The Ottawa Senators hosted their annual rookie tournament from September 6-10, and 23 young Canadien hopefuls took to the ice to display their talents. Also joining in the tournament along with the Sens rookies were draftees and try-out players from the Carolina Hurricanes. After a single game round-robin, the two bottom clubs faced off in a semi-final with the winner moving on to play the round-robin winner. Ottawa eventually won the tournament, defeating the ‘Canes 5-3 in the championship game.
Though the end result for the Canadiens was a defeat to the Senators in the semi-final after a shootout, the games offered Hab fans a glimpse into the future. From the obvious talent of arguably the best player in the tournament, Chris Higgins, to the surprise of tryout defenseman Brett MacLellan, they showed a variety of skills (and spills) while turning in increasingly strong performances as a team.
The opening 1-0 win against the Senators was a choppy, and at times painful, affair to watch with little flow to the game, but a goal from Maxim Lapierre with less than a minute to go, combined with a very convincing effort from goalie Olivier Michaud, secured the victory. Game 2 was a more convincing affair from a team standpoint, however the Habs lost 2-0 to the Hurricanes despite a dominating performance from Higgins.
The semi-final game against the Senators ended 4-4 after the overtime period with Hab goals from Higgins, who scored two, Duncan Milroy, and André Deveaux. Unfortunately, the potential tension of the shootout turned into a comedy of errors (including two players who fell on attempts) as almost half the shots taken by the 22 players missed the net completely. The Sens finally won when their 11th attempt beat Michaud and Deveaux missed the net with the chance to tie.
Here follows a brief rundown of each player that took to the ice for the Canadiens:
Olivier Michaud (G, Born 14/09/83): Though inconsistent from Game 1 to Game 3, Michaud still showed why the Canadiens brass look to him as a goalie of the future. His lateral movement is, at times, simply sparkling, and when you combine that for a much improved positional game, you see a young goaltender rounding nicely into his game. As usual, for a younger player, he dropped to his knees a little quickly, and when he is down on his knees, he tends to leave the corners of the net glaringly open; his butterfly needs work. His rebound control is fairly good, keeping them in front of him and generally short enough to grab, or deflecting them into the corner, but even when he gives up juicy rebounds, he has a great recovery ability frequently allowing him to stop successive shots. On more than one occasion, he showed great anticipation as he picked off passes destined for players on the opposite side of the crease. Michaud has wonderful reflexes as well, flashing a fast glove and even faster blocker. He’s a player to watch, and despite his size, could be making rumbles for more playing time at advanced levels sooner rather than later.
Michel Bergevin-Robinson (G, 14/09/82): Bergevin-Robinson is rougher around the edges than Michaud and needs to work on his lateral movement but there is some potential there. While he did let out numerous rebounds, they were generally short and he was able to pounce on them rapidly. A significant problem lies in his lack of challenging the shooter; he was frequently deep in his net. Communication seemed basically non-existent, and he must learn that, as the last line of defense, he’s got to be the one chattering to keep his teammates in the know.
Jean-Philippe Côté (D, 22/04/82): While Côté showed a marked improvement from game one to game three (he was scratched in game two), he still struggled making decisions in his own zone. His clears were either poorly conceived, or his passes off the mark. Most certainly a physical presence with an edge to his game, he worked hard at clearing the front of his net for 60 minutes. He also used his size fairly well along the boards, both winning battles and angling opponents off the puck. Positionally, he’s fairly good, though does tend to let emotion take him away from his spot to someone he’d like to wallop. Being reactive rather than proactive seems to leave him half a step behind the play fairly often.
Steve Villneuve (D, 05/09/83): Playing in games two and three, Villneuve showed that his best asset was his stick. He has good hand-eye co-ordination and was adept at the stick check. At 6’0”, 192 lbs, he’s a smallish defender, and tended to get out-muscled both in front of the net and along the boards. He does do well with the puck, however, having both a good first pass and the ability to stickhandle in traffic. Unfortunately, either because he was trying too hard to prove himself, or just from a lack of vision, he tended to work himself into traffic and lose the puck before being able to pass it off; one has to question his decision making ability.
