Monday, March 5, 2012
Your Canadiens for March 5, 2012
First, let me apologize for the lack of posts on Thursday and Friday. As some of you know, I am presently studying in Barcelona, Spain, and my schedule got in the way of the Blog. But we're back up this week!
We'll start the week with recapping some things we missed during our brief outage.
Morgan Ellis signs with Canadiens
On Friday, the Habs announced the signing of defenseman Morgan Ellis to a 3-year entry-level contract. Ellis, who will turn 20 on April 30th, plays with fellow Habs prospect Michael Bournival on the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes, hosts of this year's Memorial Cup. Ellis was traded there this season from the team he captained, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, as the Cataractes stocked up on talent in preparation for the Cup. He plays regularly with top prospect Brandon Gormley on the club's top pairing. The 6'2", 196 lbs right-handed blueliner joins Bournival, Brendan Gallagher, and Jarred Tinordi as Junior prospects already signed and expected to join the Hamilton Bulldogs next season.
Ellis has obliterated his previous career highs offensively this season, scoring 14 goals and 49 points in 56 games. Further, since joining the Cataractes, he has improved his +/- to a +21 rating on the season, a huge turnaround from his -27 last year. The negatives are a much bigger reflection on the weak team he played for rather than his own play, as he is considered a strong two-way player, even capable of dishing out heavy hits. While much of the talk has centered around two first round picks likely headed for Steeltown next year in Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, look for Ellis and still-to-be-signed college senior Greg Pateryn to make noise with the 'Dogs as underrated d-men with NHL potential.
Ellis's deal will pay him a total of $1.92M over three seasons, signing bonus included, plus a possible games-played bonus clause, meaning an estimated annual cap hit of $640,000 should his play earn him a call-up to Montreal during that timeframe. If you want to pre-order your Ellis jersey, keep in mind that while he wore number 85 in training camp this past Fall, he may change that prior to playing his first actual game.
Coincidentally, I had posted a couple of videos of Ellis back on February 16. Check them out here: http://www.yourcanadiens.info/2012/02/player-spotlight-morgan-ellis.html.
The Injury Situation
Yes, Saturday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs is one even pro-tankers like myself wanted the Canadiens to win (I will NEVER hope for a loss to the Leafs. EVER. Though the loss definitely helped push the Habs towards securing that lottery selection.). But Montreal entered the game severely undermanned, with injuries to Scott Gomez and Aaron Palushaj necessitating the call-ups of truly the only other NHL-ready forwards in the system in Louis Leblanc and Andreas Engqvist (debatable in his case).
Fortunately, the injury situation has improved a little since then, with Engqvist able to be returned to the Bulldogs (at least for now), and even an update on Travis Moen who - in the words of LMFAO - worked out off-ice after many feared supposed concussion-like symptoms may have ended his season. The uncertainty surrounding Moen's health and return may have been one of the reasons for his not being dealt on deadline day given his pending unrestricted free agency, but if and when he does return, it will be interesting to see when Pierre Gauthier (or his eventual replacements) initiates contract talks with Moen's agent about remaining in Montreal.
**Updates from today's practice: Andrei Markov was the first player on the ice and instead of his usual non-contact burgundy jersey, he was wearing the same white colour as the other d-men. He then practiced on a regular pairing with Alexei Emelin, though he did sit out some of the drills. Hopefully we find out more at practice's conclusion; stay tuned for details. Mike Blunden returned to practice for the first time since being hurt. He and Aaron Palushaj had non-contact jerseys on amongst the forwards. Raphael Diaz was yet another player returned to practice from injury on D.**
At the prospect level, 2011 selection Olivier Archambault has resumed skating. Archambault was having a somewhat disappointing third season in the QMJHL, even though he had increased his point-per-game average from .81 to .87. A concussion has limited the 5'10" winger to 41 games this year, out since mid-January. Combined with recent returns to the line-up for Gabriel Dumont in Hamilton and Steve Quailer in the NCAA, there is some positive late-season news amongst the system's hopefuls.
