(Buffalo) On the one hand, Jayden Struble arrived at the rookie tournament in enviable conditions. A private driver took him from Montreal to the city of Goo Goo Dolls.
But on the other hand, it was far from ideal. A logistical glitch prevented him from taking the bus with his teammates in Brossard on Thursday noon. He only arrived in Buffalo on Friday evening, while the CH faced the Sabres. He therefore missed the first morning practice and the first game, so much so that he experienced his baptism of fire on Saturday afternoon, against the Bruins.
It obviously didn’t seem like much, if we are to believe the response from Jean-François Houle, who was asked what stood out in the 4-1 victory for the Canadian’s hopes.
“I really liked Struble’s match,” he said from the outset. “He was robust, committed. You have to show that. »
We often talk about players who should stand out in this type of tournament. Struble, even though he only has nine games of professional experience, had to shine. He’s 22 years old, he just played four seasons in a good NCAA program and, above all, he’s a phenomenal athlete. At 6 ft and 202 lbs, he has the size to win, especially against opponents who are often younger and lighter. Eight of the Bruins’ 12 forwards weighed less than 190 lbs.
And it showed. Struble provided the kind of physical presence that will reassure any goalie behind him.
“He was very physical tonight. He may have had the most hits. I liked that,” Houle added.
Despite his enviable physique and his choice status of 2e turn, Struble is far from the top in the very long hierarchy of CH at left defense.
His partner for Saturday’s match, on the other hand, has the advantage of being right-handed, where the Habs are less spoiled. Except Logan Mailloux can’t expect a fast track to the NHL just because he shoots from the right and is a 1 picker round.
After a rather painful performance on Friday, Mailloux showed more confidence on Saturday, even if it wasn’t perfect. It should also be noted that the Bruins were far from deploying a pool of prospects as exciting as the Sabers the day before.
“He found his bearings a little more, he was calmer. He had less stress. I found him a lot more relaxed,” said Houle.
Despite his difficulties the day before, Mailloux did not lose his confidence in possession of the puck. In the same sequence, at the start of the match, he attempted three offensive maneuvers. All three failed, but the young man did not seem discouraged or bothered afterward.
Invisible on Friday, Joshua Roy was much more assertive on Saturday. The Beauceron winger scored, in addition to setting up Jan Mysak’s goal.
Filip Mesar also looked better than the day before. A difference from Friday’s match: he played in the center rather than on the wing, and Houle suggested that the Slovak was more comfortable in the middle.
First-line center Friday, Owen Beck, was given a leave of absence, while Riley Kidney, second center Friday, was moved to the wing Saturday. In short, the hierarchy at the center was different, and Mesar took advantage of it.
The one that the CH drafted at 26e rank in 2022 must nevertheless prove that at 19 years old, despite a frail frame, he can hold his own in the American League this season. This will be his challenge in the coming weeks.
Kidney faces the same challenge, but he is 20 years old. But whether in the center on Friday or on the wing on Saturday, he had difficulty putting himself forward. As physical play is not his cup of tea, he must produce offense in order to find a role.
Mysak, Roy and Cédrick Guindon scored in the victory. Forward Ty Smilanic added the insurance goal into an empty net, following a blunder by the Bostonians.
Quentin Miller blocked 26 of 27 shots to score the victory. The Quebecer only gave in to Trevor Kuntar, who beat him with a backhand shot. This Kuntar is the son of Les Kuntar, a former goalkeeper who the most enthusiastic fans of the Canadian will remember for the six games he played with the club in 1993-1994.
Rested for Saturday’s match: forwards Beck, Sean Farrell, Florian Xhekaj and John Parker-Jones, as well as defenders David Reinbacher and William Trudeau, and goalkeeper Jakub Dobes.
The Canadian will hold a short training session on Sunday and conclude the tournament on Monday afternoon, facing the hopefuls of the Senators.
A word of humor in closing. Jean-François Houle was giving an answer about defender Miguël Tourigny when his tongue slipped.
“I thought he competed, for a little guy. Well… Excuse the word! For a slightly smaller player. He goes into the corners and he competes, a bit like Simoneau. »
At 5’8″, Tourigny can indeed be described as short. But at 21 and with a season of professional hockey in Europe under his belt, he’s starting to get old for a “little guy”!