Brett MacLellan (D, 23/03/83): This try-out defender could be the surprise of the tournament for the Canadiens. MacLellan played with a defensive poise that was well beyond his years, and the fact that he was scratched from the final game leads one to believe that he’d made his point, and will be going to main camp, leaving the opportunity for another player to attempt to prove himself in Game 3. He’s very physical, and plays with a serious edge, which is very evident both along the boards, where he lost few, if any, battles, and in front of the net. He also played within his means, not going for the knockout hit, but using his size (6’2”, 220 lbs) intelligently. He routinely made the correct choice in his own zone with either a strong first pass, or a chip off the glass, and his positioning created opportunities to steal the puck and launch the transition game. For a big guy, he skates very well, has good agility, and is extremely solid. Offensively, while not spectacular, he does his job by keeping the puck in, knowing when to pass and when to shoot and, when he does shoot, getting off a low, hard blast that’s on net. Could there be a contract in his immediate future?
Mark Flood (D, 29/09/84): A late round draft pick who played in Games 1 and 3, he showed significant improvement from the time he first took the ice to the time game three was over. The first game might be characterised as a nerve game for him with numerous errors and rushed plays. The second game, however, was a significant improvement. He made better choices with the puck and was positionally much better without the puck. That said, he’s a rangy (6’1”, 182 lbs) defender who really needs to fill out. He’s rough, but there’s good potential that needs to be moulded over time.
Evan Shaw (D, 24/03/84): Shaw, who played in the final two Hab games, played small in Game 1 despite a 6’2”, 210-pound frame. Game 2 was significantly better as he used his size to advantage in the hitting department, along the boards and in front of the net. When he does make a big hit, though, it’s led with the elbow almost every time; he’s lucky he didn’t spend half of each game in the box. He tends to get himself out of position, and left the front of the net on more than a few occasions looking for a hit.
Derick Martin (D, 16/12/81): Martin played the first two games and perhaps his play was the major reason he was scratched from the third. Hab fans seemed to love this guy in the first game as he threw himself at everything that moved, however his decision making was clearly lacking and all he ended up doing was throwing himself out of position on a regular basis. He was also beaten on the boards routinely. Being very weak on his skates had him landing on his behind even when he was initiating hits. That said, he’s a fluid skater with some offensive flair and good stickhandling ability. His vision with the puck is good and he can make things happen with a deft pass, it’s just a shame he prefers stickhandling until he loses the puck.
Andrew Archer (D, 15/05/83): Archer is a solid defenseman who is positionally sound and physically active. He ties up his man well and knows how to use his size to advantage to either win, or dispossess opponents. Though he has little creative flair, he does make good choices with the puck and combined with being a solid skater and proactive thinker, will probably make a reliable defensive rearguard in the NHL sometime in the next couple of years.
Matt Shasby (D, 02/07/80): Montreal fans probably haven’t seen all that much of this defender who plays with Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA, but when they do get a look, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. In a pairing with Archer, Shasby looked both at home and equal to the task. A little rougher around the edges, perhaps, Shasby still uses his size fairly well. He’s solid along the boards and in front of the net and he even has an offensive flair, which he uses to jump intelligently into the rush. Generally, he makes great choices with the puck, though is prone to making rushed plays on occasion. He’s a little rougher on his skates, but he makes up for the most part by positioning himself appropriately. He should be invited to main camp and has good potential to see NHL action in the coming years.
Jimmy Bonneau (LW, 22/03/85): For someone who was drafted to fill a role (potential enforcer), Bonneau did precious little enforcing. These days in the NHL though, an enforcer also must know how to play the game and must contribute on the ice. Hands of granite and legs of led don’t lend hope to his making of the NHL anytime soon. Playing time might have been something of an issue (easily less than five in game one and about as little in game three), but clearly, this player needs a lot of work before making it to the AHL, let alone NHL level.
