Sunday, September 18, 2011

Updates from Habs Training Camp

We didn't have live coverage of the first scrimmages from Montreal Canadiens training camp this weekend due to other commitments, so for those that haven't been paying extra close attention, or those who want a summary of reports from around the net and news all in one place, we'll let you know what's been going on right here!

On Friday, we showed you the split of the three teams for the purposes of these scrimmages. As the fist cuts are expected tonight (Monday), the remaining players will likely be re-divided into two teams plus some extra bodies (given injuries at camp) in preparation for the preseason games which begin tomorrow.

Team C won the round robin of scrimmages with a 2-0 record. Here's a breakdown of the results:


Team A defeated Team B by a 4-3 score that had to be settled via shootout.
Team A goals: Danny Masse, Alexander Avtsin, Michael Cammalleri
Team B goals: Ben Winnett, Ben Winnett, Ian Schultz
Shootout goals: Olivier Archambault (A), Philip DeSimone (B), Mike Cammalleri (A)


Team C defeated Team A by a score of 5-4.
Team C goals: Brendan Gallagher, Andreas Engqvist, Mathieu Darche, Mathieu Darche, Alex Henry
Team A goals: Erik Cole, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Avtsin, Alain Berger


Team C defeated Team B by a score of 4-2.
Team C goals: Gabriel Dumont, Nathan Beaulieu, Gabriel Dumont, Gabriel Dumont
Team A goals: Ben Winnett, Max Pacioretty



Carey Price: Of course, this early portion of training camp is not about the veterans at all, but Price has shown he is taking his preparation for the upcoming season seriously (well, accompanied by his usual dry and sarcastic sense of humour, at least). He has been training hard off-ice and allowed no goals in his half of Saturday's game (but not being tested much), while allowing 2 in Sunday's (one softie) but also making a few huge saves from in-close chances. He will start the first preseason game on Tuesday.

Peter Delmas: From rookie camp straight through till now, Delmas may have been one of the biggest "discoveries" in that he's looking like a legit potential NHL prospect. Despite playing behind the weakest defense in the mini-tournament, he helped lead team C to 2 victories and has consistently displayed a super quick glove hand to make highlight saves.

Nathan Lawson: Really nothing unexpected to see here so far. An AHL goalie who, it seems, will be pushed hard by Delmas for playing time. Peter Budaj does not have to worry about his backup spot.

Robin Gusse: Looks very small in goal, and not particularly impressive technically, but has found a way to get the job done at times, while looking weak at others. At this point, I would not expect him to receive a contract offer, but he has not embarrassed himself in camp either.

Peter Budaj: Should be a solid enough back-up to Price. No goals allowed (but no real test) in his first half-game, and then beaten just once in Monday's first half.

Robert Mayer: Mayer's stock in the organization continues to plummet. Looking at spending the upcoming season in the ECHL.


Alexei Yemelin: The most impressive of all blueliners thus far (though to be fair, the team's two best in P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov have yet to participate in a scrimmage). Habs fans have been waiting a long time for Yemelin to make the jump over to North America, and he looks like he won't be letting them down. On Saturday, he showed what has gotten him most noticed: his physical brand of borderline legal hockey. In fact, his hits were so hard on Saturday that some of his teammates spoke about a need to ask him to tone it down just a bit (at least to not leave his feet!) for the time being. And it looked like he did try to hold back on Sunday, so someone probably did approach him on it, and yet still he remained one of the game's best d-men, picking up an assist. He is a great skater and good puck mover with good offensive instincts. A real complete defenseman who looks like he could be an established top 4 guy by year's end.

Nathan Beaulieu: Beaulieu has gained in confidence through rookie camp and into the main camp and it has shown in constant improvement in his play. From being mostly unnoticeable in the first scrimmage last week, to helping lead Team C to victory with a goal in the last scrimmage, Beaulieu has displayed great two way play. While perhaps not as "sensational" or "spectacular as a P.K. Subban type, Beaulieu shows great skating ability and smarts with the puck, adept at breaking out of his own end and supporting the rush. He has also shown some soft hands with a spin-o-rama move in game, and some nice dekes during penalty shot drills. Seems like he'll have a much quicker development curve than the next guy on the list.

