MONTREAL, QC. — While the sun shone on a beautiful 25-degree Montreal summer day outside, I found myself huddled behind a pane of glass with a clipboard and pen in a chilly arena in Brossard. It must be time for the Montreal Canadiens’ annual Prospect Development Camp.
To the casual fan, there isn’t much to see here. We’re talking days without scrimmages, the majority spent with nary a puck on the ice. Only two players with NHL experience are present. Lots of skating. But for someone like me who loves the player evaluation aspect of watching potential future NHL’ers, there is little I’d rather be doing this week. I want to see how a player skates, what his stride is like, how he bends his knees, what kind of power he gets on his shots, how often he hits the net, how he interacts with his peers, etc. And my take on all of that is what you’ll find below.
The first day (Wednesday) – with only two and a half hours of on-ice sessions – was rather basic with little aside from the typical expectations to be observed. Be sure to check out a great report on the day by Rick Stephens, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the camp, HERE. Yes, Brendan Gallagher is small, and yes, Jarred Tinordi is big. The players were split into two groups, with one ice surface reserved for skating drills (no pucks), and the other for some simple shooting and passing. One group had all the defensemen and a few forwards (including Danny Kristo and Louis Leblanc), while the other had the rest of the forwards, with the two switching rinks at the halfway point. The first half of the practice had Robert Mayer and Cody Reichard in goal, and then Aaron Dell, Brandon Maxwell, and Joseph Quattrochi took over for the remainder. Missing in action on day one were Morgan Ellis, Dustin Walsh, Colin Sullivan, and Peter Delmas, all presumed to be undergoing treatment for minor bangs and bruises.
On day 2 (Thursday), for the morning, the players were split into three groups: one of all the defensemen, and then two groups of forwards. For the skaters, there were no pucks, with power skating being the focus. For the d-men, most drills were based on backwards skating, while the forwards skated… well.. forward. The goaltenders took turns on the other ice surface, working with Pierre Groulx. In the afternoon, the players were again split it into two groups, like on Wednesday, but with only one group on-ice at a time. The first batch was composed of all healthy blueliners except Jarred Tinordi, along with Brendan Gallagher, Ian Schultz, Phil DeSimone, Alain Berger, and Gabriel Dumont, while Tinordi oddly joined the 12 other forwards in the final group of the day. Drills resembled Wednesday’s, with passing and shooting being the name of the game, while goaltenders alternated in nets. The previous days absentees were missing once again, and Darren Dietz was also absent for the morning, but returned for the afternoon’s drills. One interesting note is that current Hab Ryan White was on the ice in Brossard during the lunch break, working on power skating with an instructor and a couple of outsiders.
But of course, you’re here for the juicy stuff. So here it is, through two days, my evaluation of the players in attendance at this camp.
Aaron Dell: My favourite of the goalies on day one. I expect him to be offered a contract, be it a two-way deal or an AHL agreement with the Bulldogs. He’s a little slow-moving, but he’s a scrambler, battling for pucks and not giving up.
Peter Delmas: Has not participated in on-ice sessions.
Brandon Maxwell: I didn’t like him on the first day, seeming a little out of his element. But he found his groove on day two, looking impressive in a number of the one-on-none shooting drills, and stopping pucks more consistently than Dell.
Robert Mayer: I don’t really see anything here. Mayer is known to be inconsistent, and if that’s putting it nicely, this hasn’t been an “on” start to camp for him. As of now, seems like he’s wasting one of the organization’s 50 contract spots.
Joseph Quattrochi: I don’t know why this guy is here again; he must have a friend high up in the organization.
Cody Reichard: The Habs have a history of inviting Miami University players like Reichard to this camp, and like those before him, Reichard has shown little to make me believe he’ll find a spot within the Canadiens’ organization.
Nathan Beaulieu: Silky smooth skater, whose style reminds me of a Scott Niedermayer. He has a good shot, more accurate than forceful. However, on day two, I had concerns on his backwards skating, where he fell back into the pack instead of standing out. His balance was also brought into question, as he was one of the wobblier blueliners on a lot of one-legged turning drills. A gifted athlete, but he’s going to need time before becoming an NHL fixture. And that’s without getting into the maturity and mental game issues that seem to follow him around on- and off-ice.
Josiah Didier: Known to be an expert shot blocker, one wouldn’t expect him to shine in this sort of camp. But he also didn’t look out of place in any drills either. He isn’t seen as having much offense in his game, which is why I was quite surprised on day two when he flashed a deceptively accurate wrist shot, picking bottom corners almost at will on a number of drills. Whereas Beaulieu would try to shoot through goalies, Didier picked his spots. As a d-man, he won’t be in the kind of position to take those sorts of shots often in a game, but interesting to see that he’s capable of it. He’s an under-the-radar guy to watch over the next couple of seasons. A project, but with the potential to become a Josh Gorges-type. He’ll need to improve his skating.
