Hold My Beer – Six Pack Camp Edition

By JD Lagrange – Rookie Camp is set to start on Wednesday, September 13, with medical and fitness testing at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard. Then, the Habs hopefuls will travel to Buffalo on September 14 to take part in the 2023 Prospects Challenge from September 15-18. The rookie tournament also includes rookies from the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Surprise candidates

Every year, you have players who have good training camps and make the organization think twice before cutting them. And with the numerous quality prospects in the system, we can expect much of the same. It is even possible that there could be a few who will open the eyes of the Canadiens’ decision-makers this year.

I have dressed a list of half a dozen young men who could do this, or at least get further up the radar than they currently are and that, for different reasons.


Davidson had a good camp a year ago but the Canadiens decided to send him back to junior with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL where he had a great season. Assuming more a role of a leader, the Canadiens’ fifth round pick in 2020 accumulated 38 goals and 82 points in 60 games. He plays much bigger than his 6-foot, 183 lbs frame suggests and he’s not afraid to go in traffic. The Edmonton-native just turned 21 in July and will most likely start the season in Laval, but rest assured that he’s planning on leaving a good impression with Martin St-Louis and the Habs’ brass.


Much as been said about Reinbacher since the Canadiens, for a second year in a row, went against what the majority of fans wanted and selected him with the 5th overall selection at the NHL Draft. To be fair, few knew much about him and we ensured to help fans discover him in an earlier article. The 6-foot 2-inches 18 year old defenseman has received much praize from people around the NHL since the Draft and fans are warming up to him, particularly seeing Matvei Michkov being a healthy scratch in three of his team’s four games in the KHL, and seeing the ice for only six minutes in the game in which he was dressed. It is doubtful to see Reinbacher make the big club but I’m fully expecting to see him do well.


Beck open the eyes of many at camp last year but was sent back to his OHL junior team. After being traded to Peterborough, his offence plummeted. His style of play is mature and that’s why many feel like he could make the jump to the NHL sooner than later. But much like the Canadiens did with Nick Suzuki after the 2018 camp, I’m expecting that they will return Beck to junior with a list of things to work on, including his offense. After all, it didn’t hurt Suzuki one bit, did it?


When he was drafted, there were a lot of question marks about Roy and that’s why he slipped to the fifth round. But let’s give credit where credit is due, the young man took his career in his own hands and put in the necessary work to succeed. He got into a better shape, and worked on different aspects of his game, to the point that he’s been one of the CHL’s top players the past couple of years. He outshined most players at the last World Junior Championship, being a key contributor for Team Canada. The St-Georges-de-Beauce native, who just turned 20 in August, is set to give it all to stay in Montreal straight from camp and seeing what he’s done the past couple of years, I wouldn’t be too quick to count him out.


Let’s admit it, Marc Bergevin knew what he was doing when he took advantage of Mailloux falling in the 2021 Draft to select him at #31 overall. The then Canadiens’ GM knew that it would cause controversy (for the reasons that we know) and did it anyway because he knew the type of player, and even character, the young man had. Now, seeing the work that Mailloux has put in off-ice to improve (and prove) himself, most have rallied behind the player, or at least agree to give him a second chance. And the 6-foot 3-inches, 212 lbs defenseman intends on showing why Bergevin took that chance. Both key player development personnel Rob Ramage and Francis Bouillon have, not long ago, qualified Mailloux as the Canadiens’ prospect the closest to being NHL-ready.


Admittedly, this guy is my long-shot. He had a great camp a year ago and went back to Europe to work on his game. At the end of his SHL season, Heineman joined the Laval Rocket where he was a dominant player for Jean-François Houle, who said that the young Swede was NHL-ready. Good skater with strong hockey IQ, there’s a maturity to his game that you don’t often see from a 21 year-old. He has been playing against men in the SHL for a couple of years now, and that should be a definite advantage for him. I’m actually expecting Heineman to make the big club from camp.

There you have it folks. There are plenty of other young men who could cause a surprise, but those are the six I feel can really open some eyes, with some of them having a legitimate shot at forcing the hand of Kent Hughes to make room for them. It all starts this upcoming week. Hockey is back!

Prospects Challenge: Eye Test Report

By JAG – The Prospects Challenge has come and gone. The following is an eye test overview of the three games played by the Habs’ prospects.

