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When the Habs 2013 Rookie Camp came to a close in Brossard, 23 of the 40 attending players were extended invitations to the club’s main training camp. Throughout the week, we received a number of questions pertaining to both the camp in general and specific players. This article will attempt to shed some light on those questions while highlighting some of the most impressive players as well as those who failed to meet expectations.
One of the questions I received numerously was, “Who is the most likely to crack the Habs lineup this year?”
There were a handful of players that could suit up for the Habs this season, but not necessarily straight out of training camp. If both Captain Brian Gionta (bicep) and enforcer George Parros (rotator cuff) are ready to play by October 1, the rookies will be in tough to earn a forward spot on the NHL roster.
Of the forwards I watched at the rookie camp, the ones that seem closest to earning a call up to the Canadiens if the team runs into injury trouble are right wingers Christian Thomas and Sven Andrighetto. While both are on the smaller side at 5’9, they combine good foot speed and an accurate shot to succeed offensively. Thomas has the edge given he’s already completed an AHL season with the New York Rangers organization, and even played one game for the Rangers last year (against Montreal, no less).
Forward Louis Leblanc, who played a chunk of the 2011-2012 season with the Habs, is also coming into camp determined to prove he belongs. While he’ll be challenged by the rookies to bring his best game, he’s banking on experience to push them back.
On defence, the situation is a little different. With Alexei Emelin out due to a knee injury suffered at the end of last season, there’s at least one slot up for grabs. However, GM Marc Bergevin added some extra insurance when he signed veteran blueliner Douglas Murray to a one-year deal, re-signed Davis Drewiske, and invited Matt Lashoff to camp on a Professional Try-Out contract. Along with fan favourite Francis Bouillon, these defencemen will battle it out with several rookies to fill Montreal’s fifth, sixth, and seventh openings on the back end.
There is no bigger threat to steal one of the veteran’s jobs than 6’6, 227lbs Jarred Tinordi. The 2010 first round draft pick appears poised to take his game to the NHL. He skated well for a guy with a large frame throughout the rookie camp, while he also displayed sound positioning. While he’s capable of devastating hits, he refrained from overplaying the body in favour of using his reach and an active stick to neutralize opponents.
Another standout on defence was 23-year-old Greg Pateryn. Picked up in a deal that saw Mikhail Grabovski shipped to Toronto, Pateryn got his first sniff of NHL action last season over three games with the Habs. I was thoroughly impressed with the physical dimension he brought to the ice, never allowing opposing forwards to near the net without a free face wash or straight arm shove. He finished his checks and even threw the biggest hit of the camp when he levelled forward Steve Quailer, who remains injured heading into the Canadiens main camp.
Another popular question was, “Who was the most disappointing prospect at the rookie camp?”
Nathan Beaulieu didn’t dominate at the camp in the way I expected him to. While there were reports that he is out of shape, it wasn’t obvious during the scrimmages. With his sub-par performance, I question his focus and determination throughout the rookie camp.
Beaulieu played two games with the Canadiens last year and it may be that he is saving his best performance for the team’s main training camp. With Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien watching closely from their nest above the ice at the Bell Sports Complex, one would suspect that early impressions would carry over from one stage to the next.
In the first scrimmage, the 20-year-old was guilty of forcing plays and trying to do too much with the puck rather than distribute it to his teammates. As the camp progressed, Beaulieu deserves credit for simplifying his game and utilizing his smooth skating to move the puck and evade imposing forwards. I rarely saw him take a big hit, which is a tribute to his skating.
Now it might be unfair to have such high expectations of an 18-year-old, but Michael McCarron is the latest first round selection by the Habs and has the kind of size the team has coveted for years up front. My concern with McCarron are attributed to areas of his game that can certainly be improved upon as he proceeds through the Canadiens’ development cycle.
McCarron was one of the most sluggish skaters among a group laden with small, skilled forwards. He also didn’t go hard to the net as often as one would expect of a 6’5, 237lbs power forward. The Gross Pointe, Minnesota native will have an opportunity to measure his game alongside NHL'ers at Montreal training camp, and it will be interesting to see if he can up the ante. I’m confident that with time he will be an effective player for the Canadiens, but his shot of cracking the team this season is very slim.