Jarred Tinordi: There is nothing to panic about Mr. Tinordi, who is showing improvements in his game and maturity this year over last, but he does seem to qualify as a "project" type prospect. He will need to continue to work on skating as he grows into his body and improve his play with the puck. Reminds me of a Ryan O'Byrne type who hopefully puts things together a little quicker than Ryan did (or is still trying to do). But he'll certainly need this year in juniors and a full season in Hamilton next year before we can think about his NHL future.

Raphael Diaz: There were many questions about what kind of an impact the little-known Swiss native would have with the organization this season, and he has shown sufficient steadiness and good skating ability to say that he will likely have a future in the NHL. It's unclear how high on the call-ups depth chart he ranks defensively, as he'll need to battle with some AHL veterans to earn a look, but a nice guy to have in the organization. Certainly an upgrade on last year's Kyle Klubertanz signing. In his favour is that he seems to have a great attitude, understanding that an adjustment period to North American hockey will be necessary and showing a willingness to learn.

P.K. Subban: Will the infamous sophomore slump affect P.K.? He doesn't seem to think so. After missing the start of training camp, Subban played his first scrimmage on Monday and looked a little rusty, but that's to be expected. The good news is that he's now healthy enough to play with plenty of time to round into shape by October. He was paired with Beaulieu Monday, making many Habs fans dream of what the future might hold.

Josh Gorges: Says he feels no pain and has experienced no swelling. Looks like he will be his old self out there, making him a valuable member of the d-core.

Yannick Weber: The same questions seem to linger about Weber, as he has at times seemed small and soft on the puck in his own end. His ability to defend against big forwards in front of Carey Price may see him passed in depth chart by other young players this year and next, which means he could eventually be on his way out of Montreal as the youth develops, given that there are others to also replace what he brings the powerplay. Honestly, he looked good as a forward in last year's playoffs, so I wouldn't mind having him as a scratch/swingman type, but it is unlikely he'd want to stay in that role for long.


Brendan Gallagher: A show stealer the last two weeks, Gallagher's level of play has not dropped off once the veterans were added to the mix. Sure he's small, but the Habs may have their hands on another exception to the size rule a la Martin St. Louis or Brian Gionta. This is not to say he will certainly be as good as the other two, but even if he can't replicate either's numbers offensively, he is a highly versatile, complete player. Great hands, good offensive instincts, slick moves, forechecks hard, drives the net, not afraid to play in the corners... what else could you ask for? If he can get just a tad faster, there would be absolutely no reason to doubt his future as a productive NHL forward. A prospect to be excited about.

Erik Cole: Many had questions about the type of game Cole would bring to Montreal, and he answered those pretty quickly. Not only was he highly physical in his two scrimmages, but he hits with impact, while also showing his goal scorer's touch. We'll see how the season goes, but a few days in, the signing looks like a perfect fit - exactly the kind of player the Habs' top 6 needed.

Max Pacioretty: Habs fans feared that even a fully healthy Pacioretty would display ill-effects from last year's devastating blow by Zdeno Chara in a reluctance to go to the corners and drive the net - the kind of things he needs to do to be successful. If we can judge from a couple of scrimmages, it seems it hasn't deterred him at all, so we should see the return of the Pacioretty from last season, adding to the depth and size to the Montreal forward core.

Ben Winnett: For a guy who has averaged just 5 goals a year over 4 seasons at the University of Michigan, Winnett's 3 goal output in 2 scrimmages is surprising to say the least. Unfortunately, he was injured in the second half of the final scrimmage which may hurt his chances at earning a contract. If the Habs decide to add more depth at the forward position for the ECHL, it will be interesting to see if they favour Winnett or Philip DeSimone, both of whom have performed reasonably well in camp.

Gabriel Dumont: If Winnett's offense was slightly unexpected, Dumont's hat trick Monday was a nice sign of life from a guy that topped the 50 goal mark in his final QMJHL season. He has been relegated to more of a third/fourth line role in Hamilton, even dropping the gloves every so often despite his height of just 5'9", but will need a more productive year in his all around game if he is to be called up. If his size is holding him back, it's his versatility (he can fill in anywhere and play center or wing) that may someday lead to him getting a shot. In Montreal, with so many little players ahead of him, it may not happen.

Michael Bournival: Another guy, like Gallagher, that has been turning heads, Bournival is of average size but plays with far above average intensity. On the ice, he looks like he always wants the puck and forechecks hard, playing a simple north-south style game successfully. He suffered a minor injury during the first scrimmage, but he should not hold him out. He certainly has another year in the Q before we can look at how his offense will translate to the pro ranks, but he seems to have a bright future.

