MONTREAL, QC. — Ordinarily, the second Habs development camp of the summer is a quiet little affair. From the outset though, I knew today would be different. I arrived two and a half hours before the players were to step on the ice, and I wasn’t alone.
Fans had already started to arrive. The lights in media-row were ‘on’ and desks were occupied! Outside the folks from BMW Laval were delivering a new, black shiny leased vehicle — a hockey bag was tossed in the truck.
Who was it for? No one would say.
But there was no doubt who the fans had come out to see: Alex Galchenyuk. He wore the jersey of another Alex, No. 27, but no one was making comparisons to L’Artiste.
Galchenyuk is his own person, a special player. He may seem unassuming behind a mic but it’s an entirely different situation when he steps on the ice. His fellow prospects seem to recognize it too — whether intentional or not, they hung back and let Galchenyuk be the first to touch the fresh Brossard sheet to start Day one of the Habs Development Camp, Part 2.
The crowd in the gallery was about two-deep ringing the arena glass and most eyes were locked on No. 27. His motions aren’t particularly smooth but they are efficient. It’s quickly clear that Galchenyuk is an exceptionally skilled player.
Let’s not forget that there are other players attending this camp, 14 in total.
Apart from Galchenyuk, the most impressive player in the afternoon session was Sebastian Collberg. He is quick, has good balance and maneuverability and possesses a surprisingly strong shot that is deadly accurate.
Since he was drafted, much of the focus on Dalton Thrower has been on his physical play, a quality not in abundance in the Canadiens organization. But as evidenced by his performance at the development camp, Thrower may surprise some with his offensive skills. He has soft hands for handling the puck and can unleash a big shot.
Daniel Pribyl is attending his second camp in June and is showing that he is one of the top prospects in camp. He can be heard carving up the ice with his strong strides. Puck handling and offensive creativity are his strengths.
Mac Bennett may be flying under the radar at this camp given the attention on the more recent draftees. Bennett is an puck-moving offensive defenseman who is a smooth skater handling the puck with confidence and poise.
Skating, passing and shooting drills are not necessarily the best stage for a two-way forward to show his value. Brady Vail‘s skating isn’t pretty to watch but he has good hands. Vail looked a little fatigued by the end of practise.
It was a first look at Erik Nystrom, the Canadiens pick that left everyone scrambling for information. Nystrom didn’t look out of place at all at camp. He has good speed and moves the puck very well.
Two prospects were underwhelming on the first day of camp. Tim Bozon‘s explosive skating was missing, he botched several passes and his potent shot was MIA. It may have simply been a case of nerves as Bozon seemed frustrated at points with his performance.
Charles Hudon‘s challenges may be more fundamental. His skating is unremarkable — he has mobility but isn’t strong over his skates. Hudon has skilled hands for playmaking but his shot is weak.
Today’s session was led by Tim Turk, Skills Development and Shooting Coach for the Habs along with Paul Lawson and Lucas Lawson. Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois joined the crew part way through the drills but were spectators on this day. They will play a larger role in Friday’s session.
A lighter moment came when Scott Mellanby offered an imaginary oxygen mask to Brisebois from the bench mocking his lack of activity. Larry Carriere was in stitches.
Today was a day for initial impressions and the opportunity to make side-by-side comparisons. It is certainly too early to draw conclusions.
Well, we can make one conclusion: Habs fans have spent years wishing for a highly-skilled No. 1 franchise center. While there are many hoops to clear yet, their prayers may have been answered.
Habs Development Camp continues on Friday.
Friday: 10:30 am to 12 noon; 4:30 to 6 pm
Saturday: 10:30 am to 12 noon; 4:30 to 5:30 pm