MONTREAL — As the Montreal Canadiens enter the preseason stage of training camp, there are still several crucial decisions to be made regarding the bevy of exciting prospects vying for a job.
Fortunately for the organization, the decisions are made more complicated by the fact that most of the top-ranked prospects have enjoyed a fantastic camp.
Take Owen Beck, for example. The 18-year-old centre will take to the ice versus the New Jersey Devils as the Canadiens’ No.1 centre, a role that he has earned throughout camp by not only being the best prospect but also the best player.
Beck will be flanked by two snipers in Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman, a perfect match for his great offensive awareness and penchant for generating controlled entries. Beck does a fantastic job creating open ice for his teammates, and that’s exactly the type of centre Caufield and Hoffman need to create offense.
What’s more, given Caufield and Hoffman aren’t the type of players that will earn Selke nominations, it also put Beck’s defensive acumen to the test.
Simply put, assignment connotes a significant amount of trust by the coaching staff, though you’d be hard-pressed to argue Beck doesn’t deserve the opportunity.
Juraj Slafkovsky will line up on the second trio, alongside centre Kirby Dach and winger Rem Pitlick, however, he won’t line up on the left side as he has in previous matchups.
Martin St.Louis has shifted him to the right wing for the game against the Devils, and though Slafkovsky has been labelled a left winger since he was chosen first overall by the Montreal Canadiens, he does have experience playing on the right wing.
In fact, Slafkovsky was used by TPS Turku as a right winger following his return from the Olympics, which led to an increase in productivity.
Seeing as the Canadiens have a surplus of forwards, his versatility could be a big factor in deciding whether he deserves a roster spot to start the season.
The bottom six will feature an exciting blend of AHL talent and up-and-coming players.
First-round pick Filip Mesar will centre a line with Rafael-Harvey Pinard and Anthony Richard, which has the potential to be the most exciting trio for the fans in attendance at the Bell Centre, and the most frustrating line for the Devils players assigned to cover them.
Jan Mysak is slated to play down the middle of the fourth line, with Michael Pezzetta and Joshua Roy, in what can only be described as a chaotic line with a healthy amount of potential. Coaches never expect the fourth line to dominate, but they’ll surely be looking for more from Roy and Mysak, who have shown flashes of brilliance in recent scrimmages combined with a lack of consistency.
The blue line against the Devils will epitomize the youth movement the Montreal Canadiens are hoping will yield great results in the near future.
Justin Barron will once again line up beside Mike Matheson, a pairing that’s likely to resurface on Oct.10 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it’s the second pairing that will garner the most attention.
Kaiden Guhle will play with Jordan Harris, creating a pairing that will showcase two of the most exciting defensive prospects in the system. Guhle has the inside track when it comes to earning a spot in the NHL lineup, but it’s only fair to say Harris has done everything he could to convince management that he’s ready to play for the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s also the first time the two will face a heightened level of competition, and their performances will be judged much more heavily, and harshly than in their previous outings.
The team won’t make cuts based solely on one game, but a solid performance against the Devils will go a long way in convincing Kent Hughes that players like Guhle and Slafkovsky are NHL-ready.