the team’s key prospects. I’ve divided them in three categories.
This past Draft
He came as advertised, as far as I’m concerned. He wasn’t dominant but showed flashes of why the Canadiens made him the first overall pick. A powerful skater, he protects the puck extremely well using his big frame to do so. Perhaps to most surprising to me is his playmaking ability. He sees the ice well and dishes the puck accurately and at the right time, for the most part. You could definitely see the chemistry he has with countryman and good friend Filip Mesar.
He performed beyond my own expectations, I have to admit. At 5-foot 10-inches and 167 lbs, he’s a bit undersized but you can definitely see why the Canadiens selected him late in the first round. He was a constant threat in the offensive zone and managed a couple of goals. New came out during the tournament that he will be playing in the OHL next season instead of heading back overseas and that’s a good news for the Canadiens who will get to watch him closely.
He was perhaps the most surprising prospect for me out there. We had heard about his 200-foot game and he displayed it well. But it’s through his offense that he surprised as he was arguably the Baby-Canadiens’ best center – or most noticeable – out there. Big body, good skater, he was effective at both ends of the ice and on faceoffs. He was rewarded by centring the top line in the last game.
The 5-foot 8-inches, 168 lbs defenseman surprised when called upon. Excellent skater, he wasn’t afraid of carrying the puck and join the offense… sometimes a bit too much for my liking but that’s something that can be worked on. He wasn’t out-muscled as much as I was expecting him to. He was paired with Arber Xhekaj at times, and with William Trudeau other times. A positive camp for the diminutive defenseman.
A very pleasant surprise, we saw why Kent Hughes was speaking so highly of him after the Tyler Toffoli trade. He scored a couple of nice goals and was around the puck regularly. Good at both ends of the ice, he was at his best when on a line with Jan Mysak.
Perhaps the prospect I was most disappointed about based on the expectations I have on him. He didn’t have a bad camp but many pencil him as starting the season on the big club as the third right-handed defenseman with David Savard and Chris Wideman. He was better in the last game when he was paired with Kaiden Guhle, with whom he had played with for Team Canada junior.
Coming back from shoulder injury, he only played one game but he hasn’t missed a beat. He was a force to reckon with at both ends of the ice. Physical, mobile, good first pass, well positioned, you can tell that he has gained confidence on the offensive aspect of the game. At one point, he deked his way through a maze of players all the way to the net. He will battle for a spot on the big club for sure.
Of course, people will remember his fight against Sens’ prospect Zachary Massicotte, but it’s by his steady play that he stood out for me. He displayed more skilled plays than I was expecting from him. I used to think that he reminded me of Alexei Emelin in his style, but I’m starting to see more Ben Chiarot in him, due to that unexpected offensive creativity. He moves extremely well for a big guy.
One of the last players cut at camp last season, Trudeau flew under the radar… until this rookie tournament that is. Many Habs’ fans re-discovered him. He reminds me of Patrice Brisebois at the same age and yes, that’s a good thing! Decent size, mobile, he is usually in good position but has the odd brain cramp and gets caught. That can be thought and worked on though.
Smooth skater, his game resembles Jordan Harris, although not as sound defensively. I absolutely love the way he quaterbacks a power play and the way he skates the puck out of trouble. At 6-feet and 185 lbs, he could use another 10 lbs or so of muscles. In my opinion, he has improved over what we had seen of him the last time.
It seems like nothing phases Harris and he plays with the composure of a veteran player. I did not like him on the right side however, where he got exposed a few times with players getting around him and with some awkwardness receiving passes and getting the puck out on his back-hand because of it. He does the little things well and the way he positions himself defensively (and defensively only), he reminds me of Andrei Markov with his active stick.
The more I watch this guy play, the more I see Tomas Plekanec. Good skater, he does the little things right on the ice and he was dominant in the faceoffs’ circles. Centring the third line for the most part, he didn’t produce as much offense as we know he’s capable of but his defensive play was stellar.
I wasn’t expecting much from Simoneau and did he ever open my eyes! Of course, we will notice his two goals against the Baby-Sens, but he had a good tournament overall. His good instincts make it seem like he’s one of those guys who always finds himself at the right place at the right time offensively. He wasn’t afraid of getting in traffic either but let’s face it, those weren’t big NHL men out there. The true test is coming.
I tried getting some updates on Mailloux’ shoulder to no avail. We know that he’s been skating but when his surgically repaired shoulder will be ready for contact is still unknown at this time, at least by common mortals like yours truly.
Joshua’s hand injury was said to be minor but he did not take part into any of the games in this tournament. We will likely see at the main training camp to see when he is in his development.
There you have it. Of course, I didn’t touch on every player but those are the ones that really stood out for me during those three games. In fact, I would dare say that no one looked out of place in that tournament for the young Habs. Some showed flashes of greatness and disappeared for long periods too. Your assessment could very well be different and that’s okay. We can all agree that it was great to see some hockey though, right?