Most Impressive Prospects At Camp

By JD Lagrange – It’s still early on, but since the Rookie Camp and the start of the Canadiens’ main Training Camp, we have been given the opportunity to see some pretty amazing performances by several of the team’s top prospects. And we’re not talking about just one or two here.

In fact, for the purpose of this article, I originally wanted to do a top-5 of the most impressive prospects so far. But I simply couldn’t narrow it down to only five. I was leaving some guy who arguably could be on that list so I decided to do a top-10. Then, it left two young men who are also having a good camp, so I had to stretch it to the top-12! Never have I ever felt the need to go that deep during training camp talking about prospects!

12- Jan Mysak (2020 round 2 #48 overall by Montreal)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this 20 year-old center reminds me a lot of Tomas Plekanec. He’s not as noticeable as others because he’s not flashy, plus he’s been given third line assignments more often than not. But he is efficient at both ends of the ice and killed penalties against the New Jersey Devils. He still needs some maturing in the AHL… as did Plekanec back then.

11- Xavier Simoneau (2021 round 6 #191 overall by Montreal)

At 21 years of age, the 5-foot 7-inches, 178 lbs forward has displayed a rare combination of speed and skills set. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but he has performed beyond my personal expectations that I had of him. He won’t crack this year’s line-up, but he could definitely surprise many within the next couple of years.

10- Mattias Norlinder (2019 round 3 #64 overall by Montreal)
Mattias Norlinder

We sometimes forget that he’s only 22 years old, do we? While he still has some stuff to work on in the defensive zone, I absolutely love the way he quaterbacks a power play. It’s particularly true when they use the umbrella system, with him at the high point. Good vision, he has this ability of finding the passing lanes. His decision-making needs to improve in his zone, as well as his coverage.

9- Antoine Coulombe (camp invitee, undrafted)

The 20 year-old goaltender from Montmagny, Quebec, played for the Shawinigan Cataractes. He was released by the Canadiens prior to their exhibition game against New Jersey. While I fully understand why he was cut, I thought that he could be have been a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way contract. But I left him on my list because he was, in my humble opinion, a very pleasant surprise.

8- Emil Heineman (2020 round 2 #43 overall by Florida)

Acquired in the Ben Chiarot trade at the last trade deadline, Heineman has been very impressive by his 200-foot game. He has been a threat on offense, and has made some good defensive plays too. We know that Kent Hughes had high praise for the 20 year-old after trading for him, but Martin St-Louis seems to appreciate him just as much.

“We’re trying to build something that is going to bring continued success. From what we see from [Heineman], we see a guy that could be part of that.” ~ Martin St-Louis.

7- Arber Xhekaj (undrafted, signed by Montreal)

His name is on everyone’s lips, even living rent-free in the Ottawa Senators’ fans minds since he took out two of their prospects in a rookie game in Buffalo. He’s big (6’4″, 238 lbs), he’s mobile, he hits hard and, as Sens’ prospect Zachary Massicotte found out, dropping the gloves against the 21 year-old could be a huge mistake. He had a good camp last year, which earned him a contract, and he’s picked up where he left off.

6- Kaiden Guhle (2020 round 1 #16 overall by Montreal)

Guhle didn’t play in the rookie tournament in Buffalo and has just recently taken part of scrimmages and games. The 20 year-old rearguard is displaying great skating abilities for a big man and his poise, maturity and decision-making at such a young age are what distinguish him from the rest. Don’t be shocked if he sticks with the Canadiens to start the season.

5- Jesse Ylönen (2018 round 2 #35 overall by Montreal)

Ylönen will turn 23 on October 3rd, and he is making a case to stay in Montreal so far. No, he’s not lighting the lamp but every time he’s on the ice, he displays some good attributes. His game suits the NHL game and his vision and anticipation are a notch above most prospects. In Laval, he showed what he can do on the power play with his one-timer, but he’s also sound defensively. I’m personally hoping that he can crack the line-up as he has more to show.

4- Jordan Harris (2018 round 3 #71 overall by Montreal)

He played ten games at the end of last year and the 22 year-old looked good. He’s having a very solid camp, showing the poise of a player much older. Good skater, he has struggled a bit on some aspects when they tried him on the right side, but he shows being adaptable. Good puck-mover with an active stick in the defensive zone, he won’t outmuscle anyone but positions himself to be effective.

3- Filip Mesar (2022 round 1 #26 overall by Montreal)

Often referred to as the “other first round pick”, or Robin to Slafkovsky (Batman) according to Chris Wideman, the 18 year-old Slovak is cool as a cucumber so far. Often a threat in the offensive zone, he likes having the puck on his stick and, for the most part, makes the right decisions with it already. Admittedly, he feels like he will need a year or two as he states being able to skate with these guys, but feels like they’re big and strong! He wants to bulk up.

2- Juraj Slafkovsky (2022 round 1 #1 overall by Montreal)

Obviously, he needs no introduction. The first overall pick at the last NHL Draft is taking some heat from a few fans because he’s not lighting the lamp. But hockey people will tell you that he’s very impressive. Strong, he uses his big body to protect the puck and separate himself from checks. What I wasn’t expecting is hove fast the 6-foot 3-inches, 238 lbs winger really is. Listening to him in an interview at the intermission of the exhibition against New Jersey, he’s not happy with his play… yet. This augurs well as he wants to be the best out there. But please Habs’ fans, keep your expectations in check!

1- Owen Beck (2022 round 2 #33 overall by Montreal)

He’s the talk of town right now, and rightfully so. The 18 year-old, second round pick at the last NHL Draft is taking everyone by surprise so far. Great of faceoffs, he stands out at both ends of the ice. And he’s earned every opportunities he’s received, being put into situations to showcase what he can do. He will most likely return to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL with a list of things to work on, similarly to what the Canadiens did with Nick Suzuki at the same age.

Miscellaneous

An honourable mention to another camp invitee, John Parker-Jones 6-foot 7-inches, 230 lbs defenseman who played the rookie tournament on right-wing. Could be a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way?

Good prospects not making the list:

Some of the team’s very good prospects present at camp have not made the cut thus far. But we all know that they have the skills to turn things around. Justin Barron (he had a good exhibition game against the Devils), Logan Mailloux (injured), William Trudeau, Otto Leskinen, Joshua Roy, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Riley Kidney have a bright future ahead of them and some still have a shot at impressing.

Good prospects not present:

And there are other very, very good prospects who, for various reasons, were not at camp this year, but they will be in the future. Lane Hutson, Adam Engström, Jayden Struble, Vinzenz Rohrer, Sean Farrell, Jakub Dobes and Frederik Dichow are some of the team’s good prospects.

The Canadiens current have 11 more picks at the 2023 NHL Draft, including two first rounders: the Flames in the Monahan trade, and their own. Can we say that the future is bright?

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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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