Habs fans who showed up for the annual Red and White Scrimmage hoping for a spectacular premiere performance from lead actor Jonathan Drouin will have to wait for the second show.
Except for one nifty feed to Joe Morrow in the slot that was thwarted by a sterling Charlie Lindgren glove save and one fancy dangle at the end of the three-on-three overtime, Drouin was mostly invisible in his debut as the Hab’s “Golden Hope” at first-line center.
He looked to be a step behind the play and created very little in the way of offence, and one wonders if he wasn’t trying a little too hard to make sure he took care of his defensive duties first and foremost as that has been the knock on him going into the camp…that he’s not conscientious enough defensively to handle the immense responsibility that comes with being the number-one pivot.
The positive is that folks are well aware of his ability to create offence, so there will be no panic in Habsland as there will be several exhibition games and another three weeks to get his confidence at the level needed to handle the chore.
Charles Hudon ended up being the Star of the Show yesterday, picking up three assists and remaining a scoring threat most of the scrimmage on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen that looks like it could do some damage this season if kept together. There are a number of third lines in the league that will be hard-pressed to match up with the offensive talents this trio can bring on a nightly basis.
Hudon looks more comfortable this preseason than in previous ones, perhaps because he is in a far more favourable position to make the team as he will be most assuredly snapped up on waivers if the Habs try sending him down to the AHL. Starting on the third line in camp is a good sign for Hudon after paying his dues with three productive AHL seasons. Unlike in previous seasons, it’s his job to lose, and if he keeps playing like he did Sunday, Hudon will be a lineup regular and be this year’s version of Lehkonen.
Michael McCarron was another forward who made an impression in the scrimmage, and he’ll have to keep doing that if he hopes to make the team as he is still exempt from waivers. McCarron got more and more comfortable as the game went on; displaying good puck skills and creating a few scoring opportunities as he made a case for sticking with the big club and making the decisions on the final cuts that much tougher.
Linemate Jacob de la Rose put in a solid effort at both ends of the ice, showing coaches that he won’t hurt the team in a bottom-line role if called upon due to his size/speed combo, work ethic and defensive hockey sense.
Two other linemates that had some flashes offensively were Daniel Audette and Byron Froese, and if yesterday was any indication they may be a dangerous AHL duo this upcoming season.
Danault did a solid job head-to-head versus Drouin for most of the day, limiting him to few opportunities and giving him little room to work. The second line acquitted itself quite well against Drouin’s line and was one of the main reasons Drouin looked ordinary.
Alex Galchenyuk was one of the most dangerous forwards in this contest, creating several prime scoring chances with his puck skills and lots of energy. He had some excellent scoring chances and several setups in the second period that could have resulted in goals if not for the solid work in nets of Zach Fucale.
Considering that he’s coming off another battle with concussion issues, it was also an encouraging effort from Andrew Shaw, who had several rushes and offensive chances.
Apart from Drouin, disappointments up front included Ales Hemsky and Peter Holland.
If Hemsky has designs on filling the top-line role on the right side he will have to be more involved offensively and create more chances. It remains a mystery who would be assigned the corner duties with Hemsky on a line with Drouin and Pacioretty, as that’s not really his game. He’ll need to produce in the exhibition games in that spot or he’ll soon be replaced…most likely by Lehkonen, who looked comfortable on the right side.
This may be Holland’s last legitimate chance to earn an NHL job as it’s his fourth team, and the Habs are supposed to be thin at center according to the pundits. Right now he looks like the seventh-best center in the organization at best…I’d put McCarron and Audette ahead of him in the pecking order at this point, and that’s not likely to change as they’re the players still on the upward curve.
Defence picture no clearer
Things are no clearer on the back in regards to the final three positions after yesterday’s scrimmage…if anything it is more muddled as Eric Gelinas and Joe Morrow, for the most part, looked better than Mark Streit, Brandon Davidson and Jakub Jerabek in the battle for the 6-8 spots.
Gelinas has certainly not lost any of the speed that made him a top-60 pick in the draft. He may have the best size/skating combination on the blueline, and if hockey was just about the physical dimensions of the game he’d be on the top unit.
Where he has had issues at the NHL level up until now though has been with the mental aspect of the game, and one team scrimmage is hardly the place to be getting overly excited one way or another about a defenceman as it lacked true NHL speed and tenacity. The real test for Gelinas will come after the first few exhibition games when most of the cuts have been made and he’s facing opponents battling for the last few roster spots.
