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Canadiens Forward Prospects Looking To Stand Out In Buffalo

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Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky

Although the Montreal Canadiens are overflowing with forwards, their prospects are primed to make the decision to send them back to junior more difficult than previously thought.

A total of 15 forwards will make the trip to Buffalo for the 2022 Prospect Challenge, headlined by the first-overall pick at the 2022 draft, Juraj Slafkovsky. Owen Beck, Lucas Condotta, Jared Davidson, Pierrick Dubé, Ryan Francis, Cédrick Guindon, Emil Heineman, Riley Kidney, Filip Mesar, Jan Mysak, John Parker-Jones, Joshua Roy, Xavier Simoneau, and Brett Stapley round out the forward lists.

And while Canadiens defensive prospects attending the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp will have an opportunity to earn an NHL job out of camp, the same cannot be said for the majority of the forwards that will take to the ice in Buffalo. As it stands, the Canadiens have 12 healthy forwards under contract, not to mention an additional three forwards that are currently on the injury reserve. All three of those forwards, Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, and Paul Byron, should return to the lineup by the start of the season or shortly after, creating a significant logjam up front.

That’s not to say players like Slafkovsky will be unable to earn a roster spot, but, unless Kent Hughes decides to make a few more moves, which is very much in the realm of possibility, the opportunities will be few and far between.

For someone like Slafkovsky, the tournament in Buffalo presents the perfect opportunity for Canadiens management to see how he fares against a relatively difficult level of competition. Slafkovsky was a dominant force at the Canadiens’ development camp in mid-July, and while that was an encouraging sign, it was also to be expected from the first-overall pick.

The tournament in Buffalo will be part of the process that will determine whether Slafkovsky will simply play nine games in the NHL before being reassigned, or if he truly does have the ability to stick with the roster for the entirety of the season. There will be external pressure if a scenario arises in which Slafkovsky is sent to the AHL, given that very few first-overall forwards have failed to make the NHL out of camp in their first season.

Despite that pressure, Hughes has made it quite clear that he has absolutely no problem breaking the trend, and rightfully so, seeing as the NHL is littered with a long list of highly-touted prospects that were rushed to the big show and failed to reach their potential.

Filip Mesar, Slafkovsky’s childhood friend, should also receive a fair amount of attention, not only due to his status as a first-round pick, but because of his relatively unknown abilities. At development camp, Mesar stood out as one of the most talented players. His ability to handle the puck in tight spaces, as well as his edge work, were easily the most impressive offensive tools on the ice. Mesar, who has the option to start the season with the Laval Rocket, will be looking to prove he has what it takes to play in the AHL this year, despite a serious logjam of minor league forwards and the Montreal Canadiens’ ability to send him to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, who own his CHL rights.

Joining Mesar in the “headed to Laval” category will be Mysak, Simoneau, Stapley, and Condotta, all of whom will have an opportunity to impress the Rocket coach Jean-François Houle, who will be behind the Canadiens bench for the entirety of the tournament.

For the forwards, this is more of an exercise in finding your place in the organization rankings rather than earning a job in the NHL, but seeing as the Montreal Canadiens are in full rebuild mode, their opportunity to shine in the NHL may come sooner than expected for some.

 

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