The Habs are expected to announce their roster for rookie camp over the coming days with a pair of games against Ottawa scheduled for next weekend. We don’t know everyone who will participate yet but here is a look at some of the players they’ve invited to participate.
For the purposes of this column, the focus is going to be on players that aren’t affiliated with the organization, including those signed to AHL or ECHL contracts; it’s expected that quite a few of those players will be on the roster. Here are the unaffiliated invites that we know of.
Alexis Gravel (Halifax, QMJHL) – The 21-year-old was a sixth-round pick of Chicago back in 2018 but didn’t sign with the Blackhawks, instead wrapping up his junior career with the Mooseheads last season where his numbers once again weren’t pretty. Gravel isn’t a viable candidate to sign with the Habs but Trois-Rivieres will need goaltenders for next season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a chance at signing with them.
Ivan Zhigalov (MHX Dynamo Moskva, MHL) – The Habs weren’t able to hold their usual European draft combine before the draft and this invite feels like a chance to get a look at someone that would have gone to the combine. He saw limited action last season but got into a pair of games with Belarus at the World Under-18’s. They’ll have a better chance to evaluate him in 2021-22 as he’ll be suiting up with Sherbrooke of the QMJHL.
Charles-Antoine Pilote (Moncton, QMJHL) – Pilote had a limited role in his first season of major junior before moving up into the top four late in the season. A strong skater, he’s someone that doesn’t appear to be a candidate to sign but Pilote could be a late-round draft candidate a year from now.
Arber Xhekaj (Kitchener, OHL) – If you’re looking for a candidate to have a shot at an entry-level contract, I think Xhekaj might be the one. A big, physical blueliner, the 20-year-old was Kitchener’s most improved player in 2019-20 and has been a standout early at training camp this season. He’s eligible to turn pro so he’s likely to get a look in Laval and/or Trois-Rivieres’ camp for a shot at a minor league pact. Being off for all of last season makes Xhekaj a bit of a wild card; how much did he improve over the year off?
Tag Bertuzzi (HK Levice, Slovakia) – Bertuzzi (Todd’s son) is entering his final year of major junior and basically only has one full season under his belt. His first two years were limited due to injuries and a concussion and last year was wiped out by the pandemic which resulted in him going overseas. He’s a candidate to get a shot with the Rocket and Lions.
Isiah Campbell (Shawinigan, QMJHL) – Campbell looked to be a late-bloomer in 2019-20 as he jumped up just shy of the point per game mark while spending time with Xavier Simoneau, a draft pick of the Habs this summer. However, last season was a tough one for the 20-year-old with an early-season trade not helping as he was limited to just nine points in 24 games with the Cataractes. He may be an option for training camp in Trois-Rivieres later on.
Thomas Caron (Quebec, QMJHL) – Caron has been a power forward at the major junior level with the physicality outweighing his production. That changed a bit in his overage year as he notched 22 points in 30 games with the Remparts. He’s not a viable candidate to play in a scoring role in the pros but he could be a roster candidate for a lower-line role with the Lions.
Mika Cyr (Bas-Madawaska, CRL) – Cyr, who stands just 5’9, was a strong scorer in his final two QMJHL seasons in Moncton but aside from one game in the CRL last season, didn’t play. He’s committed to the University of Moncton for the upcoming season so it might take an entry-level contract to lure him away. I’m not sure he’s worthy of that but if he’s willing to take a minor league deal, he could be an interesting option.
Avery Hayes (HK Levice, Slovakia) – The OHL shutdown ultimately saw him follow his teammate in Bertuzzi overseas but Hayes didn’t quite do enough to get drafted. An undersized playmaker, the 18-year-old has shown flashes of legitimate upside but the consistency hasn’t been there yet. He’s too young to play in the minors and this may just be an invitation to get some information to see if he’s worthy of a late-round pick next year.
Charles-Antoine Roy (DNP in 2020-21) – Roy wrapped up his QMJHL career in 2019-20 with a strong season split between Gatineau and Sherbrooke where he had more points than his first two seasons combined. He committed to the University of Ottawa just before the pandemic hit but that league didn’t have any game action. Like Cyr, I’m not sure he’d put off school for a look in the ECHL but if he’s willing to do that,
Brendan Sirizzotti (Pickering, OJHL) – The 18-year-old has very limited major junior experience with just nine games with Ottawa of the OHL. He would have played there but as you all know by now, that league didn’t play so he went back down a level to play a handful of games. He was the MVP of the ETAHL in 2019 when he had 93 points in 36 games and for some sort of context, Kings top prospect Quinton Byfield had 92 points in 34 games in that league a year later, also earning league MVP. Sirizzotti is an under-the-radar but intriguing invite as a result.
While there is no formal rookie tournament, the Habs will play a home and home set with Ottawa on September 18th and 20th with the latter game being in Laval. Main training camp will start soon after that with the preseason now a little more than two weeks away.