Rookie Tournament – The Recap

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

Juraj Slafkovsky

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.

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.

Owen Beck

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.

Miguel Tourigny

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.

Trade acquisitions

Emil Heineman

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.

Justin Barron

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.

Bergevin/Timmins era

Kaiden Guhle

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.

Arber Xhekaj

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.

William Trudeau

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.

Mattias Norlinder

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.

Jordan Harris

Jordan Harris

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.

Jan Mysak

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.

Xavier Simoneau

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.

Injured

Logan Mailloux

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 Roy

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?

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A Look At The Longshots

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.

Goal

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

Defense

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

Center

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

Left Wing

Emil Heineman

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

Right Wing

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.

Roster Moves

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.

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