From Prospect Tourney to the Big Camp

By Chris Boucher
The Montréal Canadiens’ training camp opens later this week. For all of the players who played in Hull, September 12th will mark an important date. However, the nature of the beast indicates that the vast majority of these players’ fates are already sealed.

The Habs’ increased depth leads us to the conclusion that any prospect jumping up to the big team to start the season will have to enjoy a phenomenal exhibition schedule. Most prospects won’t even get the opportunity to dress during any of these games, while the vast majority will already be back with their junior clubs before the big squad breaks for Colorado.

Although camp is still days away, we already know where many of the prospects will spend the upcoming season.

Despite already owning a contract Olivier Michaud will spend this year with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. The 5-10, 163-lbs goaltender will be looked at to improve his consistency. Although he’s already quite strong technically, the 19-year-old will spend the season working on straightening his back angle when in the butterfly, and improving his puck handling.

Michaud also has the inside track toward becoming Canada’s starting goalie during the World Junior Championship taking place in late December. Despite a somewhat difficult prospect tournament Michaud remains a high-percentage prospect.

Andrew Archer was one of the team’s top defenseman during the recently concluded prospect tournament. Although this isn’t exactly high-praise considering the amount of difficulty the entire squad experienced throughout most of the tournament. He continues to come as advertised; playing a simple game while focusing on clearing the zone and defensive positioning.

Archer may still garner an invitation to training camp. However, any invite should only be viewed as a reward since the 6-4, 212-lbs defenseman will spend the upcoming season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm.

Although considered by most to be the top right winger in the system, Jozef Balej will almost surely begin the season in Hamilton. The 6-0, 185-lbs speedster impressed during the prospect tournament, as he, Tomas Plekanec and Johan Eneqvist made up what many observers considered to be one of the tournament’s top lines.

The 20-year-old should make the trip out west, but his game will benefit from a full season of development in the AHL. Balej’s chances to crack the line up took a substantial hit when the Habs’ brought both Randy McKay and Mariusz Czerkawski on board over the summer.

André Deveaux plays a hard-nosed game. He seeks out opportunities to hit opposing players and moves reasonably well for a big man. The 6-4, 210-lbs center will be back in Belleville by mid-week, where his numbers should take a substantial jump this season.

A surprise addition to this year’s prospect development camp, Johan Eneqvist forced management to take notice as he played left wing along side Plekanec and Balej throughout the prospect tournament. Eneqvist came as advertised, playing a strong, well-rounded game. The 6-0, 183-lbs forward excelled on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck, and was easily the team’s best penalty-killing forward.

The 20-year-old will return to Sweden this season. His patience, puck-protection skills and passing ability were strong facets of his game, and may yet merit a contract offer down the road.

Despite playing a strong physical game throughout the prospect tournament, Jonathan Ferland’s slow foot-speed was made particularly apparent during this faster-paced tournament. The 6-2, 206-lbs right-winger is well aware of this weakness in his game, and has the desire and work ethic to do everything in his power to get quicker. The 19-year-old will return to the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan where he’ll have the entire season to improve his overall speed.

Eric Himelfarb started the tournament slowly, but with confidence came foot-speed, and along with foot-speed came offensive opportunities. The 5-10, 186-lbs center continually won draws, but must improve his puck-protection skills. His vision and creativity are easily his greatest strength. Hopefully, the freshness of a new team will allow the 19-year-old to bounce back from an offensive regression last season; although a trip to the big camp remains a possibility.

Mike Komisarek came into the tournament as Montréal’s player to watch. He played as well as could be expected considering a new tournament, new teammates and the pressure that comes with having a ‘C’ sewn to his jersey. Like many defenseman at his age, the 6-4, 240-lbs behemoth tries to do too much in the defensive zone. His eagerness and strong work-ethic often leads him to chase the puck, which eventually results in him ending up in no-man’s-land between the puck-carrier and the player he should be covering. His one-on-one skills are above reproach, while his passing improved substantially as the tournament progressed.

Interestingly enough, the 20-year-old’s playing time also increased as the tournament wore on. He went from playing 19:31 in the second game, to playing an impressive 26:02 in the third game; including 10:48 in the third period alone. Komisarek will likely start the season in Hamilton, where he’ll be counted on to play big minutes. His leadership skills and physical strength should see him becoming both a fan and player favourite in Steeltown.

Michael Lambert had difficulty adjusting to the increased speed of the prospect tournament. He didn’t play in all of the Habs games, but as one of the team’s youngest prospects the 18-year-old will have the upcoming season to work toward improving. He’ll be easy to monitor, as he’ll be returning to the QMJHL’s Montréal Rocket.

Christian Larrivée showed flashes of talent throughout the tournament, unfortunately his height, upward skating style and slight frame made it difficult for him to work through traffic. The 6-3, 192-lbs forward is at his best when he has room to maneuver. Despite already having a contract in hand, the situation in Hamilton will likely see the 20-year-old spend the entire season with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens.

When watching Tomas Linhart it’s easy to forget that the 6-2, 214-lbs defenseman is one of the team’s youngest prospects. Despite his experience in the Czech Republic the 18-year-old remains an inexperienced defenseman who makes some bad on-ice choices. He shows flashes of his puck-handling ability, but his hockey-sense is in need of development. Hopefully a full season of North American hockey with the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dogs will help his development.

Duncan Milroy had a better development camp than prospect tournament. The 6-0, 198-lbs winger showed flashes of his strong offensive game throughout camp, but wasn’t able to carry it over to the tournament. Probable reasoning behind the lack of production can be traced to Milroy’s linemates. He played along-side recent draftee André Deveaux and invitee Patrick Levesque; neither of whom can be mistaken for Jarret Stoll.

The team’s best player throughout the tournament was easily Tomas Plekanec. The 5-10, 200-lbs forward combined speed, creativity, vision and supremely effective puck-protection skills to create offensive chances on nearly every shift. The soon-to-be 20-year-old meshed well with linemates Balej and Eneqvist, as the line was easily the Habs’ top unit.

Plekanec’s already going into his third year of professional hockey. His strong showing in Hull, combined with his recently mentioned experience should force the team to give him a solid look during training camp. That said, his immediate future is in Hamilton; possibly centering a line between Balej and Marcel Hossa.

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Hab you Heard?

Three Montréal prospects took part in the recent 4-Nations tournament. Alexander Perezhogin, Niklas Anger and Viktor Ujcik all represented their respective countries during the 3-game round-robin tournament.

Perezhogin was the only one of the trio to appear on the score-sheet, as he scored 1 goal, picked up 4 penalty minutes, and finished with a plus-2 rating. Anger picked up 2 penalty minutes and was plus-1, while Ujcik went home with a plus-1 rating and zero minutes in penalties.

Konstantin Korneev, the Habs’ final pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft represented Russian in a recent Under-20 tournament. Through 3 games the 18-year-old scored 1 goal, and was plus-2. The offensively gifted defenseman is currently the organization’s youngest prospect.