Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the NHL rookie tournament in London, Ontario. Sitting in press row, and interviewing the participants. From a Montreal Canadiens perspective, here are some of the relevant news and notes.
Stay tuned later in the week, as Charlie Clarke and I collected a TON of audio from the event. We’ll be uploading it all and releasing in a subsequent post.
Unexpected Surprises Miceli and Johnston
Angelo Miceli came to the tournament as a man on a mission to get a pro contract. The try-out invitee shone throughout the weekend, being involved offensively and defensively. In Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins he was amongst the best players on the ice, picking up three primary assists and being involved in numerous scoring chances. Saturday against the Leafs he was good, but not as great as he was on Friday. However on Sunday, Miceli was again a star, this time against Ottawa. He picked up the primary assist on Dryden Hunt’s goal, and was creating offence all night. He was denied on a short handed breakaway by Matt O’Connor, and also hit the post on a powerplay. He showed strong skating skills, good vision and passing, a high hockey IQ, and a non-stop motor. Overall, Miceli made quite the impression. He should be invited to the main training camp, and if he continues this level of play, contract offers will come his way.
Defenceman Ryan Johnston was the best player on the ice on Saturday night in the Canadiens win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was very effective in running the powerplay, pinching in at the blue line, and rushing the puck up the ice and through the neutral zone. When Johnston was on the ice, the Canadiens controlled the majority of the play and scoring chances. He also pulled off an exceptional behind the back pass to Charles Hudon which led to the go ahead goal for Montreal late in the third period. Johnston’s strong skating, his stickhandling and his passing made it easy to see why he got a contract from Marc Bergevin this summer. He was also good defensively, with strong positional play, and a quick stick.
Of those with a realistic opportunity to compete for an NHL roster spot in main camp, Charles Hudon was easily the most impressive. He’s come to camp ready to pick up where he left off last year where he was second in AHL scoring for rookies and made the AHL all-rookie team. Overall in the tournament he was the Habs best player, even better than Miceli, though he may not have picked up as many points. He played a strong two-way game and was playing the toughest minutes of any line out there, holding his own defensively while generating offensively. There have been comparisons made to Tomas Plekanec, and while that is going a little far for a 21-year-old, that type of ceiling is not out of the question. Whether he reaches it or not is anyone’s guess. His go-ahead goal on Saturday was the key marker leading to the win over the Leafs.
Nikita Scherbak had moments of brilliance and moments where you can see he is a junior player heading to his first pro season. He has extremely high end offensive skills, and his pass on Timothy Bozon’s powerplay marker was a thing of beauty on Saturday. He also absolutely buried a Leaf defender with a solid forecheck later in that same game. It is clear that in terms of pure skill: stickhandling, skating, wrist shot and release, passing and vision; he was the most talented of all the Habs players. The skills tantalize, and at times he looks like a poor-man’s version of Alex Galchenyuk. However he still has a tendency to coast at times, and could improve his positioning in the defensive zone going forward. A year in St. John’s is likely in his future.
Micheal McCarron has really improved defensively. He is good in the face-off circle and plays well down low. However, I continue to have major questions about his offensive game. He didn’t score a point in the three game tournament, and really wasn’t involved in a lot of offensive opportunities either. It was only three games, but McCarron did little to answer the questions about whether his ultimate future is as a grinding bottom six forward, or if he can find the offense to be an NHL scorer. His straight line speed is much improved, but he still needs to work on his agility, and his edgework going forward. He did a good job in a pair of fights.
Zachary Fucale was bombared with shots in both games he appeared in. He made a number of nice saves though and kept the Habs in it against both Pittsburgh and Ottawa. He showed very good lateral movement and puck tracking ability in the net. He also has improved his rebound control. Fucale was also calm and cool under pressure.
Brett Lernout has an absolute rocket of a slapshot and it was clear that the Habs were looking to set up his one-timer on the powerplay. Offensively, he plays a very straightforward game, and isn’t flashy, but is effective. Defensively, forwards will have to learn to keep their heads up coming down his end of the ice, as Lernout threw a number of big hits over the weekend. He is also a good skater for his size.
Timothy Bozon looked much better than he did last year. Meeting him outside the dressing room, it is clear that he’s put on a lot of muscle, gaining back what was lost during his illness and even putting on more. He’s ready for pro hockey now, and should be with St. John’s. With two goals in the tournament, and other scoring chances, he’s shown he still has the goal scorer’s touch that made him such an intriguing prospect before the meningitis. It’s great to see him back and performing well, and Bozon was definitely the feel good story of the tournament for me.
Stay tuned later for our audio of the tourney.