Montreal’s forward group managed to score seven goals in the two games at the rookie tournament. That may have exceeded expectations as the club was without three of the organization’s top three centers in Joni ikonen, Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans, and was the only participating team without a prospect selected in the top 60 of the NHL draft.
The Habs’ forward group contains at least a half dozen players who, if they compete seriously for NHL positions some day, will most likely be doing it on the bottom lines. There were no top six forward prospects at this tournament unless Reway or Audette can exceed expectations:
Daniel Audette – The top Habs’ forward at the rookie tournament, he had a solid showing in both games, and impressed the Habs’ brass and scouts alike with improved speed. He’s obviously worked hard in the offseason on his lower body as he looks quicker, and that will only aid him going forward. He and Antoine Waked looked like the quickest forwards on the team.
Audette centered the top line with Martin Reway and Jeremiah Addison, and drove the offence for the most part, circling deep into his own zone, receiving the puck and starting many breakouts by utilizing his speed and passing skills. He has decent hands and puckhandling skills, and showed off a solid one-timer on a great feed from Reway for a late power-play goal in Montreal’s 5-2 win versus the Leafs.
While his lack of size hinders his own-zone coverage as he has trouble handling size and strength, particularly in front of the net and behind the goal line, Audette is by no means a shrinking violet as he will battle for loose pucks and throw hits, and he certainly isn’t averse to taking a hit to make a play.
Audette looks ready to make the next step offensively at the AHL level, and perhaps he can surpass the 50-point mark and center one of the top two lines, depending in large part on what happens with Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron at camp. He’ll have to produce at the AHL level to get a serious look in the NHL. This season will be an important one for Audette’s MHL aspirations.
Martin Reway – One look at Reway during his post-game interview after game one showed how far he is away from being fully recovered from his heart issues that prevented him from playing in a game for 16 months.
His face is still puffy from all of the medication he had to take, and while he showed a few old flashes of his skill in the first game of the tournament, it was quite evident that, in playing his second game in two nights, Reway needs to get into game shape and regain some of that speed that made him such a dangerous player
Reway set up Audette in the first game with a terrific cross-ice pass that threaded the needle through a couple of defenders on a third-period Habs power play, and also showed off the best hands on the club with a few dangles that you only see from NHL-calibre players.
Martin Reway Highlights
Unfortunately, those dangles are sometimes ill-timed and end up resulting in turnovers, which will get him benched pretty quickly in the pros. Reway will need to continue working on his all-around game and learn to use his linemates more instead of trying to do it all himself, as no matter how slick he is with the puck, at the NHL level you can only get away with the dangles occasionally.
All that said, he is lucky just to be alive at this point, and there will be no rush with the talented Slovakian as he tries to get back into game shape and recovers the quickness he’ll need to even succeed at the AHL level. He has every intention of spending the season in the minors in North America, and after a month or two of heavy workouts and exhibition games hopefully, he starts getting back his skating speed and produces at the AHL level.
Jeremiah Addison – He may have been playing on the first line at this tournament, but that may be the last time he sees himself in that type of role for the remainder of his playing career, as his ticket to the NHL will most likely be in a hard-working, energy role.
Addison does not bring any special dimensions in the skill department; he’s not big, fast or skilled enough to compete for an offensive role in the pro game. Which is not to say he can’t score. He has some moves, handles the puck decently enough, and while he’s no speed burner he gets where he needs to get through hard work and the proper angles.
Jeremiah Addison Highlights
He’s also got a fairly heavy shot, and when afforded scoring opportunities, Addison is capable of netting a few goals at the AHL level this season and giving the organization optimism that in a couple of years he can compete for a bottom-line role in Montreal since he won’t hurt a club when he’s on the ice thanks to his determination and two-way game.
Addison fit in well enough with Audette and Reway as someone had to do the spade work in the corners at both ends of the ice. Certainly, he doesn’t have the puck skills of Reway or move as quickly as Audette, but he’s also younger, and the hope will be that he can continue to improve his speed and puck protection skills as he grows stronger and learns the nuances of the pro game. When it’s all said and done, Addison may end up having as much chance of playing at the NHL level as any of the Habs’ forwards at this tournament.
Antoine Waked – One of the pleasant surprises of the tournament, Waked is making management look sage for signing him as a free agent while he was still playing for Rouyn-Noranda last April, as he looked like one of the better pro prospects this weekend.
