BROSSARD — As the Montreal Canadiens training camp rolled into day two, the buzz surrounding Filip Mesar continued to intensify. It’s not that Mesar is surprising anyone with his elite stickhandling and great skating, rather, it’s his usage as a centre that continues to raise eyebrows.
Mesar played the vast majority of his hockey career as a centre, but the question remained whether his skillset would translate to the professional level.
Centre of Attention
The 26th overall pick in last year’s Entry Draft certainly doesn’t possess the classic body type associated with most centres, seeing as he’s listed at 5’09” and 178 lbs, though that may be a little generous.
But make no mistake, Mesar has looked fantastic since the Canadiens removed him from Juraj Slafkovsky’s line and placed him down the middle with his own set of linemates.
He’s particularly skilled at driving the play up the ice, then losing his coverage, before finding open ice and putting himself in a high-danger scoring area, which connotes an elevated hockey IQ as well as great vision and anticipation.
If you place him on the wing, he'll spend a lot of time rushing the exit and looking for either a tip dump-in or a pass reception in the upper half of the ice. You lose some of his value as a visionary, puck-savvy forward. F3 in almost any tactical formation is your centre. 2/2
— Hadi Kalakeche (@HadiK_Scouting) September 16, 2022
The Montreal Canadiens have plenty of roster spots up for grabs, particularly on the blue line, and if there’s one player that fits their needs, it’s Mattias Norlinder. The Canadiens need defencemen that can quickly retrieve pucks and generate controlled entries, as to make up for the loss of Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry, and that’s exactly what Norlinder does best.
However, he has the tendency to start slow, which simply isn’t acceptable for a player that’s hoping to finally earn a permanent NHL job. It’s the type of bad habit that coaches hate. On Friday morning Norlinder didn’t stand out as one of the best players on the ice, but he also did a much better job finding his comfort zone early on.
Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron and Jordan Harris are likely ahead of him on the depth chart due to their recent performances at the prospect tournament and development camp, therefore Norlinder will have to combine healthy starts with outstanding offensive performances from here to the end of camp if he’s to emerge as the best candidate on the blue line.
Kirby Dach has started to find his groove. The 6’4″ centre possesses an impressive amount of speed, and more importantly, explosiveness. It’s his stickhandling that….well, sticks out as the biggest weakness in his game.
He tends to keep the puck far away from his body as he crosses the neutral zone, which makes life much easier on defenders. If he can keep the puck a little tighter to his body, he’ll be able to generate many more controlled entries, which should lead to a lot more scoring chances.
With that in mind, Dach looked great on Friday morning, both on the defensive side of things as well as in the offensive zone.
Nice shootout goal by Dach pic.twitter.com/yZ8FyzzGJc
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) September 23, 2022
One player, in particular, is making the best of his opportunity, and it happens to be the smallest player at camp: Xavier Simoneau. The 191st overall pick at the 2021 Draft isn’t just a pest, though, that’s certainly a significant aspect of his game.
Simoneau owns an offensive touch that’s impossible to ignore, as well as a good sense of anticipation. He will have to improve his skating to make the Montreal Canadiens’ roster one day, but he’s likely to become a fan favourite with the Laval Rocket this season.
Simple Yet Effective
Juraj Slafkovsky tried to dominate at the development camp and the prospect tournament, but it was clear he was trying high-difficulty plays that were poorly timed.
On Friday he stood out for all the right reasons. Sure, he set up Rafael Harvey-Pinard with two perfect passes that led to goals, but more importantly, his decision-making was on point.
Slafkovsky's puck protection as he attacks the middle is something. pic.twitter.com/RsUJ79YVJt
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) September 23, 2022
Arber Xhekaj played like a defenceman that knows there are jobs up for grabs on the blue line. His gap control was fantastic, and, what’s more, his timing was immaculate when jumping into the play. It’s almost as if he’s a much better player when he’s not focusing on hits.
Arber Xhekaj continue de surprendre au camp du CH! Le défenseur ouvre la marque du deuxième match intra-équipe avec un bon tir des poignets! pic.twitter.com/FWFjlIRUnF
— RDS (@RDSca) September 23, 2022
If he can keep up this level of play, he may just find himself on the shortlist for one of those coveted roster spots.