ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens are off to a perfect start in their pre-season schedule by winning all four games they played last week. In the pre-season, the individual performance of each player is more important than the team’s wins and losses, as players fight to earn a roster spot.
Montreal finishes its exhibition schedule this week with a home-and-home series against the Maple Leafs on Monday and Wednesday, and then on Saturday, the Senators visit the Bell Centre.
There was several key injuries at Habs training camp last week. Noah Juulsen hasn’t returned to camp after the first day of on-ice activities due to headaches. The team said that it was for precautionary measures and Claude Julien said that it was not a concussion. On Tuesday, it was announced that Juulsen is consulting a specialist in Michigan for a second opinion.
Juulsen played a total of 24 games last season in Montreal and Laval before having his season ended with a vision-related issue. He hasn’t played a game since end of December. A tough break for the Habs first round draft pick in 2015 as he was battling for the third spot on the right side of the defence.
Paul Byron didn’t finish Thursday night’s game against the Panthers with an upper body injury. No updates have been provided on the length of his absence. Byron has suffered four significant injuries in the last 18 months.
In April 2018, Byron underwent shoulder surgery that required a recovery period of six months. Byron suffered three injuries in 2019 as he missed six games due to a forearm injury in February, missed two games in March with an upper body injury after dropping the gloves with Florida’s MacKenzie Weegar, and missed the final game of the season against the Maple Leafs with a wrist injury. At the time, Byron had mentioned that he was dealing with the issue for approximately a month.
On Friday, it was announced that Ryan Poehling is out indefinitely with a concussion. Due to the concussion protocol, Poehling will miss a minimum of one week. The injury likely took place in the second period of Wednesday’s night game in Bathurst, when Florida’s Dryden Hunt hit him into the boards, and Poehling’s head hit hard into the boards.
“I looked up quick and I saw my wing there and then I grabbed the puck,” Poehling said after the game. “Right when I turned to make the play he kind of flew at me, so I didn’t have much time to react.”
Poehling will likely not play another game in the pre-season, and if that is the case, I would suspect that he plays a couple of games in Laval before returning to Montreal.
Nick Suzuki is the player that has impressed me the most since the start of training camp. I never doubted his talent and knew that he would be a NHL player. What has impressed me about him is that he’s been able to show his skills especially in the offensive zone so quickly in his first games as a pro.
He played three of the four games last week, and his statistics have been impressive. In those games, he has three assists, plus-3, and won 15 of the 27 faceoffs for a 56 percent success rate. None of his 11 shots reached the back of the net, but Suzuki scored a beautiful goal during Thursday night’s shootout against the Panthers.
My initial projection had Suzuki starting the season in Laval, but all indications show that he will start the season in the NHL. Julien has used Suzuki on the power play, the penalty kill, and on Saturday, Suzuki played on the top line with Tomas Tatar and Philip Danault.
“We see his potential, it’s enormous,” said Danault following Saturday’s game against the Senators. “He’s a little magician, he’s really smart, he’s always at the right place, he’s able to play defensively and has good speed. He has exceptional hands and his hockey sense is top notch.”
This week will be a bigger test for Suzuki as teams have started reducing their rosters, which means players he will face tougher opponents as camp progresses.
Drouin Struggles Continue
Jonathan Drouin has played two games in the pre-season and he looks the same way that he ended last season. He is not generating any offence and not playing well defensively. On Monday, Drouin played “okay” according to the coach on a line with Max Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. Drouin was given a chance to play on Wednesday with Tatar and Danault as his linemates, but the results were the same.
After hearing from Drouin, Julien, and Marc Bergevin about all the work that Drouin put in during the off-season, his start is really disappointing. I will still give him the benefit of the doubt as he may be getting used to playing on the right side, which would be his third position with the Habs as he’s about to begin his third season with the team. Or am I looking for ways to convince myself that he can have a good season?
The team needs Drouin to produce if they want to make it into the post season. If Suzuki starts the season in Montreal, Drouin will likely be playing on the third line. That’s not where a player with his skill set should be playing.
Training Camp Observations
The coaching staff has slotted Lehkonen on the left side of Max Domi. It’s only been two pre-season games, but up to this point, there has been chemistry between them. The question mark around Lehkonen has been on the offensive side of his game, and he has started off with one goal and two assists in the pre-season.
Jordan Weal has had a good start to camp. In three games, he has one goal and one assist, while winning 16 of 23 faceoffs (70 percent.) Weal was on the right side of Suzuki for two games and there was chemistry between both players.
“He’s pretty versatile, but also I think everybody kind of knew that when we got him and, and he displayed that early on was his smarts for the game,” said Julien prior to Thursday’s game against Florida. “We thought that when he came and our power play kind of went up a notch at least just with him controlling the play and making things happen.”
Jesperi Kotkaniemi hasn’t been as visible as he was in last year’s training camp. “It was a lot better tonight, it’s coming,” said Julien after Saturday’s game. “It’s for him to continue to improve and be ready by the end of the camp.”
Over the weekend, the Canadiens cut their roster by 16 players that were assigned to the Laval Rocket. No surprises on any of the names from that list. Cale Fleury, Alex Belzile, and Jake Evans are three players that had an outside chance of making the NHL roster but their play has earned them to get an extra look.
This week, the roster should be reduced further and we should see some of the players that require waivers be released from camp.
By Chris G., Senior Writer
All Habs Hockey Magazine
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