Player development tops priority list

MONTREAL – It’s Day 1 of a new season for the Montreal Canadiens with nowhere for the team to go but up.

they finished in 32North Dakota took place last year, in the unenviable position of having to watch every other NHL team, and while the Chiefs wouldn’t mind if they repeated the feat for the best odds of landing generational talent Connor Bedard to add to what is turning out to be one of the most talented prospect groups in the league, the coach and his players have no desire to wear that stink for another season.

Your process is starting now, and the stories you will write will be rich and engaging.

We can’t wait to delve into them. But before you do, here’s a look at what’s at stake over the next few weeks of the Canadiens’ training camp.

Current Salary Cap Space: minus-$10,239,166 million

GM: Kent Hughes

Coach: Martin Saint Louis

Assistant Coaches: Stephane Robidas, Alexandre Burrows, Trevor Letowski

Unsigned players: None

How will the inexperienced coaching staff ensure that player development is properly handled on the training pitch?

On a team that has put development as its top priority and isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, never mind the Stanley Cup, this season, the process starts right here in training camp.

It affects many in attendance, from 2022 first-round picks Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, to young defensemen Justin Barron, Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder and Arber Xhekaj, who are in the mix to play games of the NHL in the coming months.

In addition to bringing this team together and creating a close bond within the room to get everyone in the mindset to defy considerably low expectations, Martin St. Louis and the Canadiens coaching staff will have to balance testing these young players while also placing them in positions to shine. They will have to protect them against sudden public reactions to good or bad preseason performances while also honestly assessing where they are in their development.

And while all of that seems pretty standard in any training camp, it’s still a delicate process for a relatively new NHL coach and a staff that has less experience than anyone else in the league.

Every decision they make, no matter how small, matters a lot in the big picture, especially in a hot market like Montreal.

Think of Slafkovsky, who was picked first overall in July and anointed a star from the moment he put on a Canadiens jersey. Everything St. Louis and its staff do with it in the coming weeks will be dissected to the nth degree.

If they decide to start him in what appears to be the third row of the team and consider it an easier entry, people will say that they are not seeing well what he can do with the likes of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, whom he is likely to play as an NHL product developed. And conversely, if the 18-year-old starts with Suzuki and Caufield and doesn’t immediately rack up goals, even in less structured and meaningless preseason games, he will be immediately judged unfit for this spotlight by the same people. . and they say that St. Louis and the staff rushed him.

Never mind that Slafkovsky is about to take his first steps under that seething spotlight, and giving him a grace period to adjust seems appropriate. Decisions with such highly touted prospects are rarely digested as rationally as the people making them expect them to be.

It will be fascinating to see how St. Louis frames his decisions and navigates all of that intense scrutiny because what he says publicly is also a big part of proper development for prospects like Slafkovsky.

Of course, the decisions he and the other coaches make ultimately govern the process. Not much more to say about it until they start making them.

A training ground battle to watch:

The big one is on defense, where there are some spots up for grabs and the players vying for them are mostly under 23.

Joel Edmundson, Mike Matheson, David Savard and Chris Wideman are locked in as the only veterans in the position, and that means this competition could extend beyond the 17 other defensemen who have been invited to camp, a topic explored in greater detail in the section below.

Of the 17, though, it really comes down to which three of Barron, Harris, Guhle, Norlinder, Xhekaj and Schueneman will shine the most in practice and exhibition games.

Barron has a slight edge in one spot at right back, given that everyone else shoots left and, apart from Harris, would be playing out of position to fill one of the biggest holes on the team.

Both players got their feet wet in the NHL last year, as did Schueneman, who has been a pro longer than all of these young defenders and played more than 130 games at the AHL level.

The fact that the Michigan native is 27 years old and entering the prime of his career makes him a contender to secure a spot on the Canadiens’ blue line.

Guhle also seemed physically ready to do it a year ago, before he was sent back for what turned out to be a dominant last season in the WHL and on the international junior scene. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the 6-foot-2 physical defender is more suited for a full-time role than any other player he’s competing against in this camp.

And then there’s Xhekaj, who impressed the Canadiens bosses in rookie camp last week and brings an extremely tough, all-round game that caught the eye of Hughes during his final season in the OHL for the GM to notice. would mention. as one of the players he feels he will help mitigate the loss of Alex Romanov via trade in this latest draft.

You could say it doesn’t matter much how this plays out in camp because there’s a good chance all of these players will rotate through the lineup this season at one point or another.

But a season-long competition on the blue line starts right now and nothing will be more compelling than seeing the first leg play out.

Projected Out-of-Camp Alignment/Depth Chart:

Note that this is a vague projection based on the current depth chart and the uncertainty that the players are, in fact, healthy enough to start the season. It’s being done even before players undergo medical evaluations, so nothing is certain until that happens and naturally this picture is pretty fluid.

It’s going to be smooth throughout camp and smooth throughout the season. As it always is.

We’re just basing it on what Canadians have right now, even if we can imagine some changes on the horizon before the meaningful games start.

For example, given that the team lacks experience on the blue line and wants to protect the confidence of all the young players vying for spots there, it’s entirely conceivable that the Canadiens would turn to the waiver wire to fill the void. They have top priority in claims after finishing in last place last season, giving them ample opportunity to add to their roster without subtracting.

It’s not that they won’t subtract.

Whether through trades or waivers, the Canadiens likely have a body or two to shed up front to create both roster and salary-cap flexibility, so keep all of that in mind as you ponder these lines and matchups. .

Forward:

Juraj Slafkovsky-Nick Suzuki-Cole Caufield

Evgeny Dadonov/Jonathan Drouin-Christian Dvorak-Josh Anderson

Rem Pitlick-Kirby Dach-Brendan Gallagher

Mike Hoffman-Sean Monahan/Jake Evans-Joel Armia

*Paul Byron is listed as injured and questionable to start the season on time.

Defenders:

Mike Matheson-David Savard

Joel Edmundson-Justin Barron

Kaiden Guhle-Chris Wideman

*Jordan Harris and Corey Schueneman in rotation

Goalkeepers:

jack allen

Samuel Montembeaut

Cayden Primeau

*In full knowledge that Primeau could outshine Montembeaut in camp after a stellar performance in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs with Laval, his eligibility to be sent to the minors without being subject to waivers puts him at a disadvantage in the competition , especially given the lack of NHL depth the Canadians possess at the position.

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