The best hopes of the Canadiens will be better supported this year at the rookie tournament.
Remember last year. Jesperi Kotkaniemi seemed alone against the formidable Ottawa Senators rookie squad. They relied on a significant number of hopes with at least a year of experience in the American League, some had even played in the NHL, and Brady Tkachuk had taken the opportunity to eclipse the Finn in a one-way match.
Kotkaniemi started the game in the center of Allan McShane, fresh out of the junior ranks, and Alexandre Alain, who was the first experience at the professional level.
Tkachuk had the luxury of playing with Colin White, the Senators first center a year later, and Filip Chlapik, 34 points in 51 games last year in his second season in the American League.
CH's most seasoned player, T.J. Melanson, had spent the winter in the East Coast League. He will be in the other camp this year. The two Czech defenders Michal Moravcik and David Sklenica were looked forward to with curiosity, but with little expectation.
Jake Evans was probably the most prominent hope with Kotkaniemi and Josh Brook. He did not finish the meeting, victim of a violent check which necessitated the arrival of the paramedics.
Claude Julien remembers this famous match. "If we had relied on the rookie camp, Kotkaniemi would never have made the team," said the Canadiens coach this morning after giving his press briefing at Jonathan's golf tournament. Drouin.
"You watch Poehling, the game where he scored four goals, and take his (more modest) statistics to college. I'm not saying that Poehling will score goals as he has scored, but often, players demonstrate even more when they are surrounded by better players. Kotkaniemi had to adapt to North American hockey and when he arrived at the big camp, players took him under his wing and his qualities came out. "
We can guess, to listen to Claude Julien, all his respect and admiration for Poehling, despite his small game – but what a match! – experience in the NHL.
But let's get back to the rookie team. The portrait is different this year, during the tournament presented in Belleville from September 6 to 9 and pitting the hopes of the Canadiens, Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
Unlike Kotkaniemi last year, Poehling will be supported by another young leading center, Nick Suzuki. Attackers Alexandre Alain, Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta and Hayden Verbeek, without being high hopes, have a year of experience in the American League behind the tie. Cam Hillis, Cole Fonstad and Allan McShane, from the 2018 vintage, are one year older. Fonstad and McShane participated in the Canadian junior team's preparation camp. Hillis has been named captain of the Guelph Storm.
In defense, young Cale Fleury had a very satisfying season with the Laval Rocket. He also made the jump of the junior ranks last year. Josh Brook was one of the best defensemen in the country, competing at the World Junior Championship and finishing the season in Laval. Otto Leskinen, 22, hired as a free agent this summer, was dominant last winter in Kalpa, his third full season in the Elite League of Finland.
Claude Julien will be in Belleville for the tournament. Besides Poehling and Suzuki, whose names are known, who is he eager to see at work?
"The goalkeeper (Cayden Primeau), he answers spontaneously. (Josh) Brook had a good year, (Cale) Fleury had a good year. Leskinen, I did not see him very much. It gives me a chance to know him more. They are players who intrigue me. Not only will they have a chance at the camp, but also, in the worst scenario, we need depth. When I look at our recruits, and many are not there, I like the direction we take. "
The coach prefers to see young people in a match context. "The development camp is one thing, but you have a better idea when you see them in tournaments like that. I have often seen amazing players in training but shy in the game. On the contrary, some stand out in games when you did not notice them in training. "
The Senators team will again be very strong this year, with Erik Brannstrom (Golden Knights for Mark Stone) in defense, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson and Max Veronneau, all of whom have played in the NHL. Last year, Josh Norris, a first-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks for Erik Karlsson, not to mention the two hopes of the Columbus Blue Jackets for Matt Duchene, Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson. Both played at the pros last year.
There are, of course, significant absentees among the Canadian. The first choice of 2019, Cole Caufield, will spend the season with the Wisconsin Badgers and the NCAA rules do not allow him to participate in professional training camps. Two of the best hopefuls on the left side of the defense, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble, are in the same situation. They will play together at Northeastern. Barring a surprise, Harris should earn a job with the US team in preparation for the World Junior Championship.
Many hopes of the CH are retained with their respective teams in Europe. Left-handed defender Alexander Romanov, defender par excellence at the most recent World Junior Championship, begins his second season with CSKA Moscow. Another left-handed defender, Mattias Norlinder, is with Modo in the Swedish Elite League.
Right wing Jesse Ylonen, a second-round pick in 2018, perhaps the organization's most underrated hope, is in Finland. Ylonen leads his Lahden team in pre-season games with seven points. Jacob Olofsson and Joni Ikonen also stayed in Europe. They could all make the jump to North America next year, in Montreal or Laval.
Claude Julien may well like the direction in which the team is heading with such a band of hopes!
See here the list of hopes invited to this tournament.
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