Canadiens training camp opens

By Jason Menard

The fight for roster spots at Montreal Canadiens training camp should be downright offensive with five forwards battling it out for just two positions.

With the recent signing of Michael Ryder, the Canadiens roster is pretty much set, but there remains a pair of forward spots up for grabs. At a recent golf tournament, Habs’ General Manager Bob Gainey put forth a quintet of names as having a solid opportunity to break camp with the big club: Marcel Hossa, Alex Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, and Andrei Kostitsyn.

Kostitsyn’s name is a bit of a surprise, as the general consensus was that he would do well with another year’s experience under his belt. However, his impressive performance to date has had the Habs brass keeping an eye on the young forward.

Following three years in Hamilton with the odd cup of coffee in Montreal, the idea that this is a make-or-break year for Hossa is floating around the corridors of the Molson Centre. Montreal’s farm system is deep in talented young forwards and Hossa is running out of chances to make an impression. However, his decision to spend the year in Sweden may pay off, as his impressive performance overseas seems to have helped his confidence more than another year in the AHL would have.

Questions also abound regarding Plekanec. The diminutive forward needs to prove that he can bring it at the NHL level, or risk becoming a player that’s looked upon as an AHL star without the goods to make the jump.

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Boom or bust prospect Guillaume Latendresse has shown flashes of the brilliance that made the Habs trade up to get him in this year’s Entry Draft. At a recent rookie game against the Toronto Maple Leafs’ squad, Latendresse scored once and peppered the net with nine shots. He used his 6’2, 225-pound frame to maximum effect, planting himself in front of the net and throwing his body around. Although another season in junior is expected for the young forward, he’s shown enough this training camp to enable the scouting staff to feel good about their pick.

On the blue line, the Habs seem to be pretty much set as they enter camp. After bidding farewell to Stéphane Quintal (through retirement) and Patrice Brisebois (through a buy-out) the Habs have opened up some roster spots for which their young blueliners can stake a claim.

Ron Hainsey and Mike Komisarek will be given the chance to show that they’ve graduated from prospect status to full-fledged NHLer, although one may find his way back to Hamilton for more seasoning, following the acquisition of Swedish defenseman Mark Streit. The composition of the defensive core will rely on whether the team decides to carry six or seven rearguards at the beginning of the season.

Finally, between the pipes it comes as no surprise that José Théodore will be the main man backstopping the Habs. Gainey and the rest of the front office staff showed their commitment to the netminder with a three-year, multi-million dollar deal, that should keep Théodore in the bleu, blanc et rouge though his prime years. But the battle for the backup spot may be the most interesting.

The Habs had felt comfortable with Cristobal Huet as their backup. But now that he’s not expected back in the line-up for health reasons until November or December (and Gainey has expressed doubts that he’ll be back until the New Year), Yann Danis may have the opportunity to earn some time between the pipes of the big club, following an impressive debut season with the Bulldogs.

He’ll be auditioning for the role this training camp, as Gainey has a few million bucks tucked away under the salary cap to obtain some veteran relief should the need arise. However, with a noticeable dearth of quality back-ups on the market, this may be the time to showcase some of that netminding depth the Habs have acquired. As well, waiting in the wings is Jaroslav Halak.




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