Gelinas will have to show that he can handle heavy forechecking and make quick decisions with the puck under pressure. If he can continue to do that he may find himself starting the season with Montreal.
Morrow is another defenceman on the roster bubble who needs to pop..and in this contest he was more willing to contribute offensively than any other defenceman, directing several point shots on net and joining the rush on several occasions.
Like Gelinas, Morrow has always been touted for his physical tools, including good mobility and shot, but hockey sense has been a question mark at the pro level and regarded as the main reason he was unable to win a permanent position on Boston’s blueline despite being a former first-round pick.
He will need to keep it simple in his own end when it comes to clearing the zone, and yesterday he limited the turnovers and moved the puck relatively smartly. We’ll see if that continues as the competition gets fiercer, and if it does he will not only win a roster spot but could challenge for that wide-open sixth defence spot, which may also come with some prime time as Weber’s first-unit power-play partner.
Streit had a decent first half of the scrimmage and scored the winning goal in overtime. It’s clear that his 11 seasons of NHL experience put him ahead of the other challengers in the poise and smarts department, and his extensive use as a power-play weapon over his career is perhaps the main reason why he was signed by Bergevin at the age of 39 and remains the early favourite to secure the sixth position.
In the second half of the scrimmage there were some hiccups, however, as Streit’s lack of mobility, and perhaps stamina, were evident on several plays, and the question arose on whether he would be an ideal partner for Jordie Benn on the third pairing to start the season as speed may be an issue for those two if they’re on the ice together. You can have all the smarts in the world, but if an opponent is ten MPH faster than you and gets a jump on the puck those smarts won’t catch him.
It has been pointed out to me that we need to wait until the real games start, and that’s fair. Streit may need a little time to get into proper condition…get his legs back. It better happen quickly though, or the odds-on favourite a week ago may find himself sitting in the stands most nights.
Davidson neither impressed nor disappointed, and if he was Karl Alzner and was assured of a top-four position that would be fine. Davidson is in a “do or die” battle, however, and because there were five other defencemen with power-play abilities signed in the offseason, he is going to have to show some things offensively if he hopes to secure that sixth spot beside Benn on opening night in Buffalo.
Jakub Jerabek may have to show more than any of the other four defencemen that are his main competitors for the sixth, seventh and eighth defence spots in the lineup as he is the one who has never played in North America so the scouting report/track record is sparse.
The 5-10 Czech defender had some problems completing passes during this match, and it may be because he was trying to make a strong first impression and overdid it on the long stretch passes, few of which connected. Unlike Morrow, who kept his passes short and simple for most of the night, Jerabek often ignored his defence partner and looked for teammates on the other side of center ice instead of hitting the nearby players who were supporting him.
Defensively he was caught out of position on a few plays and looked like he’s got quite a bit of work to do learning the North American game. Hopefully, he decides to stay over here if he’s sent to Laval, and that would look to be the case as there are simply too many defencemen ahead of him on the depth chart at this point unless he makes a dramatic improvement over the next couple of weeks.
Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen did not stand out in this game, and for young defenders playing at this level for one of the few times in their life, that’s a good thing. they did not look out of place..nor did they look ready to assume an NHL role. they look like solid future defence prospects.
The same can be said for Brett Lernout, who was steady and solid for most of the night. He is not waiver eligible until next season, so he will continue to be groomed in the AHL and will challenge the likes of Benn for a roster spot next season if the steady progression as a solid defensive defenceman continues.
Charlie Lindgren and Fucale were the goalies who left the biggest impression in the game as both came in for starters Carey Price and Al Montoya and stole the show with some outstanding saves and superlative work in the shootout..where only one of the shooters, Brandan Gallagher, was able to find the back of the net.
Fucale looks ready to seize a backup role in Laval and work his way back into the discussion as a solid NHL goalie prospect after falling off the radar last season when he ended up playing in the ECHL. Michael McNiven is also a solid goalie prospect, but he may well end up as the starter in Brampton this season…paying his dues as Fucale did last season. It’s not a knock to have to spend some time in the ECHL as a goalie prospect if your organization has good depth; that most certainly is the case with the Canadiens at this time.