Owen Beck Reminiscent of Suzuki

By JD Lagrange – The Montreal Canadiens – finally – made some substantial cuts from their training camp. With the team only having two more games left to get ready for the regular season, the remaining group will be heading to Mont-Tremblant in hope to solidify team chemistry, away from unnecessary distractions.

Some of the young men who were cut on Saturday had a good camp and have left a good impression on both the coaching staff, the team management and the fans.

  • David Reinbacher‘s play was very reassuring to many, he who will be returning home for one more season to play in the Swiss league.
  • Joshua Roy had a good camp and he will be starting his professional career with the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
  • For a second year in a row, William Trudeau has a solid camp. His situation is not without reminding us of Justin Barron a year ago. He’s likely not pleased with being sent down but his goal should be to be the first defenseman called up when needed.
  • Jakub Dobes has also performed well at camp and with the so-so play of Cayden Primeau, he represents a good security in the event Primeau is claimed on waivers if the Canadiens try sending him to Laval.
  • Filip Mesar started slow but finished strong at camp and he will be trying to earn a spot in Laval when their training camp starts on Monday. It will be there or back to junior for the former first round pick.
  • Jared Davidson and John Parker-Jones also had a good training camp and both will be trying to earn a spot on a young and talented Rocket team.

Owen Beck

I have kept Owen Beck separate because many people on social media have expressed their displeasure in seeing the young man being sent back to the OHL. Ideally, Beck would have gone to the AHL but the rules being what they are, it was Montreal or the OHL for the promising prospect.

Beck is good on faceoffs, a skill that won’t be lost in junior. But let’s be honest here and let’s admit that he could generate more offensively. With 41 points in 30 games in Mississauga last season, he was up to a smoking start offensively and then got traded to Peterborough. In 30 games for the Petes, he only managed seven goals and 25 points, a sub-par production for him.

Beck’s situation today is not without reminding me of a current Canadiens player, Nick Suzuki. Back at camp in 2018, Suzuki impressed by his mature play. Many felt like he could have made the team back then. But Canadiens’ coaches and management decided to send him back to Owen Sound in the OHL with a list of things to work on. To his credit, the young man worked on the aspects of his game he was asked to perfect. That year, he played at the World Junior Championship (WJC) and when he came to camp a year later, he was more than ready.

Beck needs to work on generating more offensively. Much like the Canadiens captain, he has the hockey IQ and the skills set to apply what he will be asked to work on. I have little doubts that the Habs’ prospect will have a solid season and he should play at the WJC at Christmas time. He will return better and stronger in a year from now.

I, for one, am from the André Tourigny school of thoughts of playing young players at a level where they can succeed in order to maximize their development and confidence. I am pleased to see that this management group is not rushing prospects. I felt like they made the wrong decision last year with Juraj Slafkovsky by not sending him to the WJC and even Laval at some point in the season. Perhaps they’ve learned from it…

Newfound Center Depth

By JD Lagrange – Remember when, not long ago, the Montreal Canadiens simply couldn’t find anyone to (efficiently) play the center position? Remember when they traded for and tried to convert two wingers, Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi, to fill that need? Or when they ended up drafting for needs in picking Jesperi Kotkaniemi ahead of Brady Tkachuk, amongst others? Well, thanks to sound drafting and a few key trades, the search seems to finally be over.

Here is the current center depth on the Canadiens, and how they were acquired, in no particular order:

Nick SuzukiAcquired in September 2018 by Marc Bergevin from the Vegas Golden Knights, along with Tomas Tatar and a 2nd rd pick, for Max Pacioretty
Sean MonahanAcquired in August 2022 by Kent Hughes from the Calgary Flames, along with a 1st round pick, for future considerations to allow the Flames to sign Nazem Kadri
Kirby DachAcquired in July 2022 by Kent Hughes from the Chicago Blackhawks for the 13th overall pick and a 3rd rd pick
Christian DvorakAcquired in September 2021 by Marc Bergevin from the Arizona Coyotes for a 1st and 2nd round pick
Alex NewhookAcquired in June 2023 by Kent Hughes from the Colorado Avalanche for the 31st and 37th overall picks and Gianni Fairbrother
Jake EvansDrafted by the Canadiens in the 7th rd of the 2014 NHL Draft
Owen BeckDrafted by the Canadiens in the 2nd rd of the 2022 NHL Draft
Sean FarrellDrafted by the Canadiens in the 4th rd of the 2020 NHL Draft
Jan MysakDrafted by the Canadiens in the 2nd rd of the 2020 NHL Draft
Xavier SimoneauDrafted by the Canadiens in the 6th rd of the 2021 NHL Draft
Riley KidneyDrafted by the Canadiens in the 2nd rd of the 2021 NHL Draft
Oliver KapanenDrafted by the Canadiens in the 2nd rd of the 2021 NHL Draft
Vinzenz RohrerDrafted by the Canadiens in the 3rd rd of the 2022 NHL Draft
Jared DavidsonDrafted by the Canadiens in the 5th rd of the 2022 NHL Draft
Ty SmilanicAcquired in March 2022 by Kent Hughes along with a 1st and 4th rd pick from the Florida Panthers for Ben Chiarot

Further, Lias Andersson can also play center or wing if or when needed. Martin St-Louis doesn’t have to scramble to find centermen for his team. He has more than enough.

2023 season

Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes announced, a few days ago, that Christian Dvorak wouldn’t be ready to start the season due to an injury. However, the Canadiens’ top faceoffs center (after Monahan) is skating solo and has intensified his workouts.

The knock on Kirby Dach has always been his faceoffs’ percentage being well below the acceptable barrier of 50%. That’s why the Blackhawks gave up on him and it remains his biggest downfall. However, he has shown signs of improvements so far at training camp so there is hope.

Due to the quality depth on the Canadiens’ roster at the center position, odds are that you will have two centers playing on any given line. This is a good thing for a few reasons.

  1. We know that NHL linesmen can be overzealous at kicking centers out of faceoffs. When this occurs, another center can take that faceoffs, with better odds of winning it than if it was a winger taking the draw. That’s good for puck possession both in the offensive and defensive zone.
  2. It potentially allows for centers to take faceoffs on their strong side. If you were to put Monahan (a lefty) on a line with Dach or Suzuki (both righties), he could take some of the faceoffs. The same goes for Newhook, Evans, Dvorak.

It is a well known fact that it is easier for a center to play wing, than for a winger to learn to play center, particularly at the NHL level with the responsibilities that come with the position. And we’re seeing the organization trying to develop centers, even with players who play wing. An example of that is Filip Mesar, whom the Habs’ coaching staff plays at center from time to time. By the time he reaches the NHL, he will have some experience there.

Though my years of coaching and watching hockey, I have always been a strong believer that you cannot have too many centers, but you certainly can have too few. It looks like the Canadiens understood that reality and the center position has now become a position of strength and depth, with more young ones continuing to develop in the system.