On the other hand, defenseman Jarred Tinordi was injured in a game on Friday night, tweaking a knee that had previously bothered him and causing him to be held out of action both Saturday and Sunday. Tinordi is having a strong season for the OHL's London Knights, but has suffered a few bumps and bruises along the way, playing in 43 of London's 62 games (though that also accounts for time missed during the World Junior Championships).
Still on the subject of injuries, though he isn't a Hab YET, upcoming 2012 first rounder Alex Galchenyuk is expected to make his season debut in the coming weeks. Galchenyuk, an American-born 6'1" center of Russian heritage, entered the season as a possible top 5 pick. He remains widely considered a top 10 prospect, even though a knee injury suffered during training camp means he has yet to play a game in 2011-12. If the Canadiens plan to address the organizational need for a premiere scoring center with size through the draft, they should be keeping a close eye on Galchenyuk as he returns to action with the Sarnia Sting where he plays alongside top prospect Nail Yakupov. It is not an uncommon belief that had Galchenyuk remained healthy, he might have challenged Mikhail Grigorenko as the most commonly projected number 2 pick candidate. Having to pick between Grigorenko and Galchenyuk may be a good potential problem for the Habs in June, but they'll need to do plenty of homework between now and then.
Race to the Bottom Update
As of today, the Canadiens remain 28th overall in the National Hockey League, with their position helped by a New York Islanders victory against the New Jersey Devils yesterday to give them some win breathing room.
This Thursday's game against the Edmonton Oilers will clearly have major implications on the pre-lottery determination of 2nd and 3rd overall selections.
Another busy and successful weekend for some junior-aged Hab prospects. We'll begin in the WHL, where Patrick Holland - the forward acquired in the Mike Cammalleri trade - has continued a monster streak. With two assists on Friday, one on Saturday, and another one on Sunday, the 6'0" winger is riding a 13-game point streak, over which he has amassed an incredible 31 points.
Nathan Beaulieu was named the QMJHL's second star for the month of February. Beaulieu scored points in all but one of Saint John's games in the month, totaling 2 goals and 15 assists in 10 contests. He has continued his hot play into March, with consecutive 2 point efforts in his two games this weekend. Beaulieu has already set career highs in assists (40) and points (51), and is just one off of his previous in goals with 11, and all of this in just 49 games! He is one of only two d-men in the Q to have a points-per-game average above 1.
Danny Kristo scored 2 goals on Friday night and then added 2 assists on Saturday to pass his previous career highs in both categories in 6 fewer games. Kristo has scored 17 goals and 40 points in 35 games on the year. The University of North Dakota's playoffs begin next week as favourites against Bemidji State, though the two teams split their regular season matchup. Though Kristo has one more year of college eligibility remaining, I am hopeful that the Canadiens will sign him when his season comes to a close so that he may join the group in Hamilton next Fall.
Are you tired of hearing about Brendan Gallagher yet? Didn't think so, and nor is he done putting up impressive numbers. With two goals on the weekend, he has reached the 40-marker plateau for the third consecutive time in his WHL career. His previous best was 44 in 66 games, while it took him only 48 games to hit 40 this season. Since he missed time for the World Juniors, Gallagher has only 6 games remaining in the regular season to set a new best, but I wouldn't put it past the 5'8" fireball. He added 2 assists to his point total over three games this weekend as well, now giving him 75 in 49 matches.
Despite the aforementioned plethora of call-ups, the Hamilton Bulldogs rode Eric Lampe's 2nd goal in 8 games since being signed to a try-out contract by the 'Dogs and 25 saves by Nathan Lawson to beat the Grand Rapids Griffins 1-0 last night. Unfortunately, if you haven't been following, the Bulldogs are stuck in 14th place in their conference, a distant 7 points from a playoff position. Thus, they are likely to join the Habs on the sidelines when the playoffs get underway.
That's Your Canadiens recap for today. Over to new content tomorrow!