Darren Dietz: Dietz exudes confidence skating with the puck. He has a good enough frame, moves quite well, and has one of camp’s harder shots. You’d never guess he was the youngest player on the roster, and should have a great coming season with the Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades. I would expect him to be a candidate for an invitation to Team Canada’s camp in preparation for next December’s World Junior Championship.
Morgan Ellis: Has not participated in on-ice sessions because of a sore neck.
Greg Pateryn: I liked what I saw there. Skating is his concern, not unlike Didier, but he’s otherwise well-rounded blueliner with good size. He was one of the leaders on day two of camp, talking it up and setting the example on a significant number of drills. Curious to see what he does in Hamilton.
Joe Stejskal: You notice Stejskal’s size pretty quickly, and he also played a leader role (along with Pateryn) on day two, as the camp’s oldest d-man. He was frequently joking around with others between drills, celebrating a goal, and being on the receiving end of a Gordie Dwyer body check into the boards. One of the weaker skaters in the group, he was otherwise unremarkable.
Collin Sullivan: Has not participated in on-ice sessions.
Jarred Tinordi: The biggest man in camp, Tinordi moves well for a player of his size. His long, powerful strides are impressive, and looks the polar opposite of Beaulieu when it comes to skating backwards. Beaulieu makes himself small, knees bent inwards, while Tinordi has a wide stance, knees out, covering a lot of ice very quickly. I maintain that his offensive game could surprise many; he knows his way to the net and has a decent shot, even if it’s often off-target. He was the clear leader on the ice on the first day of camp, talking to others frequently, particularly to Beaulieu.
Olivier Archambault: Nothing at all noticeable about him. Smallish, average skater, average all-around. He’s playing for a contract this coming season and will need an improvement on his previous year.
Alexander Avtsin: I always like him in camps. He has all the physical tools to succeed; size, skating, shiftiness, creativity. I focused a lot on him, trying to identify a weakness that might be holding him back, other than possibly coaching, ice time, linemates, and cultural adaptation in Hamilton. While it was unexpected to me, I noticed over and over again that his shot seems to be one. He doesn’t have a bad release, but when he gets it off, there isn’t much strength in it. His offense will come – if it does – from his great puck control and stickhandling. I liked that he was typically one of the last to leave the ice, and that he certainly loves scoring goals, almost appearing jealous in one instance when the player before him in line (Tinordi) scored, and chomping at the bit to take his shot next. While he missed on that chance, Tinordi scored again on the next go-around, and Avtsin followed it up with a goal of his own, celebrating with Tinordi when he got back in line.
Alain Berger: I really liked Berger in camp last Fall and was disappointed with his performance this year in Hamilton (though there were few who performed well there last season). He’s showing the same game he did a year ago (which is a good thing) with a big frame, adequate skating (first step acceleration is his weakness, top speed not an issue), and most notably, likely the best shot of any player present. Over and over again, the sheer force he is capable of putting behind a quick release would blow pucks past the netminders, with he and Quailer probably scoring the most on the second day by my visual estimation. As weird as it sounds, when similar shooting drills got monotonous, the one thing I enjoyed was Berger’s turn in line. I felt like I could watch him blast pucks all afternoon.
Michael Bournival: Bournival has a great release, quick and with power. My observations had him likely leading all players in goal-scoring in day one’s drills. My concern about Bournival is that if you watch him twice, you might think you were watching two completely separate players. He’s an average skater, but a tenacious player in game situations. The difficulty with him is that his skill set seems to come and go. He can be realistically projected as a third line type, and he still possesses offensive upside, but we won’t know how much until we see at least how it translates to the AHL level this season
Mike Cichy: Cichy is very small and skinny. He had to sit out a year of hockey for switching Universities, and doesn’t seem to have spent much of it in the weight room. His legs stand out as being remarkably thin (at one point I quipped that he almost looks like a kid wearing his father’s equipment), not something you want in a professional hockey player for reasons of balance, skating, and strength, so at this point, he doesn’t seem to have much of a future as a prospect.
Phillip DeSimone: Nothing too noticeable here, but unlike Archambault, I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Good enough at everything to see that he can be a strong AHL player, but I don’t know that I see any NHL upside since his game doesn’t stand out from the pack in any aspect.
Gabriel Dumont: Just as observers would walk away from Development Camps with a negative opinion of Ryan White, so should they of Dumont. This just isn’t his scene. He’s small, not an especially great skater, and with limited hockey skills. He makes a career for himself by being aggressive and hard-working, which isn’t something that comes out much in these sorts of drills. Seems like a guy who will always be a fringe NHL’er at best.
Brendan Gallagher: Gallagher is as Gallagher always is. Small of course, and with the same old perma-smile stamped on his face throughout the day. He showed amazing hand-eye coordination at one point, standing in front of the net at the end of a drill and successfully deflecting nearly every puck his teammates fired into the empty goal. He has quick hands, and his skating didn’t stand out as a major issue, though there are swifter in the group.
