The Montreal Canadiens revealed their final roster cuts on Monday morning, and for Habs enthusiasts, it confirmed the undercurrent felt since the beginning of camp. This wasn’t the replay of last year’s exhilarating training camp, which saw prospects like Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, and Jordan Harris later leave significant marks on the regular season. Instead, this year’s training camp painted a different picture, one that examined the depth of the Canadiens’ prospect pool against other NHL teams and highlighted the organization’s perceived pecking order.
To the surprise of many, it wasn’t the second-year players who stole the show. Instead, William Trudeau, Mattias Norlinder, and Logan Mailloux displayed the kind of tenacity many had anticipated from the likes of Harris and Xhekaj. However, it would be premature to write off Harris and Xhekaj based on their preseason performances alone. The first ten games of the NHL regular season will offer a more comprehensive view of their progression.
Pending the anticipated arrival of Lane Hutson – a player many experts believe is the best yet to grace the NHL – the Canadiens wrapped up their training camp amidst both optimism and challenges. There’s undeniable depth on defence, which, while causing selection dilemmas in the short and medium term, could also be a catalyst for enhancing the resilience and competitiveness of the players.
Now, let’s turn the spotlight to Laval. Here are five players to watch for in their initial ten games.
1) Joshua Roy: Roy’s past year has been nothing short of … interesting. From playing alongside Connor Bedard to dominating the QMJHL, he exudes a sense of calm on the ice reminiscent of Phillip Danault. His first AHL preseason game indicates that he’s neither intimidated by nor planning to decelerate at the professional level.
2) Mattias Norlinder: Despite being touted as one of the best defencemen to emerge from the Swedish Elite League since Nicklas Lidstrom, Norlinder experienced a shaky start to his AHL career in 2022. However, he silenced his critics during this training camp, showcasing impressive offensive capabilities and drawing praise from head coach Martin St. Louis.
3) Emil Heineman: Gaining significant ice time alongside Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki in a preseason game, Heineman has proven his readiness for the NHL. His gameplay brings back memories of Artturi Lehkonen, as he projects the image of a versatile winger who can consistently deliver.
4) Jakub Dobes: In the (since last draft) crowded Habs goalie lineup, Dobes stands out. His focus remains unwavering despite the challenges, and he looks set to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity that Laval presents, backed by an impressive defensive lineup.
5) Joel Armia: Armia, a name we’ve come to associate with inconsistency, now finds himself in unfamiliar territory having cleared waivers. Throughout training camp, there was a sense that he was trying to prove something, but results remained elusive. His dynamic, or perhaps lack thereof, with coach St. Louis raises eyebrows. Armia’s journey might have been rich in potential once, but the road ahead seems uncertain and fraught with challenges. The question on everyone’s mind: can he rediscover the effectiveness and grit that once defined his game? Will it be in Laval or elsewhere in the NHL?
So, as the dust settles on the Canadiens’ training camp decisions and the Laval Rocket’s season opener looms large on Friday, one thing is clear: If the tales of these players, especially the ones brewing in Laval, don’t have you riveted, perhaps it’s time to check your pulse.