By JD Lagrange – With 74 players invited to the main training camp, there was a clutter of dead wood in there. Not only were there a bunch of players who stood absolutely no chance to start the season in Montreal, there were also a bunch of invited players who would be hard-pressed to push for a spot on the Laval Rocket. But after the most recent cuts, we are starting to see what the coaching staff has in mind.
Last night, the Canadiens were visiting the Senators in Ottawa. Martin St-Louis and his assistants had what could be the team’s fourth line by placing Rem Pitlick and Joel Armia together, with Jake Evans centring them. That turned out to be the Canadiens’ best line in that game. The test of having Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman with rookie sensation Owen Beck, while showing flashes at times, was an overall failure… and that wasn’t necessarily the rookie’s doing.
On defense, two defensemen stood out: Justin Barron is starting to show why Kent Hughes insisted on getting him in the trade which saw Artturi Lehkonen head to Colorado. The other one comes at a bit of a surprise to many, as Otto Leskinen had his best game since the start of training camp. Mike Matheson was not as effective as he was in his last game. Kaiden Guhle, while not as dominant as he’s shown, was solid nonetheless and did enough not to lose any grounds in the race for a spot in Montreal.
Much like in his last game, Cayden Primeau was solid up until the final few minutes, allowing the tying goal and the overtime goal while his team was short-handed. He made some good saves, but didn’t steal the game at the end. The lineup against the Sens was considered Team B.
Where it’s starting to be clearer is when we look at Team A and the line combinations. Take a look at this:
Cole Caufield – Nick Suzuki – Josh Anderson
Juraj Slafkovsky – Sean Monahan – Brendan Gallagher
Evgenii Dadonov – Kirby Dach – Emil Heineman
Xavier Simoneau – Christian Dvorak – Alex Belzile
Corey Schueneman – David Savard
Mattias Norlinder – Madison Bowey
Arber Xhejaj – Logan Mailloux
Jake Allen – Samuel Montembeault
The odds of seeing Xavier Simoneau, Alex Belzile and Logan Mailloux in Montreal to start the season are slim to none. Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylönen and Emil Heineman have a legitimate shot at forcing management to make room for them at forward. All three are very close to being NHL-ready.
Corey Schueneman, Arber Xhekaj and, to a lesser point, Madison Bowey and Mattias Norlinder also have a shot at playing with the big club due to the team’s lack of established NHL players at the defense position. And in net, the backup job is Montembeault’s to lose, but don’t count out Primeau just yet.
Prior to the acquisition of Sean Monahan, going on the assumption that Mike Hoffman would start the season in Montreal, I had created what I thought could be the Canadiens’ lines on October 12th against Toronto.
So far from looking at Team A and Team B, there are a few combinations that are spot on. Martin St-Louis has Josh Anderson with Suzuki and Caufield to start. Dadonov and Dach are together, as are Slafkovsky and Gallagher, while Evans and Armia are on the fourth line.
Who is ahead?
At forward, even though there is literally no room, Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylönen Emil Heineman have a legitimate shot at forcing management into trading away some dead wood to make some room.
On defense, there are three regular spots available, and potentially one temporary spot depending if Joel Edmundson is ready or not to return by the 12th. If I had to put them in order of those with the best odds so far (that can change based on performances), it would look something like this:
- Kaiden Guhle
- Justin Barron
- Jordan Harris
- Arber Xhekaj
- Otto Leskinen
Madison Bowey was injured and is just now resuming practice with a full contact jersey. Like Schueneman, he’s a young veteran who is on the fringe between the AHL and the NHL, but he’s also right-handed. We’ll have to see how he fits into St-Louis’ system before ranking him, or gauging his odds of helping out, at least temporarily.
Camp is far from over and the battles are fluid and certainly not set in concrete. But there is something else to keep an eye on. Other teams are also holding their own training camps and some of those teams will have to cut their roster. As the final cuts are fast approaching, some of them will try sneaking players through waivers and we know that up until the end of October, the Canadiens have first dib…
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