Patrick Holland: He has looked decent, with solid straight-line skating and some creativity around the net. The problem is his game isn’t necessarily a north-south one, as he is more of a side-of-the-net, cut-in playmaker type, and this is when the flaws in his skating are more evident. Blessed with enough hands to make me think his numbers weren’t entirely attributable to his WHL linemates, but likely to be more of a second line player in the American League for now.
Danny Kristo: I came away from day one thinking that Kristo looked very small. He is very quick, despite short strides (which can hamper a player). For example, despite both being undersized, his style is almost the opposite of Gallagher’s, who has longer stride but isn’t as fast, which is a testament to Kristo’s footwork. He also has good hands, though he didn’t seem particularly engaged when it was his turn to charge in on net. As such, he wasn’t remarkable. One the size issues, I felt he looked bigger on day two, so I’ll attribute my initial impression in part to his being grouped mainly with the defensemen on Wednesday, all of whom are 6’1″ or taller. Hopefully he commits fully to training with his final year in college, and adds some strength. Tended to only interact with players he was familiar with in Leblanc and MacMillan.
Louis Leblanc: He seems committed to working hard this summer, with reports that he was at the Brossard rink daily in the weeks leading up to the camp, and the fact that he was virtually always the first player on the ice at the start of each of his sessions during the camp. As the player present with the most NHL experience, he tried to lead by example, going first in most drills, and was also chatty with Gallagher, Archambault, and former teammates Kristo and Lefebvre. Not a top skater, but a cerebral player with a high level of skill.
Philippe Lefebvre: He actually has some decent wheels, but there’s little else to his game. A depth AHL guy, and used up contract slot.
Mark MacMillan: I’ll call MacMillan a pet prospect of mine. He’s filling out slowly, now generously listed at 183 lbs after being drafted at 150, but he does look bigger than in the past. He’s a skilled guy with interesting offensive tools, but had some trouble with a few skating drills (he looked alright at times as well, but it’s an area for him to focus on). A longer-term project, he may be a go-to player at UND next season, so that’s perhaps the only reason to be happy that Kristo will be returning there for another season.
Joonas Nattinen: I was impressed with Nattinen, notably on day two. Moves well for a big forward, and showed his scoring touch. I expect him to have a great second year with the Bulldogs to make up for the team’s potential loss of Andreas Engqvist.
Daniel Pribyl: Pribyl is very big and handles the puck well. He nearly engaged in fisticuffs (for pretend?) with Gordie Dwyer at one point, with the two (I assume) jokingly grabbing at each other’s jerseys and faking punches. His skating isn’t terribly concerning, and he has soft hands when in tight on goal, allowing him to pull some nice moves in drills. I can’t see how he can fail as a prospect, though we may not know his offensive upside until he spends a season in North America, likely meaning 2013-14. He’s still very young, not turning 20 till next December, but the signs are promising.
Steve Quailer: Anyone?… Anyone?… Quailer? Ok, had to get that in there. After the Canadiens announced that the 6’4″ Northeastern star had signed a 2-year deal with the Habs during the lunch break, Quailer had quite an afternoon for himself. He got the excitement going, by being on the receiving end of Gordie Dwyer’s second check of the day during the warm-up, and then later dished out a gentle bit of reciprocation. I mentioned earlier that he was one of the day’s top scorers on the break drills, showing his style to be one of power, charging right on net in a straight line with long strides and letting shots rip (as opposed to being a skilled dangler). A very intriguing prospect who will be fun to monitor at the pro level this season.
Ian Schultz: Two things holding him back are skating technique and conditioning. He seems to have improved his physical shape, even if he is very likely still heavier than his listed 201 lbs, but his skating remains an issue, noticeable awkward on many drills. He has too great of a turning radius, and takes a while to get going. If he can’t fix that, it will be his downfall as a pro player, which is unfortunate because he is tough, a good teammate (often encouraging others, particularly during the off-ice field warm-ups), and shows enough awareness offensively to be a threat.
Dustin Walsh: Has not participated in on-ice sessions.
There you have it, my take thus far. I will continue to Tweet thoughts from the remainder of Development camp, so be sure to follow me at @DailyCanadiens, and I’ll also get another report of some sort and some video up before things are said and done. If you don’t already, also follow @All_Habs who will also be Tweeting his take.
As a general conclusion, there is no one at the camp who I watch and say, “this guy needs to be in the NHL this season.” Leblanc has a head start on the group, and of course it’s tough to say for certain how ready these guys are without watching them in game situations, but the rest seem to have clear areas they’ll need to improve (surprisingly, skating seems to be a bigger weakness for the group than the often-criticized size, so it’s a good thing it’s a primary focus of this camp). If I had to pick a top 5 thus far (keeping in mind this doesn’t mean best 5 prospects; only who has shown best in the drills), I would go with:
5. Louis Leblanc
4. Daniel Pribyl
3. Steve Quailer
2. Alain Berger
1. Jarred Tinordi