Via Last Word on Hockey, By Griffin Schroeder (Associate Editor)
With the 2016 NHL Rookie Tournament in action the weekend of September 16-18, Last Word on Hockey is the place to go for everything you need to know. Team-specific recaps will be posted from each game, and follow along live on Twitter for updates from @charliejclarke and @gSchroedes16
Montreal Canadiens Rookie Camp: Day 1 Recap
In the inaugural contest of this year’s tournament, it was the Montreal Canadiens prospects coming out on top against the Pittsburgh Penguins in an 8-3 rout at Budweiser Gardens. The Habs were dominated in the first five minutes or so, with the Penguins getting the first of their eight shots on goal in the span through goaltender Charlie Lindgren for a 1-0 lead. Since the start of the second, however, head coach Martin Lapointe settled his group down, scoring the next five goals en route to an 8-3 win at the end of the day.
Here are some of the standouts for the Canadiens:
Lapointe loaded up the top line with former first round picks Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak to go along with the shifty Finnish import Artturi Lehkonen. All three were impressive after the Habs got over their slow start. They dominated the last 50 minutes of the night.
McCarron used his big 6’5”, 238-pound frame all night to free up loose pucks, provide a net front presence, and protect the puck down low. His presence was felt by the Pens for most of the night, as he netted two goals—one on a puck battle in the crease chipping home a rebound, and another on a one-timer in the slot from Scherbak. The Macomb Township, Michigan native also drove the net for two close-in chances. He collided with Penguins goaltender Tristian Jarry on the first and getting a backhand shot off on the second that nearly found its way into the top shelf. As captain, he relished the opportunity to bond with the ten other St. John’s players in the lineup and other new additions to the organization.
“It’s great. Everyone’s treating each other nice, and nobody is being looked down upon. Everybody’s friends in there like I said, and it correlates on the ice. You saw it tonight, everybody was producing. It wasn’t just one line, everybody was playing well tonight.”
Scherbak picked up a goal and and two assists, getting his marker with a shifty backhand move to bring the puck through his skates on his net drive. He finished on his forehand going to the goal and slammed it home while falling. His playmaking ability was seen at numerous times, leading the Habs into the zone quite smoothly using his speed and agility. On the power play he seemed to have great chemistry with Mikhail Sergachev as they played catch a few times, feeding off of each other’s skating ability to create chances. He was able to bounce back from a hit along the boards from Penguins defenseman Brandon Crawley and had quite a nice showing.
Lehkonen impressed with a few net drives that set up rebound chances including one of McCarron’s goals. He did a good job of protecting the puck on his way to the crease. He also set up one of two Ryan Johnston goals, making a slick pass from behind the net to the 24-year old defenseman who one-timed it home. He couldn’t end his night without letting go his impressive shot, seen on a few in close chances created with his skating stride into the zone. His night ended with three assists. It is encouraging to Habs management and fans to see his determination showing driving to the goal, something the 5’11”, 174-pound forward needed to work on to further his development. Playing on McCarron’s wing, they complemented each other quite nicely down low on the power play as well.
Lindgren’s start interestingly enough began similar to how his first NHL start against Carolina. The first puck found its way in. However, he would go on to make 24 saves that night in his first NHL victory. Staying true to how the big league contest went, the St. Cloud State product composed himself and proceeded to stop the next 23 shots on goal through two periods while his team gave him some goal support.
Seeing the puck well, his athleticism showed throughout the game, making three distinct highlight reel saves. The first came on a redirection in front of the net on the penalty kill when he stretched out the left pad. On a rebound the next period, the 22-year old stayed with the puck on a toe-drag in front and stuck out his blocker on the shot going to his right, while he moved left. To put his stamp on the game, Lindgren stopped a close in chance from the side of the net with his left pad once again. All told, the Lakeville, Minnesota native made 27 stops in the victory.
Drafted 26th overall just one summer ago by general manager Marc Bergevin, Juulsen only took five minutes to leave a stamp on the game. Timing his stride correctly, he unloaded and laid a big hit along the boards that, at the time, was needed for Montreal to get their legs into the game. Partnered up with Mikhail Sergachev, the pair were hemmed in their zone defensively for the better part of the first half of the contest, especially along the boards. Past the midway point, however, things settled down and Juulsen notched a couple of points with a goal and an assist. His assist came on a stretch pass from the left side boards to 2016 draftee Will Bitten that created a 2-on-1 down the wing. The Flint Firebird hit Jeremiah Addison and he buried it to make it 5-1 and put the game out of reach. Juulsen’s goal came on the power play as he let a slap shot go from the right point that found its way through.
Signing an entry-level contract as a college free agent prior to last season from Colgate, Johnston got a three-game stint with the big club this past season while spending the bulk of his games with St. Johns in his first pro season. He also missed a good stretch of time due to injury. Not well-known as a goal scoring defenseman, with just five goals in his college career and zero with 12 helpers in the AHL, he ended up with two markers tonight.
His first came on a one-timer from in close as he moved into the right circle howling for the puck. Lehkonen got it to him, and he did the rest. The second goal came as a gift on a turnover in the middle of the ice, and all the 24-year old Sudbury native had to do was shoot for a corner. In addition to his offensive night, Johnston was quite solid defensively, using his reach to stick away pucks and not let his man get by. What was the biggest key to his success tonight?
“I guess confidence. I always believe in myself in the summer and whatever happened the year before, I always try to come out even keel believing I had a shot [to make Canadiens], and maybe that’s showing.”
Though the 18-year old did not scratch the scoresheet, Sergachev did show off some of the prime attributes to his game. His skating ability was on display after Montreal got their legs going, especially on the power play where he displayed very impressive poise for his age setting up his teammates. He made the first pass from behind the net to Juulsen on the Addison goal after calming things down behind his net. There were signs of rawness to his game, especially on the defensive side of the puck where he was outmuscled in the corners and along the wall. The ninth overall pick will only continue to mature and use his 6’2”, 220-pound frame to his advantage as he works his way up the ranks of the organization.
An undrafted invitee, the 20-year old QMHLer stood out in his role. Traded to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 26 games to play last season, he scored 15 goals (had 13 in the first 13 games) and 32 points. He added eight markers and 15 points in 13 playoff games. Tonight, he had two quality scoring chances nicking the crossbar from the left circle in the first period and getting stoned on a short-handed chance from the right circle after a great play at center ice. Paired with Petrus Palmu and former Germany World Junior captain Markus Eisenschmid, that line did some excellent work in the corners in the role of an energy trio for the Canadiens outside of the top unit.
Coach Lapointe touched on how big events like these are for the team’s prospects to build relationships and chemistry after the victory.
“We have drafted players, invited players, I think we have a good young core of players that have some leadership in [Jeremy] Gregoire, McCarron. Those guys bring those kids all together and it’s good to see.”
The Habs will be in action next Saturday against the Maple Leafs, who won their game today against the Ottawa Senators in overtime. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.