Canadiens Officially Begin Training Camp
Fifty-seven Montreal Canadiens hopefuls started the 2019-20 training camp today. The camp began with physicals and fitness testing at the Canadiens’ training facility in Brossard, across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. After that, the media met with the Canadiens players for interviews and the recording of videos for the Canadiens YouTube channel. Outrageously, I was not invited to media day. That’s ridiculous. I should have been invited solely on the basis that I don’t call Jesperi Kotkaniemi “Packeryammy” (shoutout to Don Cherry). However, I was still able to observe and analyze information about the first day of training camp. Here are some observations, and predictions on what the opening night roster will look like:
Where Does Kotkaniemi Fit?
Jesperi Kotkaniemi put on ten pounds over the summer. "Hopefully the guys don’t throw me in the corners that much this year," he says about the added weight. "I think that’s going to help me.” He also said the weight made a big difference in his skating. “I think the bounce or strength or whatever in my skating, I think I’m moving a little bit better and feeling stronger.” Kotkaniemi noted. If Kotkaniemi proves that he can take on a top-six role for the Canadiens, then there is quite the logjam at forward. With Max Domi and Phillip Danault already established top-six centers, and Ryan Poehling waiting in the wings, where does Kotkaniemi fit in? He needs exposure to other teams’ top lines, as well as the benefit of better linemates, in order to continue his development. He will only get these things in a top-six role. Perhaps the solution is to move Domi to the wing. This raises a significant question: Domi played so well in his first year at centre with the Canadiens. Why fix something that isn’t broken? The answer to this question is, Domi found his game in Montreal because he needed a change of scenery from Arizona. Domi is the type of player who thrives in a hockey market like Montreal. You can see it in the way he deals with the media, and the increased emotion that he plays with in Montreal. It makes no difference if Domi is playing centre or wing, he still is playing in La Belle Province. Anyway, moving Domi to the wing opens a potentially first-line centre spot for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. However, it bumps one of Tomas Tatar or Jonathan Drouin (probably Drouin) onto the third line. Neither Tatar nor Drouin should be on the third line. A solution would be to move Drouin to the right side. That way, he still plays in the top-six. A first line of Domi-Kotkaniemi-Gallagher and a second line of Tatar-Danault-Drouin would allow everybody who deserves a top-six role, to get a top-six role.
Two Players Knocking on Canadiens’ Door
There are essentially two prospects that have a great chance of making the NHL roster this training camp: Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki. Both showed at the end of last year that they are ready for a higher level of play. Poehling scored a hat trick and the shootout winner in his first NHL hockey game, and Suzuki singlehandedly dragged the Guelph Storm to the Memorial Cup, with 42 points in 24 playoff games. So, who will make the jump? The Canadiens are flush with veteran bottom-six players – many on one-way contracts – but coach Claude Julien has made it clear that any young player who proves they should be in the NHL, will be in the NHL. In my opinion, Ryan Poehling will definitely make the NHL roster. I could see him taking the third-line centre spot if Kotkaniemi grabs a top-six role. If not, Poehling may start on the fourth line. It’s not like he won’t produce on the fourth line; that’s where he got his hat trick in his debut last year. Nick Suzuki is much harder to predict. He will definitely get a long look in training camp next to Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin on the second line, as well as on the power play. I think both Poehling and Suzuki will make the team. Poehling has an edge because he has proven success at the NHL level. Suzuki benefits from a need at the right wing position and a need for help on the power play, two things that Suzuki can provide. GM Marc Bergevin traded Andrew Shaw to Chicago and did not receive a right wing in return. This sends the message that the Canadiens are willing to give Suzuki a chance. Meanwhile, Poehling is a big body at centre, is sound defensively. I don’t think I need to clarify that he is good offensively. He probably makes the team by virtue of just being Claude Julien’s best option. Like most journalists when they make predictions, I have a slim chance of being completely right. Nevertheless, it will be fun to watch Poehling and Suzuki fight for roster spots in the preseason.
Will Phillip Danault get Power Play Time?
The short answer is probably not. While Danault is great in the faceoff circle, more offensively dynamic players like Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi likely have the centre positions for the power play locked up. Max Domi had 11 points on the power play last year, which is pretty good considering how dismal that power play was. Domi is an elite playmaker, but can also shoot the puck extremely well, as demonstrated by his four power play goals. Kotkaniemi, meanwhile, has a wicked one-timer from the slot, and makes elite passes that seem impossible until he manages them. Danault, while Selke-calibre defensively, lacks the offensive toolkit to overtake Domi or Kotkaniemi on the power play. Besides, Danault is already on the penalty kill, and he’s better suited stopping other teams’ top power play units than participating in his own team’s power plays. It would not be a good idea to overwork a guy like Phillip Danault.
First preseason game is Monday, September 16, 2019, at 7:00 PM.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo