Nikjita Scherbak (Photo by Amy Johnson | © Rocket Sports Media) Mandatory Credit Required

by Blain Potvin, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

This past weekend, the Canadiens called up two former first round picks, Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron. Their call up is a direct result of a desperate need for the Canadiens to shakeup their offence.

The roster, at the time of their recall, was at 22 players. To make room something had to give. Ales Hemsky, who left mid-way through the game versus the Anaheim Ducks with  concussion symptoms, was placed on the injured reserve list to make room for Scherbak.

With this call up, there is now more youth on a Habs roster than in recent memory. This is a move fans have demanded for quite some time. The Habs forward group averages 24.8 years of age. That’s a full year younger than the much ballyhooed Maple Leafs. The key for the Habs now is to begin adding some wins taking advantage infusion of youth.

A common complaint from fans is that the Canadiens cannot draft or develop players. That complaint is not completely unfounded as there have been hits and misses over the years. Yet this year’s crop of prospects in Laval seems to be worthy of harvest.

Michael McCarron had a great summer training in Montreal. He came into camp with his sights set on being a Canadien. He had an underwhelming training camp and was sent to Laval to begin the season.

It seemed to work as McCarron was able to step into the top center role for the Rocket. He understood his role as using his size for puck retrieval and net presence while being defensively responsible. His four points in six games along with a plus-10 ranking point to both an understanding of his role and excellent effort. In an interview with Amy Johnson of the AHL Report, he also seems to have become dialed in on his mental game.

“I’m ready to go for this year and make them call me up” – Mike McCarron

Nikita Scherbak had a short stay in the Canadiens training camp but was recalled towards the end of the pre-season schedule. This move seemed to spark the 21-year-old as he flashed his skill in the final two exhibition games for the Habs.

Upon his return to Laval, Scherbak continued to consistently play at a high level. Scherbak was playing well defensively, blocking shots, but also providing the offence he was drafted to deliver. He was second in the AHL for points at the time of his call up with nine points in six 6 games.

Scherbak, in another interview by Amy Johnson of the AHL report, has also seemingly understood what he needs to do to become successful.

“Worrying about the team more than the personal stats. Just got to play the same way no matter who is on the sheet (ice)” – Nikita Scherbak

These two prospects were placed on a line with Alex Galchenyuk for Tuesdays game against the Florida Panthers. This trio looked good throughout the game despite their fourth line designation.

It reminded me of the line when Galchenyuk lined up with Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller a few years ago. The EGG line provided some very effective and exciting hockey when it was employed. This new fourth line has that same feel.

That being said, Claude Julien stated:

“Right now I don’t think Alex has given us enough to continue to be on the top line for the time being he had one shot with five minutes left in the game last game. We need more. Chucky has to help himself. “ – Claude Julien

In the past, fourth lines were the office of the enforcer and energy player. In today’s NHL, all four lines are expected to provide a 200-foot game and try to add offence to the scoresheet. There is no doubt that McCarron and Scherbak have done so at the AHL level and have that potential to translate that success to the NHL level.

The current atmosphere in Montreal, due in large part to the poor start, has left fans and media alike very critical of any and all moves made by management. 

Galchenyuk is playing with two players from one of the AHL’s top lines, who compliment his style of play, and can help to relaunch him. There is little doubt that the Habs would dearly love to have the point per game Galchenyuk that was seen for the first half of last season.

This line is not a punishment for Galchenyuk as it is comprised of the Habs first round picks from 2012 to 2014. I can’t remember a time where that has occurred.

After one game together, it should be noted that Galchenyuk showed a willingness to go to the net. He scored his first goal on the power play by crashing the net. He also showed some chemistry with his linemates.

McCarron finished his checks and competed in board battles at both ends of the rink. Scherbak was excellent moving the puck and skating well. There was one shift in particular that highlighted his play: Scherbak made an excellent defensive read, began the transition, and drew a penalty.

Whatever numerous mistakes Marc Bergevin has made in the past this isn’t one of them. He’s been mocked for his love of fourth liners and now he actually provides Julien with players that can fit his system. Despite this, he’s mocked for calling up “AHLers”. If anything, it can be argued this move should have been done sooner so as to provide players that are better fits in Julien’s system, something Bergevin has had difficulty providing.

With all that ails the Habs at the moment, from a myriad of defensive breakdowns, to understandable public displays of frustration from the team’s star goaltender, the call-up of two top prospects is not the problem. Quite the opposite, it seemed to be the impetus to wake up a slumping Galchenyuk as we saw in the last preseason game vs Ottawa.

Another crop seemingly ready for harvest is 2016 fourth round pick, Victor Mete. He has  earned the respect and trust of the coaching staff to have his top four roll be extended beyond the nine game mark.

Management must like what they’ve seen this far of young Mete. He has demonstrated he can play in that top four role. While he has ahd difficulties against more aggressive forecheckers, he has quickly learned from errors made under pressure.

For the fans who agree the team has issues on defence, it seems counter intuitive to return Mete to junior hockey at this point. The young man has been keen to learn. He is vocal on the ice, and communicates well with his peers. 

Passing the nine game mark is a milestone. It means that the first year of a player’s Entry Level Contract (ELC) has now kicked in. But the real long term mark for the Canadiens will be at 40 games played. At that point he will have burned his first year towards Unrestricted Free Agency (UFA).

As a famous Notre Dame University football coach once said,

“Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity” – Frank Leahy

The only way for the players and management to get past this slump and truly improve the team it is to take an honest look at themselves, put aside ego and do what is required of each member, regardless of what role they are in or line they are on. Perhaps the innocent exuberance of youth will be the cure to what ails them.

 

  • [received by email]

    greetings blain,
    from a fellow CH spirit in waiting,
    like your most recent little synopsis,
    i believe that;
    we do draft good young players,yet we often send them away…
    before they get the chance to become the players we drafted for.
    why?
    we think the grass is greener on the other side?
    we think we are sending away a problem player?
    filling a need?
    doing a favour for a fellow g.m.?
    immediate fix?(sacrificing the bigger picture for the future?)
    lack of patience,tolerance for our younger players?
    we make an honest miscalculation?
    hockey incoherence?
    other?
    i will tell you a little story,
    when our management team sent our pernel-karl away 2 days before his CH card was to be signed for life,(2 summers past)that was it for me.a part of me left with pernel-karl,i do beleieve.i lost my support/confidence with marc bergevin.point a la ligne…when we can do this to our best player to our heart and soul to someone who breathed le bleu,blanc,rouge;(since that fateful day when he met the great one at a youth hockey tournament;jean beliveau…since that fateful day little p.k. dreamed of one thing and one thing only:to be like our great one and wear the same sacred sweater as jean beliveau…)
    anyhow,just a few thoughts my friend
    when mr.bergevin gives his demission to mr.molson,that will be the the start of our ascension to the playoffs,we will see…hopefully!!!
    bye for now,
    thank you for your efforts and hard work,
    it is much valued and appreciated,
    it does not go unoticed,
    portez-vous bien
    a bientot,
    le petit bill,ottawa-gatineau