Maxin Lapierre (C, 29/03/85): Playing in all three games seemed to do Lapierre some good as he improved steadily as the tournament wore on. He’s got very good hustle and offensively he’s usually in the right place at the right time (which was evident on the goal he scored in the first game), however he doesn’t anticipate as well as might be desired. More than once he got himself in wonderful position only to have a brilliant pass slide right past his stick. He did drive to the net well, even taking punishment a few times, however physically he didn’t much implicate himself anywhere else on the ice, tending to play his opponents at stick’s length. Defensively, he’s the typical QMJHL forward – he has little clue where his zone is and what to do when he’s in it. That said, his hustle works well on the penalty kill as long as he doesn’t get too greedy after stealing the puck. Raw, but the skills are there, they just need to be honed.
Adam Paiement (RW, 31/03/82): Paiement is a player who only uses his size (6’1”, 210 lbs) intelligently on the offensive side of the puck. He shields the puck well, and makes room for himself and others with smart interference and great energy. Defensively, though, he seems to look for the big hit, or else finds himself chasing an opponent out of position. He tended to fight the puck fairly often and when he did have it, seldom made the simple and smart play. His big asset is his energy but as a try-out player, one has to wonder if the rookie tournament was his last in a Habs sweater.
Alexander Perezhogin (C/RW (While he’s listed as a center in the handout given at the tourney, he played wing the entire time), 10/08/83): Habs management must have held their collective breath after the first game when all he showed was either a lack of effort or some serious nerves. Fortunately, after the ten minute mark in the second game, he came to life and seemed to get stronger as the tournament wore on. While not the best defensive player, he certainly uses his speed to catch up with an opponent who’s on the attack. More than once, he was the deepest Montreal player on attack and still managed to be the first guy back defensively, tailing and catching up to his man. Perezhogin is certainly not a physical player, though he can take a hit and continue working. Up front, this is a kid who’s got all the skills. His passing is second to none and his creativity left more than a few opponents spinning in place wondering where the puck had gone. As most probably know, he’s got lightning speed; now all he needs to do is use it a little more deceptively and he’ll be a top notch playmaker. He didn’t go to the net quite as much as one might hope, however when he did cross the crease, he made the best of it, hitting the net with the majority of his chances. Despite his slightly smaller size (6’0”, 185 lbs) he was still adept at holding off opponents while skating with the puck; something the staff will be smiling about. Look for him to spend the year in the AHL getting used to the North American game before making a serious run at a spot next season.
Corey Locke (C, 08/05/84): This diminutive center has a lot of talent, however his size (5’9”, 175 lbs) will be a major issue to his making the NHL. He must learn to use his speed, which is not as poor as has been reported, as effectively as possible and strengthen his legs so as to be able to hold off opponents when needed; his largest problem was being pushed off the puck much too easily. That said, he’s got quick feet that can help him spin out of checks. Offensively, he gets himself into prime positions, though he was unable to finish any of the numerous chances his linemates provided. Defensively, he needs work, both in staying with his man, and in not getting knocked out of the way whenever the opponent desires. Tenacity and a huge work ethic will be his savior if he’s to make the NHL.
Christopher Higgins (C/LW – played wing during this tournament, 02/06/83): As mentioned earlier, Higgins was arguably the best player at the tournament. He has pro moves with the puck and an NHL caliber shot already. His positioning is usually spot on – particularly in the defensive zone where he excels. He’s an exceptionally hard working player who doesn’t get out-muscled and routinely wins battles along the boards. His play selection is very good, and makes room for both himself and his teammates on a regular basis. He has wonderful agility on his skates and is also deceptively quick. His anticipation is great, making him a very proactive player who starts and creates (and also stops defensively) a variety of chances. During the first game, it was easy to see his defensive prowess. However it was during the second and third games where he really showed he was head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates on both sides of the puck. One of his two goals was highlight reel quality where he tore out of the corner and tickled the roof of the twine. The absolute best part of his game, though, was the fact that he was doing it at a tempo significantly above anyone else on the Habs, and perhaps anyone else at the tournament except perhaps Eric Staal of the ‘Canes. More often than not, you got the impression that Higgins had to slow down to allow his teammates to keep up. Not only does he have a chance to play a few games with the big club this year, he has a real opportunity to start with the club. There have been those who called his upside a third line center, but after this performance and his domination, the sky could be the limit. Might Montreal finally have found the hard-working, two-way gem they’ve been looking for?