Thomas struck me as a solid north-south player, often skating the puck up ice by the boards before taking a quick shot on net or making a pass to someone positioned in front of the goalie. He also did well to position himself for scoring opportunities without the puck. His speed and hockey sense are likely what have the Habs brass high on him. Oh and he can score, too.
“If you had to pick a sleeper from those without NHL contracts, who do you like to show up this year?” -BlueKross (HW forums)
Tanner Eberle was by far the most impressive tryout at camp. For a small forward (5’9, 170lbs), he packs a physical game and a scrappy demeanour. Defenders knew better than to keep their heads down when he was on the ice. His three goals, including one on a penalty-shot, through the first two scrimmages were unexpected. However, his game faded in the last scrimmage and frustration began to show as he picked up a minor penalty. It doesn’t appear the team will offer him a contract, but I’m confident that if he keeps up his tenacious play, he’ll work his way up eventually.
Did Vail have an unimpressive Camp? –Serge Beaudry (@stock_guy1)
Stephen MacAulay was the only player of the 23 moving on to the main camp that is signed to an AHL only contract, while the rest were already members of the Canadiens organization via draft, trade (Michael Bournival, Patrick Holland, Greg Pateryn, and Christian Thomas), or free agency (Stefan Fournier).
It seems MacAulay may have usurped Brady Vail of the final ticket to the Habs training camp. Vail, a 2012 fourth round draft pick (94th OA), was underwhelming throughout the rookie camp. Which leads me to the first question:
For the most part, Vail was invisible during the scrimmages. What I did notice, particularly in the third and final scrimmage of the rookie camp, was that Vail seemed to play with fear, which is surprising given the informality of the games. Maybe he’s been hit too hard a time or two during his playing career because he had the body language of a player who hears footsteps every time he found himself in a corner or along the boards with the puck.
“Has Crisp out played McCarron in this camp so far?” –Jerry Ajax (@BigZee1222)
While neither of the 2013 draft choices were exceptionally great skaters, Crisp imposed his style of play to succeed while McCarron did not. Crisp most notably picked up a hat-trick in the third scrimmage, but it came in a game where his team won 8-1. He scored the goals by working hard in front of the net, fighting off defenders to position himself to score. McCarron found himself floating around the slot rather than getting his hands dirty in the crease.
Crisp’s game wasn’t without error, however. His hits often had poor timing which caused him to catch more glass than player. There were also few times I noticed him lose balance while attempting to barrel through opposing skaters. Furthermore, both players lack puck-handling skill and confidence, often fumbling pucks while skating.
“How is Pateryn’s mobility?” -DON (HW forums)
I was impressed with his ability to move around the ice. He looked good during the skating drills, particularly in the bag skate drill where his conditioning held up and even bested Beaulieu’s. Here’s a video from that drill, in which Pateryn is wearing #64 and skating closest to center ice while Beaulieu is skating next to the boards sporting #40.
Goalie Zach Fucale was, without a doubt, the best goalie in camp at only 18-years of age. That said, he still has a long way to go before cracking an NHL roster. He will have a chance to represent Team Canada at this year’s World Junior tournament, which should be a great opportunity for fans to see him action.
I was impressed with Jeremy Gregoire, a late pick (176 OA) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He was one of the fastest skaters and camp and always seemed to be in the middle of the action on scoring chances.
Defenceman Magnus Nygren and left-winger Erik Nystrom are dark horse candidates to earn roles with the Habs this season. Both have had success playing in Sweden and are looking to bring their game to North American ice. Nystrom would have to sign an entry-level deal before joining the team as he is presently on a 25 game AHL tryout contract.
Listed at 5’8, and only 158lbs, Martin Reway defines the featherweight weight class for hockey. He’s a longshot to make it at the NHL level unless he adds some size and strength, but he did display some stick-handling abilities throughout the rookie camp:
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