The game plan

Jean-François Houle seemed, at first, to have the same game plan as his colleagues. Basically, get out there on offense as soon as you get the puck and put it in the net. If not, come back like hell, get the puck back, repeat! As simple as that!

What else could you expect when you have 30 prospects who hardly know each other and are coming from five different countries, eight different leagues and about twenty different teams. I expected the games to look more like street hockey than NHL hockey. And I didn’t expect any team to play with coherence under such circumstances. I was wrong, at least in the Habs’ case anyways! Mister Houle found a way to get a measure of coherence sometime in game two, mostly through line adjustments and he followed it up with a team showing emerging cohesion in game three. Not a small feat indeed! Kudos to Mister Houle, it bodes well for the Laval Rockets upcoming season.

As for the players, I have to say that every single player on the Habs’ side showed why he deserved to be there. From the most unexpected invitees to the first pick overall, they all had good moments. The Habs were never out of it.  Especially in game two against a New Jersey roster featuring a good measure of AHLers compared to the Habs’ mere four AHL players, the kids did us proud and played very well.

In net

All three goalies offered solid performances. Vrbetic is already signed on an AHL contract and should develop further this year. Coulombe should get a serious look before a decision is made on a Habs’ offer but an AHL contract could be in the books. Mercer is the big question mark, he did very well, is only eighteen and has not been drafted. He will go back to Junior but the Habs should keep an eye on him, he’s available.

On defense

I don’t see a universe where Justin Barron doesn’t start the season in the NHL. His composure, lecture and overall skillset all scream ‘’I’m ready’’! Jordan Harris is NHL ready, his four years in college have paid off, he is physically mature and I can’t wait to see how he develops under MSL. Norlinder showed enough flashes to be noticeable but at his age, I expected more from him. At times he looked like a guy who wants to play in Sweden this season. We’ll see. He may be the first left D to be traded. Fairbrother finally looked like the player that was drafted for his robustness and mobility and he plays both sides of the defense now. Smart move on his part, it’s too busy on the left side anyways!

Kaiden Guhle

Guhle’s play was every bit as advertised. I could nitpick on a few shortcomings, but they are all related to lack of experience which should be acquired right this year, either in the AHL or the NHL. I have the feeling he will finish the season at the Bell Center. William Trudeau looked a lot better than what I saw last year, he surprised me on some plays with good reads and timely jumps to support offense. A good season in the Q should earn him an entry level contract, he has at least the potential of a third pair defenseman with some offensive upside. 

Santino Centorame and Miguel Tourigny definitely need to play games in the AHL before their true ceiling is assessed but they both showed good things. I think they could both get a try-out or an AHL contracts respectively to start their professional careers.

Lastly, there is Arber Xhekaj! I could write a whole article on the AX man. In fact, it’s already in the works, it is called ‘’Don’t mess with the Xhekaj!’’, watch for it coming up next.

On offense

First, Jared Davidson, Cédrik Guindon, Riley Kidney and Joshua Roy – who didn’t play in the challenge due to a minor hand injury – are all eligible to go back to Junior and, in all likeliness, should do so at some time during or after the main camp. Davidson showed the grit and motor he was drafted for and stands an outside chance of getting signed as an AHLer this year. Guindon has shown to be much better than what is generally expected from a late fourth rounder. He is agile, quick and fast and reads the play well. He may be a ‘’Joshua Roy’’ type of find for the Habs. You always knew when he was on the ice. Defense needs work but he has the tools and the speed to be effective in that department. Kidney and Roy would both be ready for the AHL if they were eligible. Rules are rules and they will have to spend one last year in the QMJHL and work on size and strength for Kidney and a bit more speed for Roy. They should both dominate the scoring in the QMJHL and should make Team Canada at Christmas.  

Pierrik Dubé may have earned an AHL contract or a try-out anyways, he showed some flashes of offensive talent and could be a long term project. Ryan Francis got better as the Challenge went on and had a solid third game. Definitely worth a longer look before a decision is made in his case. He has speed and offensive upside, he reminds me of Jake Evans somehow, I would definitely try him out in Laval. Xavier Simoneau also got better as the Challenge went on and, being a draftee, will most likely sign an AHL contract to start his career in Laval.

