My first visit to the Montreal Canadiens’ state-of-the-art practice facility, the Bell Sports Complex, felt a lot like entering the Bell Centre. The building is carved out of the Brossard, QC flatland in a way that reminds us this territory was once quiet and uninhabited.
Having arrived early, there were only a handful of attendees on hand, patiently awaiting the rookies’ emergence from the dressing room onto the clean sheet of ice.
The practice facility does its best impression of the Bell Centre with retired numbers and Stanley Cup banners lining the ceiling above the ice. A series of black and white posters, except for the bright red colour accent of the CH logo, of current Canadiens hang along the back wall. Even the boards are covered in corporate advertisements.
But enough about the locale. When it comes down to it, the Habs Rookie Camp is all about the players. In fact, a total of 40 players are currently taking part. While the roster is mostly accurate, goaltender Jacob Gervais-Chouinard is not in attendance, while forward Alex Belzile is (sporting number 98).
Thus, the roster breakdown results in 24 forwards, 12 defensemen, and 4 goaltenders which allows for a perfect split of the group for scrimmages. The first of three scrimmages will take place tomorrow from 4pm to 5:30pm in Brossard. The camp’s full schedule runs through September 4 to September 9.
Today’s on-ice session saw the rookies run through a series of drills in two separate groups.
From 8:30am to 10am, the first group included goalie Zach Fucale, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, and forwards Michael Bournaval, Tim Bozon, Ben Duffy, and Christian Thomas.
The second group, which took to the ice from 10:30am to 12pm, was highlighted by defenseman Jarred Tinordi and forwards Sven Andrighetto, Connor Crisp, Patrick Holland, Charles Hudon, and the Habs most recent first round draft pick Michael McCarron.
While it was difficult to follow every player on the ice throughout the drills, here are my first impressions on some of the players that caught my attention:
D Greg Pateryn: At 6’2 and 222 pounds, it wasn’t difficult for the 23-year-old to out-power the forwards that happened to skate his way during drills. Pateryn was by far the most physical defenceman today, a style that made it clear he didn’t come to camp to make friends. He took every opportunity he had to use his body or straight-arm opponents that came too close to the net. It was an effective, intimidating strategy that had the coaches blow their whistle during one of the drills, possibly to ask the blueliner to focus on positioning rather than going for a hit. If his intent was to garner some attention, he got it.
D Jarred Tinordi: The size discrepancy between Tinordi, who stands 6’6, and his peers is significant. Even with 2013 draft picks Michael McCarron, 6’5, and Connor Crisp, 6’3, Tinordi was a man among boys. Still, it’s one thing to have the size, it’s another to use it effectively at the NHL level. I was impressed when Tinordi used his hulking frame to best challengers with positioning, rather than with physical play. He displayed his hand-eye coordination as well, diffusing a couple of odd-man rushes during the 3-on-1 drills.
F Michael McCarron: It was more or less what I expected from the 18-year-old power forward. While it may have also been a sign of nerves and inexperience, McCarron struggled today when it came to puck-handling and control while skating. He lacked confidence and often fumbled the puck when receiving as pass or skating, while also taking wide turns rather than sharp ones. That said, he did put the puck by goaltender Michael Condon more times than not, with a knack for picking the corners just inside the post. The good news on McCarron is that he is still young and has time to improve his skills with the OHL’s London Knights under Head Coach Dale Hunter’s tutelage.
D Nathan Beaulieu: There was little of impressive action from Beaulieu during drills, although I anticipate his skill will be on best display during the scrimmages. Beaulieu and Pateryn, who were paired in Hamilton last season, will likely get the opportunity to play together this fall thanks to the Habs depth at the defence position. Together they are an ideal defence pairing for the Bulldogs, given Beaulieu’s finesse and puck-moving skillset is complimented by Pateryn’s physical play.
Quick Notes: Goalie Zach Fucale looked decent, but many pucks found their way through his thin, 18-year-old frame. Goalies typically take more time to develop and he’ll be instructed to add some weight to fill out accordingly. Connor Crisp performed similarly to McCarron, but with fewer goals during the drills. Martin Reway was by far the smallest guy out there. Goalie Condon took a stinger off the collarbone courtesy of a D Morgan Ellis slapshot. He was able to shake it off after a few moments, but Ellis kept his shots low after that. Justin Courtnall is former NHLer Geoff Courtnall‘s son, while Tanner Eberle is Edmonton Oilers Jordan Eberle’s third or fourth cousin. Seventeen Habs took to the second sheet of ice mid-way through the second rookie group’s session. Their arrival resulted in more than half of the spectators abandoning the rookie camp in favour of watching some of their favourite NHL’ers.
For continuous coverage on the Habs Rookie Camp in Brossard, you can follow me on Twitter @MTLMacaskill where I will be live-tweeting the on-ice sessions, including scrimmages.