MONTREAL, QC. — As the Canadiens were busy announcing changes off-ice Friday with Gerard Gallant and Clement Jodoin being named as Assistant Coaches, there were few changes from the prior day’s events on the ice at Development Camp. The morning session saw an inversion of the drills between the groups of defensemen and forwards, with the blueliners skating forwards during drills and the forwards being put to the test backwards. The afternoon consisted of basic shooting drills again, with the previous day’s focus on wrist shots replaced with an emphasis on slappers instead.
In an NHL heavy on defensive systems, and with an organization that traditionally likes its players to be responsible in their own end, there wasn’t a single drill related to players defending their territory. Nor were there any exercises in puck control or stick handling, or any offensive schemes run against any kind of defensive resistance. And none of these elements have been tested or reviewed at all in this camp, with only a single day remaining.
The Canadiens’ organization is typically quick to remind that this is not an Evaluation Camp, instead intended to foster skill development in its young prospects. But what are the players truly learning from these repetitive simple drills, run by skating and skills consultants (Tim Turk and Paul Lawson) and a pair of QMJHL coaches? That is the question we wondered aloud by Friday afternoon, a third day of watching the group of prospects whose performances daily only went to confirm the observations of the day before.
Sure there were a few differences. On the upside, Nathan Beaulieu‘s impressively smooth strides stand out more when he’s skating ahead for a day instead of reversing. Danny Kristo‘s quick feet and hands, skill set, and shot were a little more on display. Joonas Nattinen – who may have led all prospects in drill goal scoring on the day – showed that he has a quality shot in addition to being the playmaker he’s perceived to be. On the down, Mark MacMillan has shown some inconsistency, with my opinion of him declining slightly each day. Olivier Archambault‘s only real redeeming quality as a prospect – his heavy shot – doesn’t do him much good as it is rarely on target. Josiah Didier‘s slapshot doesn’t live up to the high expectations set by his pinpoint wristers, perhaps better explaining his lack of offensive production.
But on the whole, everything I said yesterday tends to apply to today as well. I still like the way Jarred Tinordi moves, and his hopeful positive influence on friend Nathan Beaulieu. Alain Berger‘s slapshot is just as enticing as his wrist shots. Darren Dietz has quite the cannon from the point. Steve Quailer has all the tools to succeed as a prospect. And Danny Kristo seems confined to a group of “four amigos” with Louis Leblanc, Olivier Archambault, and Mark MacMillan (normally I’d be happy that he’s making friends in the organization, but there are questions on Archambault’s attitude, and with Kristo heading back to college for another year, I’d rather see him branch out a bit at this camp). Still no signs of the injured Morgan Ellis, Dustin Walsh, Colin Sulivan, or Peter Delmas.
What, then, are the players doing here? Is the main focus getting acquainted with the Brossard training facility and the off-ice sessions the team holds? Perhaps, but it seems they could still stand to make better use of the time on ice. Is the priority the tutelage of the guest instructors Gordie Dwyer and J.F. Houle? Dwyer has been impressive in the way he interacts frequently, but Houle rarely partakes in drills, remaining more distant. In either case, it is the skating and skills consulting staffs that work closest with the players. Does the Habs’ brass want to watch the players practice closely? Doubtful given the largely empty section of the stands reserved for management, and the very infrequent presence of Sylvain Lefebvre, even though he’ll be coaching a good number of these guys in the Fall.
Why isn’t Lefebvre on the ice with the players to at least get to know them a bit? Or Clement Jodoin for that matter, given he’s familiar with some of them and regarded as a decent teacher. While it’s always nice to get a group of prospects together, and as a fan, to be able to watch and compare them all at once, I have to think that the team could do a lot more once it has 32 NHL hopefuls together for four full days. Even once the drills are done for the day, can the team not encourage bonding or other activities rather than this:
Certainly, we’re talking about adults. Aspiring professional athletes. Not junior-aged children at summer camp whose hands need to be held. But by the same token, these young men have busy schedules, and particularly prior to the current staffing additions of the likes of Patrice Brisebois, Martin Lapointe, and Scott Mellanby, there are precious few moments during the course of a season where the Canadiens have a chance to speak with them frequently and work closely with them towards achieivng their goals of playing in the NHL.
This is not coming from a fanboy looking for greater free entertainment with scrimmages and breakaway competitions. Nor is it intended as a strike against the team’s consultants Turk and Lawson, both of whom fill their niche appropriately. I just want to see a full array of players’ weaknesses looked at by the organization, and suggestions of ways to work on them provided to each player. Having them all in Montreal before they embark on pivotal summer training regimens is an opportunity a team committed to the successful development of its draft picks needs to make the most of. And thus far, as an outside observer, I’m more unconvinced by the skills being taught on-ice and the drills practiced than by the way any one of the prospects completes them. So Mr. Bergevin, I know you’ve been busy, but add re-thinking your prospect development camps for next year to your agenda for sometime down the road.