With 74 players in attendance at the Montreal Canadiens training camp, the opportunity to shine has been a little more challenging than in previous years.
The heated internal competition has led to a few surprises, as well as a few disappointing performances from players that needed to take the next step in their development.
Arber Xhekaj was certainly the talk of the town, and possibly Upper-State New York, due to his great play in Buffalo at the prospect tournament as well as his refined performance throughout the intrasquad games.
He garnered the most attention due to his vicious knockout of Ottawa Senators prospect Zachary Massicotte, but he truly took his play to the next level once hits were taken out of the equation.
Of course, intrasquad games aren’t the ideal barometer by which to judge a player’s value, but in Xhekaj’s case, it allowed management, coaching and fans alike to catch a glimpse of his underrated skill set.
Arber, tout en finesse.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) September 23, 2022
It remains to be seen whether his aggressive style will be as effective against NHL-level competition, but, if Xhekaj continues to play a smart brand of defence while maintaining an offensive presence, he has the potential to become the type of defenceman coaches love to rely upon in crucial situations.
The logjam on defence means William Trudeau probably isn’t in the running for one of the openings on the Montreal Canadiens blue line, but the 19-year-old did everything he could to raise his stock as one of the most promising defensive prospects.
He’s displayed immaculate timing, fantastic defensive awareness, as well as a penchant for making life difficult on opposing forwards.
Nice puck movement between Drouin, Evans, and William Trudeau.
If Trudeau hit that behind the back pass… pic.twitter.com/RMQxi9Q2H6
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) September 24, 2022
Trudeau still has work to do, particularly when it comes to his skating and controlled exits, but it would be unfair to label those two elements as weaknesses. He simply needs to continue to improve upon a very strong foundation that will serve the Montreal Canadiens well in the future.
He may be heading back to the OHL once training camp is over, but Owen Beck has done a great job establishing himself as one of the most exciting forwards in the prospect pool.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) September 16, 2022
He’s a good skater, a good passer, a good shooter, and, well, a good hockey player, however, nothing in his game particularly stands out as elite, except perhaps his intelligence.
His defensive acumen has led to a bevy of chances in the offensive zone, which is exactly what you want to see from an 18-year-old centre.
Beck will likely earn some preseason minutes given his great performance at camp, and once he’s returned to the OHL, expect a big season with the Mississauga Steelheads.
As one of the oldest defensive prospects at camp with a legitimate chance of making the NHL, Mattias Norlinder was expected to put together a great, if not consistent, performance throughout training camp.
He didn’t play poorly, far from it, but he also failed to put together a complete performance that could shed a particular spotlight on his fantastic offensive instinct and elite skating.
A flash of brilliance here and there simply wasn’t enough to keep pace with players that constantly impressed, such as Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris.
The same can be said for Jesse Ylönen, who happens to have one of the best shots in the organization. The 22-year-old played well in the second scrimmage, but given the heightened level of competition at camp this season, his one solid performance did not yield enough good play to separate him from the crowd.
Ylönen might see some NHL action this season, but unless he can find a little more consistency in his game at both ends of the rink, he’s likely to spend the majority of the year in the AHL.