LONDON, ON — The Montreal Canadiens 2016 Rookie Camp closed on Wednesday. Sixteen players from the rookie camp were invited to the Canadiens Training Camp which opens on Thursday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
At the Rookie Tournament in London, fans were treated to a look into the future of the organization in three games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
It is clear that Mike McCarron is the Canadiens most NHL-ready prospect. The 21-year-old dominated at both ends of the ice in London. McCarron was demonstrably quicker benefiting from an off-season program where he focused on improving his explosiveness and footspeed. In addition, a new nutrition program helped him drop 11 pounds over the summer.
Artturi Lehkonen‘s readiness for the big club may be a notch behind McCarron but one gets the sense that the left-winger is capable of quickly closing the gap. Lehkonen had a strong performance in London showing his offensive skill and willingness to play in traffic. Lehkonen is still learning the peculiarities of playing on a smaller ice surface but one expects that the learning curve will be relatively short.
► Not far away
Mikhail Sergachev was the player that many fans were looking forward to seeing in London. The verdict is that, with some patience, Sergachev will be a dynamic star in Montreal for many years to come. In addition to his size, strong skating, physical play, vision and lethal shot, perhaps his strongest asset is his elite hockey sense. It is expected that the Canadiens will return Sergachev to the Windsor Spitfires as they will host the Memorial Cup.
Nikita Scherbak created the highlight of the weekend on Friday as he skillfully protected the puck and displayed some slick moves to score a spectacular goal. That said, Scherbak was mostly invisible for the majority of the game and that is the reason he will likely spend one more season in St. John’s. Scherbak needs to ramp up his effort level to match his offensive talent.
► More seasoning
Noah Juulsen is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman. Partnered with Sergachev in London, Juulsen formed an effective pair who were able to quickly move the put up the ice. Juulsen has very good vision and is skilled at using his stick and body positioning to break up plays. He also was on the ice with the man advantage in London showing his ability to manage the puck on the power-play. Juulsen also brought his physical game to London.
Brett Lernout appears poised to take on a greater role in terms of leadership and on the ice for the IceCaps. Lernout is a punishing physical defenseman who plays with an edge. Lernout also possesses a heavy shot and should see time on special teams.
Daniel Audette is an undersized forward who relies on his speed and puckhandling to contribute. Audette was the recipient of two perfect passes from Sergachev to score twice against the Ottawa Senators. Audette is simply a finisher; his defensive game needs considerable work and is doesn’t get involved physically.
► Ready to develop
Two 2016 draftees really stood out during the tournament. Will Bitten and Victor Mete each used their high-end skating to create scoring chances. While both players are undersized, they didn’t hesitate to get involved physically throughout the tournament. Bitten and Mete are both headed back to the OHL for the upcoming season where they will be expected to have strong seasons.
► Goaltending depth
Charlie Lindgren, Zach Fucale and Michael McNiven split the goaltending duties in London each starting one game. After a shaky start, Lindgren had the strongest performance of the weekend earning the only win in a 8-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fucale looked solid early against the Leafs but allowed a couple of soft goals, including one late in the game, as Toronto notched a 4-3 win. McNiven didn’t receive much help looking a bit overwhelmed at times in the 6-3 loss to the Senators.
► September 16, 2016 | Montreal Canadiens vs Pittsburgh Penguins
► September 17, 2016 | Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
The 2016 Rookie Tournament continued Saturday night at Budweiser Gardens in London with a primetime matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In contrast to Friday’s game against Pittsburgh, this tilt was much more defensive for a good portion of the first two periods. Ironically, three of the Habs best D-men were a healthy scratch: Brett Lernout, Mikhail Sergachev and Noah Juulsen. Zach Fucale got the call in net for Montreal, backed up by Michael McNiven.
The first period was physical and a bit slower-moving than the previous day, with just one goal scored at each end of the ice. Daniel Audette was the goal scorer for Montreal, assisted by William Bitten and Victor Mete.
In the second period, the Leafs offense woke up and managed to pot two additional goals past Fucale, while Antoine Bibeau kept the Habs at bay. But things turned around in the final frame, with Artturi Lehkonen and Mike McCarron both finding the back of the net on the man advantage.
With the score knotted at 3-3 late in the third period, it looked like the game would be heading to overtime, but with the Leafs buzzing in the final two minutes they managed to wrist a puck five-hole through Fucale. Montreal was unable to answer the goal and dropped game two of the tournament 4-3 to Toronto.
► September 18, 2016 | Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators