When The Math Doesn’t Add Up

By JD Lagrange – If there’s one thing that this rookie tournament is doing, it’s opening the eyes of Habs’ fans everywhere about how effective the reset started in 2018 is starting to be. You see, it takes time for young players to develop and only a few of them can have an immediate impact. Of course, the continued work by current management, following in the footsteps of Marc Bergevin and his group, has added to that prospect pool.

There is another potential issue it’s raising as well. As it currently stands, the Montreal Canadiens have little to no room on their roster to allow for these young players, particularly at forward, to remotely hope making the team. The same cannot be said on defense where, as we’re speaking, there are three spots available for these young men. Even in net, there will be a battle between two young goalies to be Jake Allen’s backup. But let’s look at the breakdown.

Forwards

Give or take, there are about 20 forwards who have a legitimate claim at being of NHL caliber. Some definitely are, others are ready to prove that they belong. The issue is that too many are on NHL contracts, some with substantial contracts. Saying that Kent Hughes must move some forwards would be stating the obvious, but something has got to give.

Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylönen, Emil Heineman, and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard all seem to be ready to prove that they belong. Unfortunately for them, they have 16 other forwards “ahead” of them. When you consider that teams usually carry 13, sometimes 14 forwards on their club, it leaves zero room for them. And when you’re talking young guys, you’re also talking cheap cap hit and players motivated to earn and keep their spot in the line-up…

NAMEPOSSHOOTSAGEHTWT
Nick SuzukiCR235’11”205
Sean MonahanCL276’2″200
Christian DvorakCL266’1″200
Kirby DachCR216’4″197
Jake EvansCR266’0″176
Jan MysakCL206’0″182
Brendan GallagherWR305’9″184
Josh AndersonWR286’3″227
Jonathan DrouinWL276’0″203
Evgenii DadonovWL335’11”185
Mike HoffmanWL326’0″184
Joel ArmiaWR296’3″218
Paul ByronWL335’9″158
Rem PitlickWL255’11”196
Juraj SlafkovskyWL186’3″238
Cole CaufieldWR215’7″166
Michael PezzettaWL246’1″216
Jesse YlönenWR226’0″167
Emil HeinemanWL206’1″185
Rafaël Harvey-PinardWL235’9″182

Defensemen

As mentioned, the situation is slightly different on defense. Four players are guaranteed their spot: Joel Edmundson, Mike Matheson, David Savard and Chris Wideman. In total, there are about 14 players who are either NHL-caliber or close to being NHL-ready. Once again, teams usually keep seven, sometimes eight defensemen on the team.

Due to the lack of right-handed defensemen, Justin Barron starts with an advantage. But he’s only 20 years old and he may (or not) benefit from some development time in Laval. Corey Schueneman did well when called upon last year and many felt like he could replace departing Brent Kulak.

Then, you have a group of quality young players in a bunch: Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder and Arber Xhekaj all have a legitimate shot at making the big club. Young veterans Otto Leskinen, who is returning to North America, and Madison Bowey will ensure to make the Canadiens’ decision difficult. It is important to note that this list doesn’t include quality young prospects That list doesn’t include Logan Mailloux, Lane Hutson, Jayden Struble and Peter Nurmi.

NAMESHOOTSAGEHTWT
Joel EdmundsonL296’5″224
Mike MathesonL286’2″188
David SavardR316’1″234
Chris WidemanR325’10”180
Corey SchuenemanL276’0″196
Justin BarronR206’2″195
Jordan HarrisL225’11”179
Kaiden GuhleL206’2″199
Mattias NorlinderL226’0″185
Otto LeskinenL255’11”187
Arber XhekajL216’4″238
Madison BoweyR266’2″202
Gianni FairbrotherL215’11”202
William TrudeauL196’0″190

Goaltenders

Right now, the Canadiens have three goaltenders who can be considered of NHL caliber. It’s not saying that the team lacks depth, but the others simply aren’t ready yet. With the news that Carey Price is likely out for the season, Jake Allen becomes the number one by default. Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau both signed one-way deals and will be battling for the backup position.

Montembeault seems to have the edge simply due to the fact that he must clear waivers, but don’t count Primeau out just yet. In fact, the Canadiens have a couple of options for him but in either case, he must play.

NAMEAGEHTWT
Jake Allen326’2″190
Sam Montembeault256’3″199
Cayden Primeau236’3″203

So as you can see, training camp should be more competitive than ever and decisions will have to be made. The most pressing issue, however, remains at the forward position and the coaching staff needs help from their General Manager to create at least some room up front. Hughes has done pretty well so far, but he still have work to do before the season begins.

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What To Expect At Training Camp

By JD Lagrange – As we’re going through the last couple of days of August, the nights get cooler and the days are shorter. For some, like yours truly, it’s a sure sign that hunting season is around the corner. And for Habs’ fans like us, it also means that our favourite club is getting closer to hitting the ice once again.

And this season brings a new glow, a sense of hope and optimism after a nightmare season. This will be the first full season with the new management and coaching staff. Geoff Gorton, Kent Hughes, Martin St-Louis, Stéphane Robidas and several other executives will be going through their first training camp together… along with several new players.

Speaking of players, the frame of mind with which they will show up at camp will depend on their season last year, or off-season. I’ve divided them into four categories.

Eating the boards

We can expect these players to come into camp with everything to prove and a chip on their shoulder, for multiple reasons.

Brendan Gallagher
  • Brendan Gallagher: He is coming off a bad season which can be explained by COVID and its crazy schedule, including a long playoffs’ run in between. Benefiting from a more normal off-season, Gally will want to show that last season was an exception, that he is not ready to be tagged as being on the downslope of his career. Betting against that guy would be a mistake.
  • Jake Evans: Not due to any of his own doing, but the arrival of Sean Monahan and Kirby Dach has now forced him into a battle to keep his spot at center. As we just covered, he has worked on his shot and on getting bigger this off-season, and he will want to show that it has paid off.
  • Kirby Dach: Acquired at the NHL Draft, this will be Dach’s first training camp with his new team. For him, it’s a new start. He too knows that the battle at center will be fierce and he will want to impress the coaching staff.
  • Michael Pezzetta: Let’s face it, Pezzetta is the type of player who will always have to fight for his spot. But rest assured that he’s going in with that mentality and for a rugged guy like him, he will bring it. There’s an overload of forwards with NHL contracts and he will want to force management to keep him up.
  • Samuel Montembeault: The news of Carey Price not being there at camp is a good one for Montembeault but he’s a fighter anyway. Now, he will want to stick alongside Jake Allen so this off-season will be crucial for him. Not only does he have to beat Cayden Primeau to the punch, but he won’t want management to feel like they need to get another goalie.

Consistency

In the next group, you have players who are pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster. They are guys who always have a good work ethics and, unless disaster strikes, are a shoe-in on the team. But they will too feel the heat of competition, some more than others.

We’re talking about Suzuki, Caufield, Dvorak, Monahan, Anderson, Armia, Pitlick, Edmundson, Matheson, Savard, Wideman, Allen. I hesitated putting Monahan in the previous group due to his disappointing seasons but it was cause by injuries and he always has good work ethics.

Praying for success

It’s a small group, but they’re the type of players who have relied on their skills to get by. But these three players have something to prove. We sometimes wonder if they have the drive that players in the first group have, however. They’ll do what they have to do to get by.

Jonathan Drouin
  • Johathan Drouin: Operated on two different wrists in the last two seasons, a leave to take care of his mental health, Drouin has only played two games under Martin St-Louis. He’s never been known as a “character guy”, as they call them, and one has to wonder how many setbacks he can take before folding. But he is the player on the team who could see the biggest improvement if things go his way. A pending UFA, he’s playing for a new contract and sometimes, it can serve as motivation.
  • Mike Hoffman: Trade rumours are all over this guy and due to his lack of trade protection, don’t be shocked if you keep hearing his name until he does get traded eventually. If Hoffman can light the lamp and help the powerplay, it would be an improvement over last season. By the way, his defensive play isn’t as bad as some make it out to be.
  • Evgenii Dadonov: Like Drouin, he is playing for a contract next season. For those who don’t know him well, he reminds me a bit of Tomas Tatar as a player and ironically, he too was acquired from Vegas as a cap dump. If all goes well, you can count on 20 goals from him but don’t rush to buy his jersey. He’s likely not going to play a full season in Montreal, as he’s perfect trade bait for trade deadline.

Prospects

Then, you have the rookies, or young players, who were not in the NHL last season but who will try earning a spot and force management’s hand. As the battles are totally different between forwards and defensemen, I’ve decided to split them into two groups.

Forwards

As mentioned before, there isn’t much room at the forward position so someone will have to really step up and impress in order to earn a spot. But it’s always possible. When Gallagher broke into the NHL in 2012, he earned a spot a camp. Marc Bergevin sent him to the AHL until he could make room for him, which he did. Gally got called up to never look back. Kent Hughes will have to do the same.

  • Juraj Slafkovsky
  • Jesse Ylönen
  • Rafaël Harvey-Pinard
  • Joshua Roy
  • Emil Heineman
  • Joël Teasdale
  • Mitchell Stephens
  • Jan Mysak
  • Nate Schnarr
  • Lucas Condotta

Defense

Kayden Guhle

If we consider that Edmundson, Matheson, Savard and Wideman have a spot on the team, it leaves three empty slots on the Canadiens’ defense. That’s a golden opportunity for the young defensemen in the organization, one that the forwards don’t have. And it will play out between the following players:

  • Justin Barron
  • Kaiden Guhle
  • Jordan Harris
  • Corey Schueneman
  • Otto Leskinen
  • Mattias Norlinder
  • Arber Xhekaj
  • Gianni Fairbrother
  • Madison Bowey

Barron being right handed is a huge advantage. Guhle, Harris, Schueneman, Leskinen and Norlinder all have a bit of NHL experience. But don’t count out Xhekaj, who has the physique and strength of a full grown man.

So it will be an interesting and competitive training camp. You can expect some fast pace play, high on intensity. It all starts with the rookie camp in a couple of weeks, then moving into the main camp. Hockey is just around the corner, folks!

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