Danny Stewart (LW, 23/04/85): Although he seems to have good hustle, he has a serious deficiency in the skating department: he can’t turn. In the two games he played (the first two), he seemed lost in both ends of the ice and while he tried to be involved, he tended to get in his own teammates’ way.
Michael Lambert (LW, 10/03/84): This was his second year at the rookie camp and therefore should have shown more, however he just didn’t have it. He skates well, but his decisions with the puck are not good. Either he holds on too long getting himself in trouble, or his passes are somewhat off the mark. Defensively, he’s a liability and quite often strayed completely out of position in the defensive zone.
Corey Urquhart (C, 01/10/84): He’s all about offense. Once in the attacking zone, he’s in his element and makes and creates strong plays on the puck as well as getting in good positions off the puck. He’s strong on his skates, rarely getting knocked about which allows him to fight down low for pucks, which he does whenever he gets the chance. One thing he’s certainly not lacking in is confidence. He tries, and succeeds, at plays others wouldn’t even dream of because he believes he can do it. Unfortunately, when the play isn’t in the offensive zone, he tends to play off his man instead of using his size to muck things up. His coverage in the defensive zone is also lacking and he often lost his man down low causing no end of headaches for the defense. Of special note, he really needs to learn not to look at the puck when he’s skating, as he has a habit of doing. In the minors he can get away with it, but not in the NHL.
André Deveaux (C, 23/02/84): He’s big (6’5”, 220) and when you combine that with good hustle behind the opposing goal, you get a player who creates havoc for defenders. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that physical most of the rest of the time. He is strong on his skates, though, dragging players on his back to make a play more than once – his goal in game three was a direct result of such a play on a wrap around. Interestingly, he was also seemingly the best faceoff man on the team. As is typical for a big man, his skating is choppy and is going to need some work for him to make it to the next level. His defensive coverage is also lax, however he’s still young and these things can be taught, making him a good candidate for a fourth line banger in the future, if his work ethic is up to the task.
Duncan Milroy (RW, 08/02/83): For two games, the question echoing around the rink was something similar to, “Has he plateaued?”. Game 3 was his awakening and if he can keep up the momentum from that game, he’s on to something good. He may not be a super fast skater, but he was the best at speed deception and changing gears. Defenders often thought they had him and he’d shift gears, leaving them scrambling to catch up. He needs more confidence, though as he developed it in the tournament, he started playing more physically and with more of an edge to the point where, in the third game, he was winning more board fights than he was losing, and was making good plays in traffic. He has good vision and anticipation offensively and if he continues with high-energy play, he’ll make an effective player at higher levels. He still needs work defensively both in coverage and in taking out his man, but it isn’t so much that he’s out of position, just that he needs to work on timing and being more physical.
Christian Larivée (C, 25/08/82): He has wonderful size (6’3”, 192 lbs), but doesn’t use it at all. It seems he’s hit a wall in his development, which is a shame. He does know his way around the offensive zone, but he doesn’t create as much as he should. His good shot and hand-eye coordination are both on attack, but he doesn’t use these skills anywhere else. He looks lost defensively, and doesn’t seem to want to put in the work needed to make it to the next level.
Jonathan Ferland (RW, 09/02/83): Completely the opposite to Milroy, he started with a bang and petered off as the tournament wore on. Perhaps it was his extremely physical play for each entire game that wore him down causing him to make more and more mental errors, however the good point is that he was consistently physical. He’s a good skater and a high-energy player, and that serves him well. What doesn’t is undisciplined penalties. He has soft hands around the net, deftly playing with the puck and giving himself chances. Defensively, he’s somewhat better than one might expect for a kid his age, but he still needs work. This is a player whose job it is to create by using his energy, he just has to learn efficiency and when to use it effectively.