Montreal Canadiens Rookie Camp Recap: Meh.
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Honestly, the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp was the most boring hockey I’ve ever watched.
The Canadiens prospect team lost 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators prospect team and 2-1 to the Winnipeg Jets prospect team. The only player who really impressed me was Rafael Harvey-Pinard. More on him later. The rest of the team struggled somewhat against a loaded Senators prospect team and a comparatively well-rested Jets prospect team. Here are some takeaways from the two games, plus general Canadiens-themed thoughts:
· The Canadiens were very porous defensively. You can’t expect a gang of young, inexperienced rookies to suddenly play like Selke and Norris winners, but some of the defensive miscues witnessed this past weekend were unacceptable. For example, in the third period against the Ottawa Senators, Josh Brook was pressured, and as a result passed the puck from behind the Canadiens net. It was a beautiful pass, tape to tape. Unfortunately, the second tape belonged to Senators sniper Vitaly Abramov, who sniped it home backhand. There are many problems with this play. First of all, Brook needs to be strong on the puck and not let pressure affect his play. Second of all, even under pressure, Brook should NEVER put the puck in front of the net, which is what he did. Smart decisions with the puck, my coach would always say. A player of his calibre should not let pressure get in the way of his decision-making. Many other instances occurred where the Canadiens prospects gave away the puck behind their own net. Luckily, stalwart goalie Cayden Primeau was there to bail his team out. Another problem with the defense was delayed zone exits. When you have an opportunity to get the puck out of the defensive zone, you get it out as quickly as possible, without passing the puck up the middle of your zone. You should not, under any circumstances, stickhandle along your own blue line, or otherwise waste time in your own zone. I saw the Canadiens do just that last weekend. When you waste time in your own zone, it allows the opposing team to recover and forecheck, and suddenly the opportunity for a zone exit is gone, and the other team has forced a turnover and a high-danger scoring chance, and then either the goalie makes a great save, or a big red light goes on and the opposing team starts celebrating. I could hear my coach yelling at the Canadiens prospects in my head throughout the whole Rookie Showcase weekend. Shoutout to Cassie Moscoe-Sweet.
· I came into the weekend hoping to see total domination from top prospects Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki. While they combined for only one assist (Suzuki on Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s goal), the two were easily the most skilled players on the Canadiens rookie team. They did whatever they wanted with the puck, except put it in the net. They were also the best defensively. Nonetheless, their respective performances did not scream “NHL-ready”. That’s OK. If coach Claude Julien and development coach Joel Bouchard had judged Jesperi Kotkaniemi on his rookie camp, they would have sent him to Finland immediately. We all know what happened after that. Kotkaniemi showed up when it mattered, at training camp, and solidified himself as the third line centre on the team. Joel Bouchard and Claude Julien don’t really care how Suzuki and Poehling did at the rookie camp. They care about how they do in preseason. That will determine where both of them play for
· The player that did stand out for me at the rookie camp was Rafael Harvey-Pinard. Along with being one of precious few Canadiens players to score during the tournament, the 2019 7th-round pick showed great speed, skill and defensive awareness, and he found great chemistry with Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, which means he can elevate his game to their level. Harvey-Pinard is beginning to look like a late-round steal for the Canadiens. Don’t be surprised if he is invited to training camp.
· The Canadiens prospects greatly resembled the real team when on the power play, which is most definitely not a good thing. In fact, when I tuned into the Canadiens-Jets game, I didn’t realize that the Canadiens were on a power play until I counted only four Jets players. This really doesn’t matter, because only Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki have any chance of being on the Canadiens roster in 2019-20, let alone a power play unit. Besides, the Canadiens’ two best hopes for the power play, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, are playing in the NCAA and the KHL, respectively, and were therefore not allowed to play in this year’s rookie tournament.
· Thoughts on how the actual Montreal Canadiens power play will look this season: it’s hard to be worse than last year. And it won’t be. Julien and his assistant coaches have been discussing new configurations that will reinvigorate the power play. With the young talent up front and the booming Shea Weber slapshot, plus Nick Suzuki potentially helping the power play, there is no reason to have a repeat of last year’s poor excuse for a man advantage. My preferred configuration for the first unit would look like this:
Shooters: Tatar, Weber
Net-front presence: Gallagher (of course)
Looks all right to me.
· Bergevin gave all indications that he is done for the summer. In terms of forwards, that’s all right with me. I think the Canadiens should let the younger players, such as, you guessed it, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, prove their worth to the team during the season. Poehling is NHL-ready, as demonstrated by his hat-trick-and-shootout-winner debut last season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Suzuki will get a long look on the right wing beside Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin, which I think would be a speedy, dynamic line, but lacking in finishers. Suzuki will also get a look on the power play during training camp. Anyway, to bring in another forward is to worsen an already tight logjam, and block younger players who deserve to play in the NHL, from playing in the NHL. On defense, I think Bergevin could have added somebody to play with Shea Weber, because there are no prospects currently vying for a spot on the left side. However, Victor Mete looked great late last season, and will probably look comfortable next to Weber on the top pairing. Who knows? Maybe he’ll get his first NHL goal. Nonetheless, if the Canadiens find themselves in the thick of the playoff race at the trade deadline, I encourage Bergevin to look at the market for a top-4, left-shot defenseman or a top-6 sniping forward, so that the team won’t have any problems making the playoffs. A guy like Torey Krug would be a decent trade deadline addition, but would require a hefty return. Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would make nice deadline additions as well.
· Preseason starts in seven days. Canadiens vs. Devils. Book it.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo