The Montreal Canadiens invited 25 players to attend their development camp this summer, consisting of four players from the recent draft held last month, and another four players were brought in on a tryout basis. Expecting fans were excited to see the two most current first round picks at camp, in Andrei Kostitsyn and Kyle Chipchura, as they got their first look at both. Also in attendance was general manager Bob Gainey and head coach Claude Julien, who watched their prospects in action as they stood with the fans, answering questions when asked. The camp was run by Hamilton head coach Doug Jarvis on some days and assistant general manager Andre Savard on other days.
The camp runs over a week in length, and starts off with three hours of on ice drills, followed by off ice seminars on different topics to help the young players with their future careers. The camp was split into two groups for the first hour, with one group of twelve and the other had the remaining players including all four goalies so they could all work together with the Canadiens goalie coach Roland Melanson. Then they would all skate together for the remaining on ice drills, doing mostly 2 on 0, 3 on 0, 2 on 1 drills, which was a break from the power skating and strength drills from the first hour. One of the real treats for fans was seeing Kostitsyn and Chipchura paired together during a three on none drill, where they showed why they were selected in the first round during the last two entry drafts.
Here are some notes for each player on how they are doing at camp. I put them in groups by position and then by the year they were drafted, as the older players had the advantage of experiencing previous camps. I also got some input from head coach Claude Julien, as we had a brief discussion on a few of prospects, which I was grateful for him to take time to speak to me.
Yann Danis– (undrafted, FA signee ’04) Danis makes his first appearance at this camp, despite being one of the oldest players in attendance. After four outstanding years at Brown University, where he was able to break several NCAA, ECAC and Brown records and was in the running for the Hobey Baker award for the top college player. Once his NCAA career was over, gm Bob Gainey signed Danis, where he was able to start in two games for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, recording a shutout victory in his first professional game. At camp Danis did not disappoint, as he was able to show off his quick reflexes and exceptional positioning, displaying a very mature and professional manner. Look for Danis to grab the starter position in Hamilton next season, as coach Jarvis was able to watch his goalie closely, although it’s still unclear who else will be in nets for Hamilton.
Christopher Heino-Lindberg– (’03, 6th round 177th) Lindberg was not able to attend last years camp due to a shoulder injury, but didn’t waste anytime showing off some impressive skills with some very quick moves and reflexes. Lindberg plays in the Swedish tier-2 league, where he was on loan with Valentuna, but they have since been regulated to the tier-3 league and Lindberg has been recalled back to Hammerby where he will fight for the starting goalie job. Lindberg could easily be considered one of the bigger surprises in camp for fans, as he was putting on a show with some impressive saves.
Jaroslav Halak– (’03, 9th round 271st) Halak was recently selected by Lewiston of the QMJHL in the CHL import draft, which would give fans in North America a chance to seen the standout goalie of the Slovak junior league last year. Halak seemed to struggle at early stages of camp, but as the camp went on, he began to show more confidence and some impressive saves. Not the biggest goalie, or a very technical, as he stays deep in net and doesn’t often come out to challenge shooters, but showed that he can stop the puck with his unique style.
Loic Lacasse– (’04, 6th round 181st) Lacasse is one of the youngest players at camp, and while he was a step behind the other goalies, he was able to display a solid glove hand and puck handling abilities. Lacasse should be the starting goalie for Drakkar of the QMJHL next year, so hopefully he will gain valuable experience from this camp and take it with him while in Baie Comeau.
Andrew Archer– (’01, 7th round 203rd) Archer is the only player at camp from the 2001 draft, but an injury at the start of last season limited his development time in Hamilton. But the injury is healed, as Archer was one of the standouts of camp with his hard work and improved physical play, as he was clearly one of the strongest players at camp. Next year he should play a bigger role with Hamilton.
Jean-Phillipe Cote– (FA signee ’03) Cote was brought in last summer on a tryout basis, after not being signed by the Leafs who drafted him in the 2000 draft, 265th overall, but let him reenter the draft but he was not selected. The Quebec City native had a solid career in the QMJHL while playing for Cape Brenton and the Titan, but never put up big offensive numbers. Cote was signed by Hamilton last summer and give a full time roster spot, where he led the team in plus/minus with an impressive +27. At this camp, Cote is also one of the oldest players, but has shown excellent work ethic and physical play, as he is always working hard and will take the body whenever he can. Cote is currently under contract with Hamilton, but will be a free agent this fall, it’s unclear if he will be signed by the Canadiens but the lack of defensive depth in Hamilton and his solid play go in his favor.
Ryan O’Byrne– (’03, 3rd round 79th overall) O’Bynre at the time of last years draft was consider by some to be a reach when picked in the third round, but to those watching in camp, they get to see what the Canadiens scouting staff was interested in. As the biggest player at camp, O’Byrne has shown impressive speed and skating to go with his big 6’5 212 frame, and on top of that he’s also displayed a very physical side whenever he has the chance. O’Byrne is the only player in camp from the NCAA, as he is forced to pay his own way to camp, as NCAA players are not allowed to receive any money from NHL teams, which shows his willingness to be at this camp and improve on his raw skills. Next year O’Byrne will be a sophomore at Cornell University, where he should see an increased role with the team as his game matures and he further adapts to the NCAA game compared to his days in the BCJHL.
Mark Flood– (’03, 6th round 188th) Flood is coming off a solid year in the OHL, where he was one of the most improved players in the league and was even selected to the All Stars for his efforts. Flood is having a solid camp, as he is an excellent skater, with good speed and solid positioning, although he’s still underdeveloped physically as he’ll likely need to get stronger if he’s to move up to the AHL next season. Flood has shown impressive offensive abilities which could help management decide to sign him this summer, instead of letting him return to Peterbrough of the OHL as an overager. He was signed to a tryout contract with Hamilton at the end of this season, but did not get to dress in any games, so it’s unclear where he will be playing his hockey next season, but continued success at this camp and the rookie camp should go a long way for him.
Oskari Korpikari– (’03, 7th round 217th) Korpikari has the advantage of playing in the men’s league in Finland for parts of the last two seasons, and it shows on the ice. As one of the standouts in last year’s camp, Korpikari again shows impressive skills with his skating, work ethic, positional play and physical strength. A strong skater with a solid frame and good speed, Korpikari looks to be one of the strongest players in camp, and one of the most developed, although his offensive game could use some improvement. It’s unclear what managements plans are for the Finn, but another year in the sm-liiga shouldn’t hurt, although it would be good to see him in Hamilton as soon as possible.
Alex Dulac-Lemelin– (’04, 9th round 278th) As one of the young players in camp, Dulac-Lemelin has had a tough going in many of the skating and strength drills, but has shown an impressive reach, although he must learn to keep his feet moving at all times. Next season Dulac-Lemelin will be one of the top defensemen at Baie Comeau, so hopefully he takes everything he’s learned at this camp and takes it back with him to Drakkar.
Olivier Magnan– (tryout) Magnan is in camp on a tryout basis, after having a solid season with Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL. Magnan has shown some solid skills, although nothing that stands out. He has decent size, skates well, good speed, works hard, and has a decent shot. Tough to say if he will get a contract offer, but the lack of depth on defense in Hamilton does bode well for him.