Alexander Avtsin: You really really want to like this guy because of his rare mix of size and sick puck skills, but you can also see where he needs quite a bit of work. Managed to score in both scrimmages despite playing on lines with fellow youngsters, and hopefully his productivity carries on throughout the AHL season to keep him in Hamilton's top 6. Like with Yemelin, it seems the coaching staff may have been influencing his play, as in his second scrimmage, he tended to look to teammates more than we had seen in camp till then - one of his weaknesses. It actually led to a beautiful pass on the Tomas Plekanec goal Sunday, so with continued showing of coach-ability, he could be the Bulldogs' most improved player this season. So much potential, but needs to round out his game (defensively, physically, positioning, use of teammates...).

Tomas Plekanec: Plekanec always shows up. He takes nothing for granted, is regularly the first guy on the ice for practice, and produces even in training camp. With more depth on the team up front and more size to put on his wing, he should have no problem bettering last year's output totals.

Mike Cammalleri: Like with Plekanec, it was nice to see that Cammalleri didn't take training camp for granted. He looks like he's on a mission this season, and with the core signings (Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri...) now beginning their third season together, he should be primed for a good season. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year and find some chemistry with Cole playing the opposite wing.

Brian Gionta: Sure it's only training camp, but the little man had the tall order of trying to set an example for young kids like Dumont and Gallagher. He played this role perfectly in the scrimmage setting, being the same old Canadiens captain we know and love, parking his 5'7" body in front of goaltenders and taking it to dig in the corners.

Mathieu Darche: Darche says he feels younger this season after training hard all summer. He has shown in camp the same skills that earned him a job at the NHL level, being that he positions himself in the right places at the right times. Whether it's battling behind the net, standing in front, or hanging around the slot, he can and will provide valued secondary scoring.

Andreas Engqvist: I was a big fan of this guy last year and think he has his place on the team. Think of him as a 6'4" Tom Pyatt with better hands, cause that's how he plays. Not the most physical despite his size, but can take the body from time to time. Great defensive forward with perhaps some untapped offensive potential in him. Ryan White is likely to stay on the wing, so if David Desharnais plays on Lars Eller's side, the fourth line center job is open and Engqvist seems almost a lock for it. The only thing is that it would mean 13 "regular" forwards in the line-up, so a guy like Darche, Moen, Eller, or White ends up scratched, which doesn't seem like the likeliest of scenarios.

Brian Willsie: Just an AHL vet. Hasn't shown anything to make anyone think he can reproduce his 2005-06 season of 41 points at the NHL level. Solid depth for the Bulldogs.

Michael Blunden: Despite 46 goals and 84 points in his final OHL campaign in 2005-06, it seems Blunden's offensive talents weren't destined for professional hockey. But of course, that isn't why he was brought in, and his ability to adapt his game is a testament to him as a hockey player. He knows his role and what could give him a shot at an NHL job, and as such was very physical, aiming for anything that moves. It should be an interesting battle between him and Engqvist for a spot (two different types of players), though if there are injuries to start the season, both may be retained.

David Desharnais: Definitely showed glimpses of the vastly improved player we saw during the post-season prior to his injury, but also showed his weaknesses.

Aaron Palushaj: For a guy aiming to make the NHL this year or next at the latest, I think it's safe to say it's been a disappointing camp thus far for Palushaj. It's not that he has been horrible, but he hasn't stood out either. He's a kind of complimentary player who will pick up points without necessarily always being noticed, which can be fine when you are skilled enough to play in the top 6, but is a problem when you are more likely to play with less skilled guys on a third line. He may fall into such a void unless he finds great chemistry with someone in Montreal (Desharnais? Eller?) No real room for what he brings with the Canadiens right now but should have a big year in the AHL and be a top candidate call-up.

Brock Trotter: Competing with Palushaj to be one of the first offensive forward call-ups, Trotter's play was singled out by Jacques Martin on Monday as having greatly benefited from a year in the KHL. He should be expected to lead the Bulldogs in scoring after putting up 77 points in the AHL in 2009-10, but there is a question as to whether the Canadiens can afford to insert another 5'10" forward into the line-up at this point.

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