MONTREAL — With just five preseason games left on the docket, the Montreal Canadiens roster is starting to take shape.
Nate Schnarr was placed on waiver Saturday afternoon, leaving a total of 44 players at camp, many of whom are at risk of being among the next wave of cuts, which could take place following back-to-back games on Oct.3 and Oct.4,
However, it’s important to note at this stage of training camp, not all cuts are made equally.
The Laval Rocket open their training camp on Oct.2, which means players such as Anthony Richard, Xavier Simoneau, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard are likely to be on their way to the minors, seeing as they’ll play a crucial role this season for the Canadiens AHL affiliate.
All three players have enjoyed a very solid training camp, placing them high among the list of potential call-ups this season.
Mitchell Stephens is also likely to be AHL bound this season, joining Schnarr as a dependable forward that will play an important leadership role for head coach Jean-Francois Houle.
Struggling to be noticed
There’s a group of players at training camp that are in a particularly difficult situation due to their age and lack of standout performances at training camp.
At 25 years old, Otto Leskinen is almost out of developmental runway. Unfortunately for Leskinen, he’s part of the group of defencemen that were poorly handled under the former regime, and though Kent Hughes did grant him a one-year contract, he’s likely to spend the bulk of his season in Laval. If he stands out as one of the best players in the AHL, he does have an opportunity to crack the NHL roster, but time is running out.
The same can’t be said for Mattias Norlinder, who is entering the second year of his entry-level contract. But there is no doubt a significant amount of pressure on the 22-year-old, given his inability to find consistent gear throughout training camp. Norlinder has all the tools to become an impact player in the NHL, but he’s yet to show management he can use all those tools in unison without compromising his defensive responsibilities.
Jesse Ylonen, on the other hand, has proven he has what it takes to be an outstanding player in the AHL, mainly due to his NHL-calibre shot, but he’s at the point in his hockey career where a significant uptick in play is expected, especially since he turns 23 on Oct.3, and is on the last year of his entry-level contract.
If the trio of European prospects are assigned to Laval, don’t be surprised if Cayden Primeau joins them. Primeau has struggled at training camp, full stop. He’s just 23 years old, which is relatively young for a goaltender, and he is coming off an excellent performance in the Calder Cup playoffs, but he’s yet to improve significantly on some of his weaknesses, such as questionable lateral movement.
With goaltending prospects like Jacob Dobes and Frederik Dichow quickly approaching in the rearview mirror, the pressure is on for Primeau to show he still has what it takes to become a reliable NHL goaltender.
Time To Shine
18-year-old Owen Beck has quickly climbed the organizational prospect rankings thanks to his excellent showing at camp, and though he’s arguably among the Montreal Canadiens who are showing the best form on the ice, he’s destined to be returned to the OHL to continue his strong play with the Mississauga Steelheads.
It’s unclear how long the Habs will keep him on the roster as a reward for his strong play, but his return to the CHL should not be considered a punishment.
As for the other 18-year-old forward garnering attention at camp, Juraj Slafkovsky, don’t expect him to be reassigned to the AHL just yet, but the possibility is quickly gaining traction.
If Slafkovsky finds himself among the next list of players cut at camp, his demotion should not be considered shocking, but rather, an honest and sober evaluation of where the first-overall pick currently finds himself in terms of development, and where he needs to be by the time he’s ready to play in the NHL.