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Five Canadiens Players To Watch At The Prospect Tournament

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Montreal Canadiens

There will be several Montreal Canadiens prospects under the spotlight in Buffalo this week, but there are five in particular that will monopolize the attention of fans and management alike.

Of course, we must be careful not to put too much importance on such a small sample size: a three-game tournament. But on the flip side of the coin, it’s the first time many of these prospects will face borderline NHL competition, meaning they’ll be hungry to impress the coaching staff and management during every shift.

The main star will be, without a doubt, Juraj Slafkovsky. The bombastic prospect had a relatively strong showing at the Canadiens’ development camp in July, but there were signs he was a little too eager to put on a show for the throng of fans in attendance. That’s not to say he needs to reinvent his game, but he will need to streamline his decision-making to avoid putting himself and others in delicate situations.

During development camp, Slafkovsky had a penchant for attempting high-skilled plays, often resulting in a lost puck or a shift in momentum for his line. To be perfectly fair, that’s to be expected from a player who is looking to make his mark in a new organization, and there’s no doubt management was aware of this phenomenon, but it’s safe to say they’ll hope to see Slafkovsky make slightly safer decisions whenever he’s driving the puck up the ice, which, to his credit, happens quite a lot. He has all the tools to become a driving force in the NHL, but he needs to refine his overall play, without losing his identity as an exciting player.

Simply put, he’s in the same situation as many highly-touted prospects before him. Once he finds his comfort level, the high-end skill will surely emerge.

Jan Mysak will also be under a significant amount of scrutiny, as he prepares to embark on the next step of his career: professional hockey, or, rather, professional hockey in North America. Mysak is likely to head to the AHL to play for the Laval Rocket, and given his recent upward trend in production, should be counted upon as a significant source of offence for Jean-Francois Houle’s team. Mysak also has the advantage of experiencing professional hockey in Czechia, playing parts of three seasons with HC Litvinov. He’s also a student of the game and the epitome of a gym rat, which bodes well for his transition to the AHL. He’s smart, he’s skilled, and he has emerged as a potential leader in the organization.

Speaking of skill, there’s a certain QMJHL forward that will be worth keeping an eye on. Riley Kidney will be heading back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next season, but the prospect tournament in Buffalo will be a perfect opportunity to gauge his level of play against a heightened quality of competition. By now, most people are aware the Joshua Roy draft pick (5th  round, 150th overall, 2021) was grand larceny, but Kidney should not be dismissed, seeing as he also crossed the 100-point plateau last season. If there’s one Canadiens prospect that perfectly encapsulates an underrated player, Kidney fits the bill.

On the defensive side of things, there will be quite an interesting battle. There are spots up for grabs and many talented players eager to fill them. All eyes will be on Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris, but I’d keep a close eye on Justin Barron. The Canadiens will be eager to find smooth-skating defencemen with the ability to play on the right side, and Barron fits the bill. Barron is likely to spend some time in the AHL season, like Guhle and Harris, but I get the impression the Canadiens have circled his name as a strong candidate to start the season on their blue line.

However, for my money, the most interesting player to watch will be Mattias Norlinder. Beyond his recent string of injuries, Norlinder is the exact type of player the Montreal Canadiens need on the blueline. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, has fantastic acceleration, uses his speed to generate a lot of clean puck retrievals, and has the ability to launch the offence from the blue line due to his penchant for controlled exits.

On paper, everything points to Norlinder having the inside track for an NHL job. To mitigate the risk of injury, Norlinder will have to do a better job protecting himself on the ice, but if he’s able to maintain a healthy track record, he could be the dark horse defensive candidate the Canadiens desperately need.

The Prospect Challenge kicks off Thursday night as the Montreal Canadiens will face the Buffalo Sabres.

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