Waked consistently demonstrated his impressive size/skating combination, driving the play on many occasions as he carried the puck through the neutral zone effectively and put opposing defencemen on their heels. He also used his speed effectively on the backcheck, and displayed a strong work ethic. He looked after his own end and competed hard, just as he did his last two seasons in the QMJHL where he made a major leap in development and was one of the more effective forwards in the league.
Antoine Waked Highlights
Waked also showed that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to impress the brass when he fought against Senators’ behemoth defenceman Andreas Englund near the end of his second game, and held his own. He’s a strong kid.
As an undrafted player in an organization with decent depth, it won’t be an easy task finding an NHL spot. Waked did flash enough speed and intangibles, however, to intrigue, and he will certainly be in the mix for a bottom-line position in a few years if the rapid development curve continues.
Thomas Ebbing – Not a lot was expected offensively from a centerman playing a bottom-line role in this event who accumulated just three goals for Michigan State last season. By the end of the tournament, despite limited ice time and stretches where he wasn’t overly noticeable, Ebbing led all Montreal players with three goals as he proved to be opportunistic and a better finisher than he was in college.
Ebbing’s deke on Leafs’ first-round pick Timothy Liljegren in the first period of the opening game was exceptional as the rookie defenceman is still checking for his jockstrap, and he showed nice finish in burying not only that goal, but all three of his markers.
It was a curious performance from Ebbing since all of my reports from scouting acquaintances going in suggested he was more of a plugger and defensive presence than anything else. Yet he struggled at times defensively, especially in the second game, as perhaps playing with lower-end junior graduates against a Senators’ team laden with older top prospects made his task more difficult on the other side of the puck. Certainly, he wasn’t able to carry his line by himself.
Look for Ebbing to get an opportunity in both the NHL and AHL training camps to play with more skilled players and the organization should have a better grasp at just how much offensive upside this player possesses. Unquestionably, he showed enough to earn a strong look from Laval management at the very least, and he should be in the mix for an AHL roster spot.
William Bitten – In some respects Bitten is almost a junior version of Paul Byron in that he gets as many or more breakaways than anyone else thanks to his quickness, and often has trouble converting them.
Last year Byron started burying more of his breakaways, however, and it resulted in a career-high 22-goal season with the Habs, and the hope will be that Bitten can start finishing his many chances on a more frequent basis, as he’s usually good for at least a couple of breakaways a game.
Bitten did score on one of his solo chances at the tournament, beating Leafs goalie Ian Scott with a hard wrister in the top corner, so it’s not like the 5-9 winger can’t score goals, and the hope will be that he can hit a new level in point production in his final season of junior with Hamilton after taking a step back in that regard last season.
Will Bitten Highlights
Bitten has the speed, smarts, and determination to be a pesky pro player despite his lack of size but don’t expect it to be in a scoring role, certainly not at the NHL level at least. He will have to continue working diligently on his defensive game and get stronger as he readies himself for the rigours of the AHL next season.
I see him battling with Addison and Pezzetta for a fourth-line role on the wing with the Habs in a few seasons; it will be up to him to show more consistency and start burying more chances at the junior level; that’s the first step. It’s up to him.
Michael Pezzetta – The Sudbury center ended up playing on the wing in this tournament and certainly did not look uncomfortable at that position as he is very strong along the boards in more ways than one.
While the rugged forward failed to bring much offence in the two games he did leave an impression not only with the Habs’ staff but on Keaton Middleton’s face as well as the 6-6 Senators’ defenceman may have Pezzetta’s fist print on his face for a week or two.
Pezzetta is a fairly sharp cookie – he realizes that if he ever makes an impact at the pro level it will be in a physical, grating role, and that’s the one he played for the Habs in this tournament. While not without some skill or skating ability, Pezzetta’s main assets are his size (212 lbs), strength and toughness, and two or three years down the road he will be competing for a fourth-line position at the NHL level if he can show more offensive production in his final junior season and in subsequent ones with Laval
Pezzetta took a step back in his development last year as he battled injuries and two needless suspensions for going over the edge with a couple of dirty hits. He’ll need to show a more well-rounded game as one of the key forwards in Sudbury and show the Habs that he can contribute more offensively.