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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
Training camp will soon be upon us with the Habs expected to formally start on-ice work late in the weekend. As always, there are lots of questions heading into camp but there is an extra one this season. Instead of pretty much all of the prospects getting invited, only a select few will get the call this time. Who should they be and among them, who could make the team? Our writers offer up their thoughts on the youngsters.
Which prospects should be invited to camp? Of those, who do you think can make the opening night roster?
Matt Gauthier: There is great pressure for the Habs to make the playoffs this year. The new management obviously wants to make a good first impression. The ownership wants to recoup missed revenues due to the lockout with a playoff appearance. Alex Galchenyuk is the best prospect to come in the system since Carey Price. I don’t agree with those who think that playing Galchenyuk this year isn’t "worth" it, as it would take away one year on his entry-level contract, only for a half-season. I say, if he’s ready, then forget the contract issue. He’ll be paid his due no matter what. For now, the Habs really need the offence he can bring. I believe he could form an outstanding All-American line with Gomez and Gionta. Gomez is a top-tier playmaking centre and Gionta will prove a great mentor and leader on that line. Playing a “half-year” isn’t a waste for Galchenyuk. Even if he isn’t very successful, this experience will speed up his development progress.
Brian La Rose: There aren't going to be a whole lot of spots up for grabs next week so training camp for most of the callups is going to be about getting familiarized with the system and the players in case injuries or trades arise. Obviously, Galchenyuk will be front and centre and the injury to Petteri Nokelainen opens up a spot (likely the only spot) for him to potentially start the season. The new CBA says that junior players can play five games without burning a year off their contract; barring significant struggles I would expect him to get those games to prove his worth at the very least.
Nokelainen's injury also should open up a spot for Gabriel Dumont to get a look. He is off to a strong start in Hamilton while his style fits in a fourth line role. Michael Bournival, who impressed in camp last year, also could be an option in a defensive role. Brendan Gallagher, who also played well in camp last season, has also earned an invite. On the blueline, there really aren't any spots available as all eight blueliners on one-way deals (assuming Subban signs) are all healthy. With Mike Commodore likely to attend camp, at the most only one more should be heading to Montreal. As tempting as it would be to give one of the rookies a look, I'd invite Frederic St. Denis instead. He played relatively well in 17 games last year and could very well be the first recall option from the defence. None of these players are likely to make the team but if I had to make a prediction of which one is most likely to stick, I'd say Dumont.
Alex Létourneau: As of this writing (Friday), the Canadiens have 23 players under contract for the upcoming season. Marc Bergevin signalled that a maximum of 30 players are making it to camp so that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for prospects. Nokelainen is injured and it doesn’t look like he will ready for the start of the season. I would like to think that P.K. Subban will be signed in the coming days so that brings us back to 23 players at camp.
I would have to say Louis Leblanc, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are set to attend to training camp and have the best shot of cracking the lineup. I think this is make it or break it for Leblanc. He needs to prove he can stick with the team, otherwise he’ll be in a package deal somewhere down the line. Keeping Galchenyuk up wouldn’t be the best move unless he really shows he can play with the big boys. I wouldn’t mind seeing him rip it up in junior then get a full summer and training camp next season. Gallagher is a firecracker who has shown he can produce at every level he’s played, I see him getting that chance. I thought he should have stuck with the team last season after the training camp he had. Of the three, I see Gallagher making the biggest case.
Of the four potential training camp spots remaining, I’d give them to Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Gabriel Dumont and Patrick Holland. Beaulieu and Tinordi were drafted as the next generation of D for the Canadiens, let’s see how they do in a short camp. Dumont and Holland have offensive upside and while there’s a log jam at C, which doesn’t bode well for Dumont, Holland might be able to impress on the wing. Either way, I’d have these four in a “what level are you at?” category with little to no chance of making the team.
Norm Szcyrek: Alex Galchenyuk: Their recent #1 pick has excelled in the OHL this season, rising to the top 10 in scoring while showing no . His stint at the WJC was solid offensively, and he was often given key defensive assignments during the tourney. He stands a good chance to make it with the team even if it's only on the 4th line. The 4th line center's spot was good enough for Saku Koivu in his rookie season.
Jarred Tinordi: He's played well enough in his first pro season in the AHL but requires time to season. The Habs are less likely to rush him since they have seven defencemen signed to pro contracts, and P.K. Subban will make it eight after he's signed. Jarred brings sign and toughness to the position, so he'll be knocking on the door next season.