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At this point of the summer, most of Montreal’s prospects either know or really have a good idea of where they’re likely to be playing when training camps open up in a couple of months.  However, there are a pair of youngsters that don’t yet have a place to play in 2023-24.

The first is goaltender Joe Vrbetic.  Because he left the OHL to turn pro last season, the Canadiens actually gained two more years of control over his rights.  On the surface, it would make sense for the 2021 seventh-rounder to stay with Trois-Rivieres of the ECHL which is where he spent the bulk of last season, getting into 28 games with them plus four more with Laval.

But the window on that scenario appears to have closed with the organization bringing in Strauss Mann and Zacharie Emond in free agency on minor-league deals.  While it’s possible that one of them could wind up in Laval if Cayden Primeau either breaks camp with Montreal or gets claimed on waivers, the likelier scenario at that time is that they simply go and sign a veteran backup to partner with Jakub Dobes.  (Perhaps Kevin Poulin, for example.)  If Mann and Emond are with the Lions, there isn’t a spot for Vrbetic to go.

He turns 21 in October which makes him too old to return to major junior.  Finding a spot in the AHL isn’t happening with the year he had last season.  It’s possible his ECHL rights can be moved to another organization; that might be the best-case scenario at this point as I don’t see there being much of a market overseas for him.

One possible outcome for Vrbetic might be him seeing the writing on the wall after not being invited to development camp and opting to take advantage of his CHL scholarship money and going the U Sports route.  That would basically be the final nail in the coffin in terms of his NHL value as he’d likely have to sit next season to do so.  Either way, right now, his options are pretty limited.

The other prospect that doesn’t yet have a place to play is defenceman Daniil Sobolev.  A fifth-rounder in 2021, he spent last season with Windsor of the OHL.  As he turns 21 in March, Sobolev is technically still eligible to play in major junior but a team would need to burn both an import and an overager slot to have him on their roster.  With due respect to Sobolev, his performance with the Spitfires wouldn’t appear to justify them or anyone else doing so.  It’d be one thing if he was a highly productive scorer but Sobolev is a stay-at-home defenceman.  Those aren’t worth effectively burning two roster spots on.

Sobolev also didn’t attend development camp earlier although with him being a Russian player, it’s possible that pertained to visa or passport issues; that was a factor for him a year ago at rookie camp.

The options are a little better for him than Vrbetic.  If he comes to rookie camp, he could eventually be assigned to Laval’s camp where he could try to crack their roster or at least land a two-way AHL deal that could see him spend time in Trois-Rivieres as well.  The Habs have added some defensive depth to those two teams but more would certainly help.

Alternatively, the Habs and Sobolev could try to work on finding a place for him to play that’s closer to home.  I don’t think the KHL is a viable option for him but their second-tier league (the VHL) should be a league that he could catch on in and be serviceable.  A one-year deal buys everyone more time and in Sobolev’s current situation, that would be a step up from where things are now.

Neither prospect figures to be in Montreal’s long-term plans but from an asset perspective, they’re better off with both Vrbetic and Sobolev seeing regular action somewhere.  There’s some work to be done on both fronts for that to be the case when the puck drops on the 2023-24 campaign.