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Canadiens Rookie Camp Holds Value For Development Team



Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens are preparing to head to Buffalo to once again take part in the 2023 Prospect Challenge, a continuation of their rookie camp, which officially got underway on Wednesday in Brossard.

This is far from their first rodeo.

Montreal has sent a team to various tournaments throughout the years, including the 2003 tournament which took place in Ottawa.

At the time, it was far from a popular event, but some friends and I decided to attend. We wanted to make some noise, so we decided to pick a random player on the list of invited prospects and cheer as loudly as possible whenever he had the puck, but not in a sarcastic manner. We wanted them to do well.

The player in question was called Scooter, though I genuinely forget his family name. Upon further research (20 years later) I believe the player in question was Scooter Smith, who unfortunately missed his shootout attempt toward the end of the game, though it came with a significant amount of fanfare from our cheering section.

Bob Gainey was also present and decided to distract him with a useless question just moments before a Canadiens prospect scored the team’s first and only goal in the tournament at that point.

He was not impressed.

So, why am I reminiscing about old hockey stories like your 50-year-old uncle who hurt his knee playing Junior A and thinks he was robbed of a chance to win the Stanley Cup?

Because the only two people I can remember from the entire event were Gainey and our buddy Scooter.

In otherwords, the roster the Montreal Canadiens brought to Ottawa was entirely forgettable due to a lack of talent. There’s a possibility heavy hitters such as Jonathan Ferland and Josef Balej were present, but they did not stand out as legitimate NHL talent.

Rookie Camp Evolution

Gainey eventually pulled the Canadiens from rookie events, citing a lack of developmental value.

He was right. The tournaments were full of players looking to make a name for themselves by engaging in useless fights, and the Canadiens rosters did not feature any goons.

Fast forward 20 years and the Montreal Canadiens are once again facing the Ottawa Senators at a rookie tournament.

But this time around, the roster is a little different.

Defenceman Kaiden Guhle is patrolling the blue line alongside Justin Barron, Jordan Harris, and a little-known player called Arber Xhekaj. More on him later.

Players such as first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky, QMJHL-leading scorer Joshua Roy, first-round pick Filip Mesar, Riley Kidney, and Emil Heineman are also in the lineup, not to mention a certain player named Owen Beck.

Beck used the tournament to stand out as a dominant presence, quickly going from a recent draft choice with a healthy amount of untapped potential to one of the top prospects in the organization. He leveraged his strong performance into an extended look at the team’s main training camp, earning an early entry-level contract as a reward from Montreal Canadiens management.

As for Xhekaj, he started the tournament by using the old-fashioned tactic of beating the ever-living crap out of one of his opponents, but more importantly, he established that he wasn’t just another goon looking for a one-year deal.

He was playing very well, driving the offence from the blue line and driving the Senators up a wall by playing a stalwart brand of defence.

He was a man among boys on the ice, something that Kent Hughes and Co. quickly noticed.

Brass Tacks

The Canadiens invited 27 players to their rookie camp, eight of whom stand out as players worth watching closely, whether you’re a fan or part of management.

Unlike last year, there’s very little chance that half the blueline at the tournament will end up in the NHL, but there are still plenty of opportunities to be had.

David Reinbacher will set a first impression by playing a game in North America for the first since he was drafted by the Habs. Logan Mailloux will attempt to follow the path set by the four defencemen who took part in the tournament in 2022, which will be a difficult task. But even if he doesn’t make the NHL roster on his first go, he’s still allowing Laval Rocket head coach Jean-Francois Houle to get a sneak peek at what he can bring to the table. Filip Mesar and Emil Heineman will be jostling for position when discussing potential call-ups from the AHL.

There’s also an outside chance Heineman will once again impress, just like he did last year, which could even lead to an extended NHL audition. For those interested, we’re going to discuss the aforementioned players in-depth, with standalone articles, but the point remains that the various rookie tournaments around the league have evolved from a complete goon show into a legitimate opportunity for young players.

And seeing as the Montreal Canadiens are in the business of developing talent and accumulating draft picks, it’s the perfect chance to evaluate what the numerous prospects on the team are ready to offer to the organization

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