MONTREAL, QC. — Funny that about two weeks back, the Canadiens hosted over 30 prospects in Brossard, including the team’s first selection from each of the last four NHL Entry Drafts, and nary a fan or member of the media was at the rink to watch them. And yet, the group of just 14 – much younger and thus less experienced/proven – presently taking part in the second half of the club’s Development Camp is drawing a packed house. Let’s call it the Alex Galchenyuk effect.
It’s Galchenyuk that the fans are here to see, and the 6’0.5″ center hasn’t disappointed, enthusiastically skating his way through drills and – whenever possible – displaying his off-the-charts skill level. From a quick and powerful release that repeatedly has found the net’s top corners, to little through the leg backwards self-passes, each Galchenyuk goal draws a “wow’ed” reaction from the crowd. Galchenyuk’s stride is a little awkward – maybe it’s just how he takes drills in practice – but it’s effective as he generates speed with each long, powerful thrust. The kid has star potential, no doubt, and his mastery of the French language is likely taking leaps forward through a blossoming friendship with fellow prospect Charles Hudon. When will he be ready to take the NHL by storm? Well that’s impossible to tell at a camp like this, but certainly I don’t feel bad for naming him the Canadiens’ top prospect, even when considering NHL-readiness as a factor.
Though it should be no surprise since most had him pegged as a first round pick, Sebastian Collberg has also been impressive. Any reason for his slipping has not been evident on the ice. His size doesn’t appear problematic – though it’s hard to tell since this group as a whole isn’t overly big – and he seems to be the quickest skater of the bunch. Well, quickest forwards skater anyway. His backwards skating was a bit painful to watch at times, which shouldn’t impact his potential, but may hinder his ability to kill penalties given he’s known as a two-way forward. His wrist shots are hard and accurate, beating the invited goaltenders nearly as frequently as Galchenyuk’s. Collberg is returning to Sweden for the coming season on a one-year deal, but he’ll certainly be a player to watch at this year’s World Junior Championship. I doubt he’ll return to Montreal for this Fall’s camp, but I would be curious to see him next to the other older prospects in the system for a side-by-side comparison. If Galchenyuk is a near-lock to make the team by the 2013-14 season, I expect a heated battle for roster spots between Collberg, Danny Kristo, and Brendan Gallagher that Fall.
Dalton Thrower was Montreal’s other 2nd round selection last weekend and his most impressive attribute has been his wrist shot, also finding the back of the net with regularity. He did seem to struggle a bit in other areas, notably backwards skating, and was sometimes a little awkward when passing. His toughness and point shot are said to be his two biggest strengths, and those haven’t been tested yet in this camp, so I’m not concerned about him as a prospect, but it seems he has areas he can focus on improving back in Saskatoon this season.
In yesterday’s report, Rick mentioned Tim Bozon looked off, and while he still didn’t live up to all the hype, his skating looked a little better today and his shot was on display in at least some of his drills. His confidence was clearly up early this afternoon, when during the warm-up, he attempted to repeat this now famous shootout move, though he dropped the puck after a couple of rotations above his head:
Mac Bennett was one of the better backwards skaters (a focus of today’s drills, hence my repeated mentions of it) of the group, but still looks quite small on the ice. He is a reasonable offensive d-man prospect, but will need to add some strength before moving on to the pro level.
A final notable among drafted players is that Brady Vail looked a little gassed towards the end of each day. Certainly, the prospects are being put through their paces in this camp, so it isn’t unexpected for them to be tired, but he seemed to have trouble keeping up with the group in some of the final skating drills. Maybe he’s just a weaker skater than some of the others in camp, or maybe it’s a conditioning thing. Either way, something to watch.
Of the try-outs, Felix Girard was the most noticeable to me. His skating is a little on the weak side and he bobbled some passes, but he has a great shot, up there with Thrower’s, and not that far behind the likes of Galchenyuk or Collberg. Watching him fire the puck makes me wonder how he only scored six goals in 60 games in the QMJHL last season. Not saying he’s deserving of a contract, but he’s a guy who we may see put up bigger numbers in the ‘Q’ in the year ahead.
Only one day remains in organized Montreal Canadiens on-ice sessions of any sort before we hit the dry spell of summer (for on-ice activity). Once this camp ends, it’ll be a short 75 days until Rookie Camp kicks off Training Camp activities in September (IF the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached by that time). So while all this hype and fanfare around the young Galchenyuk is just a little premature, I’ll be happy to soak in the Habs atmosphere in an arena one last time tomorrow before shifting attention… at least some attention… to more summery activities.
That said, this is Montreal so you can count on All Habs for daily reports about your Canadiens throughout the summer.