The strong performances of certain Montreal Canadiens prospects at camp could put other prospects in danger of falling down the depth chart.
There have been many positive surprises since the opening of rookie camp for the Montreal Canadiens, with a handful of prospects rising out above the bunch with impressive performances since the Prospect Challenge in Buffalo.
Players like Owen Beck, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj and Filip Mesar have quickly risen up and taken hold of the spotlight with their strong play. Each of them has wowed both fans and management; showing aspects of their game that had either never been put on display or improved drastically.
However, when new prospects come in or existing prospects take the next step in their development, it always comes with the restructuring of an organization’s depth chart. With the positive performances of the prospects listed above, other prospects are going to start to feel the pressure to keep up, or risk getting lost in the fold:
Mattias Norlinder, a player who has been highly touted overseas for the last couple of years, has seemingly moved away from the things that made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place. When playing for Modo or Frolunda in Sweden, Norlinder was confident with the puck and routinely took it upon himself to execute the defensive zone exit and offensive zone entries.
During this camp, he seems more nervous with the puck and isn’t utilizing his skating like he once did to evade coverage. Instead of finding an open man in the neutral zone; he’s simply backhanding it off the boards to relieve pressure; a habit that often results in a quick counterattack from the opposition.
If Norlinder doesn’t want to get lost in the shuffle behind the likes of Guhle and Harris, he will have to get back to basics.
Ylönen hasn’t been bad in this training camp, but he hasn’t necessarily stood out. Ylönen is the perfect complementary player for a responsible and offensive line; which makes his game a little more subtle and a little less flashy than his counterparts at camp.
With Juraj Slafkovsky being tried at right wing and Emil Heineman impressing, Ylönen needs to turn it up a notch to not lose his spot in the pecking order and get leapfrogged for an eventual roster spot. Ylönen’s calling card is his speed and his heavy shooting arsenal; which we haven’t seen much of so far in this training camp.
Now entering his third year in North America and having tasted NHL action before, Ylönen must seize the opportunity during the next preseason game to show management that he deserves to be in the running for a roster spot.
The issues surrounding Riley Kidney’s game are much more glaring when it comes to playing pro-level hockey, as he doesn’t yet have the speed and physical strength to keep up against the stronger and faster competition. That is a completely normal process for a talented centre that isn’t physically mature; but the same can also be said of Owen Beck and Filip Mesar, who are both under 6 feet and under 185lbs.
Kidney’s playmaking ability and vision are very close to being pro-ready, but his body needs to catch up to his talent for him to be optimal at the next level. In a similar situation to that of Nick Suzuki when first acquired by the Montreal Canadiens in 2018, Kidney will have to go back to junior and put some serious work in gaining muscle mass in the gym and improving his speed on the ice to reach another gear.
Unlike Norlinder or Ylönen, there’s lots of time for Kidney to figure it all out; but, what was once a very thin position at centre has quickly become a hotly competitive one moving forward. Kidney must be conscious of that and do his best to leave a positive mark if he’s called on to play some preseason games before heading back to the Titans.
Going from most glaring to least, Justin Barron isn’t necessarily in danger of falling out of favour, but he is being outplayed for that last spot on the right side of Montreal’s defence as of now. Jordan Harris has been visibly better than Barron, and this while playing his offside as a left-handed defenceman, meaning that Barron will have to pick up the pace and play with more assertion in his game.
Playing next to Mike Matheson, the Montreal Canadiens’ likely No.1 defenceman for this season, Barron has shown flashes of brilliance, but also some glaring defensive oversights that have led to some dangerous chances against. In Barron’s case, it’s about getting back into the flow of things and ensuring he continues to play to his strengths.
Barron hasn’t been very physical or decisive enough in the defensive zone, often getting beat by his man and chasing him around the zone. When the puck is on his stick, he hesitates or tries to get too cute with the puck, which results in a few turnovers.
The good news with Barron is that the flashes of brilliance are there, as he’s very effective in the offensive zone at maintaining pressure and moving the puck along in optimal fashion. He’s also been good at gaining the opposition’s zone and acting as the fourth forward in odd-man situations. Shoring up his decision-making and being more assertive in the defensive zone will help him keep his spot in the Canadiens’ pecking order this season.