If the new management didn’t know much about Brett Stapley before, they now know that they have a better player than they thought. He showed that four years in Denver have made him into a solid 200 feet player. He is already signed to an AHL contract and will ply his trade in Laval for now but look for him to climb the depth chart rather quickly and possibly be an NHLer by next year. I have followed his progress since he was drafted at 19 years old out of the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers team. He’s a gamer whose forte is his hockey IQ. He’s a center right now but may be better served as a winger as he develops. Don’t count him out.

John Parker-Jones was the one player that exceeded my expectations the most. He’s only 22 and he’s a BIG man. At 6-foot 7-inches and 230 lbs, he is physically NHL ready right now but needs games at a higher level. He too may be a long-term project. He’s listed as a right shot defenseman but played the Challenge as a forward and scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway. He displayed solid puck protection, reasonable speed, grit and good reads.  He has AHL contract written all over him… maybe more! He could be this year’s BIG find!

Owen Beck

The other player that exceeded my expectations was Owen Beck. As a rule, I’m suspicious of people that feel obligated to tell you they’re smart. In my experience, truly smart people don’t really have to mention it, it shows! Don’t mind my bias, Mister Beck resolutely put his money where his mouth is and he looked very smart on the ice …. Often! Of all the forwards not named Slafkovsky, he may be the most NHL ready of the bunch. Quick, fast, agile, great compete, great hockey IQ, great reads on both sides of the puck, physical, etc. etc. Impressive indeed! Parker-Jones may be this year’s rookie camp BIG find but Owen Beck has to be the Habs’ draft’s biggest steal!

Condotta, Mysak and hopefully Heineman – although it’s reportedly NHL or Europe for him – should all start in Laval and all have a good chance to do stints with the Habs as trades and injuries free up spots in the BIG. Even though these three are very different players; grinder, 200 foot center and speedy winger, they’ve all reached a level where they are valid call-ups in the different roles they can fill. They will all improve their game in Laval and should be ready before they get the call.

Filip Mesar is a bit of a poser. I really liked what I saw, but is he physically ready for Laval or should he go back to Junior? I saw him in civilian clothes coming out of the Habs’ bus in Buffalo and he is not thin …. nor is he skinny. He has a thick core like Gallagher does. Low center of gravity and a strong core make him effective in traffic, which he displayed several times in the games he played.  If he does well at the main camp, a ticket to Laval maybe the path for his development. He’s played with adults before so it wouldn’t be a big stretch.


And saving the best for last …. Juraj Slafkovsky is a genuine young thoroughbred and he showed it …. sometimes too much! He is supersized all the way and he seems to have only one speed, full steam ahead that is! He kept attacking walls of defenders and almost went through a few times! In the end, he tried to do too much …. and too often!

So what I say! It was great fun to watch! He put on display just how fast, physically dominant and intimidating he is. Repeatedly! Like a thoroughbred, he will need to be reined in by Martin St-Louis …. and probably often! That’ll be fun to watch, but it will subside soon enough, the kid is smart!

“Juraj Slafkovsky’s reaction to the fans who wanted to draft Shane Wright first overall”

On the downside, I found that the reports I have read about his shortcomings in reading the play are true. I witnessed it a few times in the two games he played. Yet, I am not too concerned. I’ve heard that the plan is to start him on the third line and I’m hoping Gallagher will be on that line with either Dach or Monahan to calm him down and show him the right way to play. That would go a long way in helping St-Louis get the best of his talents. If not Gallagher then Anderson. Imagine Anderson, Dach and Slafs cycling the puck with you in the middle or all three coming at you full speed …. Scaaaary! The Habs will not be easy to play against, that’s for sure!

Notwithstanding his shortcomings, I haven’t changed my mind about Slafkovsky. He’s still a bit unpolished and he’s not perfect but I’m convinced that, as a BIG piece of the Habs’ Stanley Cup puzzle, he will be a perfect fit …. For a long time!


So, there you have it. As far as prospect groups go, this is a good one. Coaching was good and players performed as advertised …. Or better! Which came as a surprise considering some really poor prospect performances in the not-so distant past.

Of course, time will tell how much of what we saw was just promises and how much will actually come to be. This will be great fun to watch unfold to be sure.

Keep your stick on the ice, the puck is coming!

Thanks for reading.


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