It’s arguably the best thing to watch at training camp: the
young and hungry players battling each other for the few remaining roster spots.
There are favourites for the openings for sure, but a bad showing at camp can send
you packing for the AHL, while a good camp can vault you up the depth chart.
With 18 spots all but locked up by core players, (2 goalies, 10 forwards, 6
defensemen), that leaves 5 spots open on a 23 man roster. Ignoring salary cap
complications (because if a player truly played his way onto the roster, Bob
Gainey would make the cap work), here’s a look at the positions open for battle,
and the youngsters vying for them.
The 7th Defenseman: A pretty self-explanatory
position, the 7th defensemen won’t get much icetime this season until injuries strike.
Does anyone see any of Andrei Markov, Paul Mara, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik,
Josh Gorges or Hal Gill being a healthy scratch?
The Inside Track: Ryan O’Byrne
Ryan O’Byrne fits this spot well. Montreal’s top six
defensemen are miles ahead of any of the remaining defensemen in Montreal’s
system, and the 7th defenseman is unlikely to see much ice time until injuries
strike. Who then benefits from that kind of reduced role? The currently
unconfident Ryan O’Byrne. In a rare case of a youngster being advantaged by less
ice time, slow-but-steady is what O’Byrne needs right now. It will be good him
to be under the tutelage of guys like Hal Gill and Paul Mara. But O’Byrne
doesn’t entirely merit the 7th spot out of negatives. Outside of Gill, there
isn’t another strictly defensive defenseman of NHL calibre in Montreal’s system,
and O’Byrne beats out his competition by giving the coaches the option of using
a defensive and physical player against offensively talented teams.
The Outside Shot: Yannick Weber, P.K. Subban
Ah, to be offensively
gifted! In all likelihood, these guys will be feeding each other nifty passes on
the 1st unit powerplay in Hamilton, but Yannick Weber does have NHL experience
(including playoffs) and has played as a winger a bit as well. Montreal is
blessed with many offensive defensemen this season, but none quite have the
booming slapshot that Weber has, and that could endear him to the coaching
As for P.K. Subban, he’s a player every organization wants to have in the
dressing room, and he elevates his game in pressure situations. With an
outstanding camp – and it would take an outstanding camp – P.K. could convince
Habs brass keep his good vibes and unique talent in the NHL. So far he’s impressed, but three days doth not a team make.
The 4 Forwards: Two of these four spots are probably positions
in the pressbox. It almost dampens the whole experience of winning a spot out of
camp, doesn’t it? "Kid, I like your hustle. You battled hard and we all
noticed it… congrats, kid, you’ve made the team. Now go sit in the pressbox."
Granted, the NHL paycheque probably helps to ease the disappointment.
The Inside Track: Kyle Chipchura, Max Pacioretty,
Matt D’Agostini, Sergei Kostitsyn
Kyle Chipchura has set himself up to be an NHLer this season,
if not in Montreal than definitely elsewhere through waivers. Signing a one
way/one year/league minimum deal was everything he could do to secure a spot on
the team before hitting the ice in training camp. Chipchura has the skills to be
in the NHL, but hasn’t had the impact to stay there. I expect he’ll once again
be on the team to start the year, but then it’s up to him to finally stick
Max Pacioretty has an inside track on the team through his size. With
few top line players over 6’0" tall in Montreal, Pacioretty’s 6’2" and 203 lbs
frame and physical style of play must look very inviting to the coaches (and
linemates). He’d probably benefit from more time in Hamilton for awhile, but he
didn’t look out of place last season with 34 games in the NHL, and his
development wouldn’t be hurt playing with 1st or 2nd line forwards.
Matt D’Agostini is right-handed and has a wicked shot, which makes him a valuable
commodity on the powerplay. Brian Gionta will get the brunt of the 1st unit
opportunities, but on a team lacking righties and lacking even more on
offensively inclined righties, D’Agostini does have his niche on the team.
Sergei Kostitsyn has NHL skills but a PeeWee-league attitude. His
skills will put him on the team out of training camp, but how he reacts to his
role will be what determines his time in the NHL. Sergei needs to show himself
as a mature player in a reduced role, and his role on the team will grow in time
because of that. If he pouts and disappears on the ice, he’ll disappear to
Hamilton… but not likely in training camp.
The Outside Shot: Gregory Stewart, Ben Maxwell, Mikael
Gregory Stewart would be on the team if Georges Laraque
were still injured. Unfortunately for Stewart, Laraque was at Perry Pearns 3 vs
3 camp a few weeks back and has passed his physical in Montreal, so all signs
point to Laraque starting the season on the team instead of the IR. Stewart’s game
is toughness, but it’s unlikely that Gainey and Martin are looking for more of
it at the expense of better talent on the roster. Stewart may be at risk of
being claimed off waivers to play on Brian Burke’s 1st line in Toronto, but
players of his ilk and ability pass through waivers all the time.
Ben Maxwell is currently the only player with NHL experience
who can pressure Tomas Plekanec for his spot in the lineup as the 2nd line
center. Most would say Maxwell needs more time in the AHL. His chances of making
the Canadiens are slim as it would take a dazzling training camp by Maxwell
combined with a dismal camp by Plekanec, but Maxwell is the next two-way
center in line in the organization.
Mikael Johansson may prove to be the better offensive centre
choice though. A player not known for his defensive responsibility, Johansson
may be the choice of the coaches if they prefer an all offense attack on the 2nd
line. Also, Johansson is 3 years older than Maxwell, and that added maturity may
help his case in getting the first call-up. Johansson also has experience
playing wing, but it’s unlikely he’ll beat out Pacioretty, D’Agostini and S.
Kostitsyn for those spots. Still, that added versatility makes Johansson an
excellent choice for first call-up in an offensive role, but a spot out of camp
With those choices in mind, I humbly showcase my projected lines to start the
A. Kostitsyn – Gomez – Gionta
Cammalleri – Plekanec – Pacioretty
Latendresse – Lapierre – Moen
S. Kostitsyn – Metropolit – Laraque
Extra: Chipchura, D’Agostini
Markov – Mara
Spacek – Hamrlik
Gill – Gorges
Now we’ll see what training camp battles do to change that lineup.
Email your questions, comments and disagreements to Tristan Tapscott