October has arrived and the NHL season is on the horizon. In just a few days the Canadiens will kick off a three game road trip in Buffalo with stops in Toronto and Philadelphia before heading home to the Bell Centre to host the Senators on October 14th for their home opener.
Although the Canadiens ended up with only six draft choices this year they did a marvelous job wheeling and dealing. The Habs begun the day with the 16th overall selection but traded it to the Sharks for the 20th and 53rd overall picks. With the 20th selection the Habs drafted David Fischer a 6’3” defenseman from Apple Valley High School. Fischer the winner of the Mr. Hockey award for the state of Minnesota for the year 2006 will begin his NCAA career this October with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Habs second selection was a smooth skating 6 foot centre from Kootenay of the WHL Ben Maxwell. Maxwell racked up 60 points in 69 games in his second season in the WHL. When all was said and done the Canadiens ended up with five of the RLR’s top 66 players available. Selecting another centre Ryan White and three more defenseman Mathieu Carle, Pavel Valentenko and Cameron Cepek.
Bob Gainey has completely overhauled the Canadiens line up since his tenure has begun as the Canadiens General Manager. Only Koivu Souray, Rivet and Bouillon remain as regulars on the current edition of the Canadiens. Just days ago Gainey gave the Canadiens another face lift in an attempt to bolster the Canadiens defensive depth. The Canadiens shipped centre Mike Ribeiro and their 6th round draft pick in 2007 to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Janne Niinimaa and the Stars 5th round pick in 2007. Both Gainey and Carbonneau believed the Canadiens lacked defensive depth as a few days earlier journeyman defenseman Patrick Traverse was picked up on the waiver line from San Jose.
Gainey’s busiest day of the summer by far was Wednesday July 12th as he made four significant moves, starting with the signing’s both David Aebischer and Sergei Samsonov. Following the signing’s two trades were made, Gainey attained Mike Johnson from the Phoenix Coyotes for a 4th round draft choice following this deal Gainey sent Richard Zednik back to the team that drafted him the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 3rd round draft pick.
Training Camp & Preseason
On September 14th players reported to the Bell Centre for medical evaluations. Everything ran smoothly as many players shifted weight classes. Mike Komisarek came to camp at 242 lbs and Chris Higgins who trained with Mike for most of the summer also gained weight as he came to camp at 202lbs. Mathieu Dandenault gained an impressive 15 lbs since last season as he is clearly looking to add a more physical aspect to his overall game. Alexander Perezhogin also gained 10 lbs. Michael Ryder and Radek Bonk both trimmed down during the off-season losing 10lbs each.
After a few days of skating drills, team bonding and scrimmages it was time to begin the pre season schedule. On September 19th and 20th the Canadiens played and lost back-to-back against the Bruins in the Bell Centre. Cristobal Huet and Carey Price split the first game allowing five goals on 38 Bruins shots. Michael Ryder and Guillaume Latendresse provided the offence for the Canadiens. The second game saw the Canadiens ice a goaltending duo of David Aebischer and Yann Danis. Aebischer allowed two first period goals while Danis shut out the Bruins in the second half. Mike Johnson scored in his first preseason game with the Canadiens as they suffered a 3-1 loss.
The Habs wrapped their preseason up September 30th in Montreal hosting the Ottawa Senators. Earlier in the night Mike Ribeiro was shipped to Dallas and Tomas Plekanec was chosen to slide into the centre role on the second line in between Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov. The Canadiens trailed 5-3 heading into the final period but the newly formed Kovalev line exploded for three goals hoisting the Canadiens to an exhilarating a 6-5 victory.
Making the Cut
As training winded down there was a heated battle for the final forward roster spot on the Canadiens, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn emerged as the front runners for the position and although both played some excellent hockey. Latendresse was signed to an NHL contract and will begin the season as a member of the Canadiens. Latendresse will bring a dynamic to the Canadiens that has not been there since….since ….well frankly I can not remember when the Canadiens had a player with the potential he has. Latendresse is 6’2” and 229lbs but what is most impressive is his offensive ability willingness to hit and his soft hands. Coach Guy Carbonneau believes he has the ability to bang and crash on the fourth line but may also get some chances on the top line this season to produce offensively. But a warning should be issued to all fans that are expecting him to destroy the NHL on a regular basis right away. Guillaume is 19 years old and will need time to adapt to a bigger faster game. Lest we forget last years Art Ross winner Joe Thornton scored just 7 points in his first 55 games. In no way am I comparing Guillaume’s ability to Thornton’s just that fact that they both begun their careers at a very young age by NHL standards!
The Line Up
In the last preseason game the Canadiens iced what most likely will be their opening game roster excluding Niinimaa who was acquired just moments prior to the beginning of the game. The first line will remain intact with Captain Koivu centering Ryder and Higgins; Tomas Plekanec will centre the two Russians Kovalev and Samsonov. Radek Bonk will be promoted to the third line with Johnson and Perezhogin on his wings, and Steve Begin will centre the energy line with Murray and Latendresse on his flanks.
Andrei Markov will continue to be the back bone of the Canadiens defense with Mike Komisarek his most likely partner. Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet will remain paired with Mathieu Dandenault and Janne Niinimaa rounding out the top six. The defensive line-up will not have Francis Bouillon until late November as his rehabilitation is taking longer than expected from off-season surgery.
Aaron Downey and Mark Streit will most likely begin the season in the press box.
In regards to the power play there are numerous options to consider. First of all it will be interesting to see if Latendresse will receive any pp time as he is willing to plant himself in front of the net and pot the garbage goals, something that most if not all other Canadiens forwards are unwilling to do. Without a shadow of a doubt Andrei Markov will quarterback the number one unit most likely with one of Niinimaa or Souray as his partner. Up front Kovalev, Koivu, Samsonov and Ryder will be expected to receive most of the playing time. With a revolving door of Higgins, Plekanec, Johnson, Perezhogin and Latendresse all getting some chances to produce
While short handed the Canadiens also have a plethora of options up front with Koivu, Higgins, Plekanec, Bonk, Johnson, Begin and Murray all capable of playing while a man down.
In goal Cristobal Huet will begin the season as the number one that is certain, what is yet to be seen is if he can play anywhere near the level he played at last season when he stole the starters’ role from Jose Theodore. If he falters it will provide an opportunity to David Aebischer to prove that he still can be a starter in the NHL. Yann Danis will be licking his chops in the minors just waiting for an injury or a trade to get some quality NHL starts.