The picture is starting to become clearer to the naked eye for the Canadian, at least on the attack. We can easily identify the top 12 from coach Martin St-Louis. All that remains is to put the right pieces in place.
Despite all their good will, Emil Heineman, Joshua Roy and Owen Beck had no chance of cracking the lineup in the short term, even if they got the chance to play with veterans during intrasquad meetings.
Before Wednesday night’s game against Ottawa, the CH head coach demonstrated his desire to keep Kirby Dach at center.
He had not placed the young Juraj Slafkovsky on his flanks by chance, he was looking to provide Dach with a winger whose primary quality consisted of shooting pucks towards the opposing net, a bit like Cole Caufield with Nick Suzuki, a center who , like Dach, likes to carry the puck and distribute it.
Slafkovsky not only scored a nice goal from the slot on Wednesday, enough to gain more confidence, but we felt he was engaged from start to finish.
The coach has favored the formation of duos since the start of training camp. He may have just found a new one. If Alex Newhook and Josh Anderson, Joel Armia and Jake Evans remain together, Friday against Toronto, the four pairs are complete.
Martin Saint-Louis, whose press briefings are always very informative, neither more nor less confirmed his strategy after Wednesday’s meeting, by answering a question from colleague Arpon Basu, from the site The Athletic, one of the leading analysts more illuminated from the middle. “I try to bring together players with affinities, and complement them with a third, but this one can also have affinities with the other two. »
The CH duos
Sean Monahan left Dach to join Suzuki and Caufield on Wednesday. Monahan did well, against an opposing team made up mainly of marginal players, it must be mentioned, but the lack of speed of this trio could constitute an issue against certain teams.
Brendan Gallagher and Tanner Pearson, two complementary pieces, with Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, are not known for their speed either. Saint-Louis will perhaps eventually decide to put Monahan back at center, and offer their first duo a fast winger like Newhook, who knows?
Brandon Gignac interferes in the conversation
The names of Jesse Ylönen, Emil Heineman, Lias Andersson and Michael Pezzetta have often been mentioned as candidates for a regular position in Montreal. If he continues to play like he has, 25-year-old Brandon Gignac will enter the conversation.
Gignac, a third-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2016, joined the Laval Rocket without fanfare in 2022. He has just had two good seasons in the American League.
Very effective since the start of training camp, he played a strong match against Ottawa. Gignac played 13:09 (more than Heineman, Mesar, Andersson, Davidson, Bourque, almost as much as Slafkovsky and Harvey-Pinard), won 68% of his faceoffs, showed a lot of poise on the penalty kill and scored the first goal of the match.
Martin Saint-Louis even dared to send him on the ice as the only attacker during a two-man numerical penalty. Gignac isn’t the most physically imposing at 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, but he has well-above-average speed and plays very intelligently. His style of play is reminiscent in some respects of that of Paul Byron.
Gignac will undoubtedly have a few other matches to show off. He probably won’t start the season in Montreal, but who knows if he isn’t deserving of an NHL contract, and possibly one or more call-ups this winter.
Arber Xhekaj wins points… without playing!
Coach DJ Smith gave his young stars the day off and filled his training with ill-intentioned miscreants on Wednesday. Kaiden Guhle, among others, got a taste of it, victim of a check from behind, courtesy of Zack MacEwen.
Martin Saint-Louis admitted to colleague Richard Labbé, he would undoubtedly have presented slightly different training if he had received that of the Senators a little earlier.
The opponent would undoubtedly have been more polite if defender Arber Xhekaj, aptly nicknamed the sheriff, had been in uniform. Xhekaj ranks among the four most feared brawlers in the NHL, behind Ryan Reaves, Milan Lucic and Nicolas Deslauriers, former hockey player Paul Bissonnette, the man behind Mike Babcock’s fall, said this week on the show by Georges Laraque and Stéphane Gonzalez at BPM Sports.
Mike Matheson, David Savard and Kaiden Guhle are undisplaceable in defense, ahead of Jordan Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic and Justin Barron, but will the CH be able to deprive themselves of Xhekaj, and his 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds of aggressiveness, in the training?