Monday, December 08, 2008

Tonic Youth

The Habs Youth Movement: The Repeaters

Yesterday, we had a look at the graduates form the Habs youth movement, those that have found success and tenure on the team. Today, as promised, I will look at the other members of the youth club, the ones that will have to wait for another day to graduate, to clinch a roster place, to fashion a place for themselves in the minds of coaches, teammates and fans.

There's no shame in repeating. Not when you are a rookie. It's the norm, the expected. Even the graduates above were repeaters once. Here they are, the remaining second/third years:

The Repeaters

Sergei Kostitsyn – Sergei was the final piece of the youth movement. We have spoken about the SK74 era before, on a few occasions. His addition to the team was a renewed commitment to youth, to Andrei Kostitsyn and to 6/7 defenders and not 8. As last year went, it was a defining moment.

Despite Sergei's affiliation with this date, the player himself was more peripheral to the renaissance than central. He played well for a rookie, but he did not threaten for any trophies. He found a place on the lower lines, but did not lay stake to Koivu's wing on a permanent basis. His playoffs were good again, but he like everyone else left us wanting when we needed goals in Philly.

Still, the 21 year-old with 75 regular season games and 87 games all told is green. He hasn't even been in Montreal a year. He's a young young sophomore, and we could call him rookie and be forgiven. As such, it is natural that he is a repeater. After all, you need to be pretty special as to make the jump in a year.

Where does the delay come from? Simple really, time. Sergei needs more time. With time (and even some of the generous patience doled out to his older brother), he should be an NHLer. Tantrums or not, I don't think there's any doubt about this issue.

Guillaume Latendresse – Young in years, old in experience. Guillaume is the second-youngest Hab, but has seen more action than anyone we've mentioned so far with 173 games.

After a successful jump to the league in 2006 (at 19), he followed up with much the same in 2007. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but on the Habs thing are on the up. good youngsters are coming through, and roster places must be earned with effort and performance.

Coming into this season, Guillaume knew that. It looked like he had worked out how to get more form his game, how to be a contributor, not a passenger. 20 games into the year and Gui is benched and we are left wondering what all the optimism was about in September.

Where does the delay come from? It pains to admit it, but I think Guillaume has a talent deficit. Oh, he works hard and could be a proficient NHLer if he were left to learn the ropes of defence. But isn't he meant to be a goalscorer? I mean not in the way that Kovalev is (i.e., still affecting games when he doesn't score). isn't goalscoring Guillaume's reason for being here? And if the goalscoring isn't there, then why is he?

I say a talent deficit because, he is deficient in areas of skating, awareness and playmaking right now and he is not making up for it by being an average scorer.

Guillaume knew coming into this year, as we all did, that the Canadiens don't need a 16 goalscorer who can't do much else (ask Ryder). Guillaume knew as we did that the way out of this was: a) to become a 24 goalscorer or b) to become a better all-rounder. Frankly, plan B was always a long shot there are better all-rounders throughout the ranks. He has to score more somehow. When you are shooting 8%, and not bringing to mind any memories of Vezina worthy saves, you'd better be taking more than 25 shots Guillaume. I think he would like to. I think he's finding shooting opportunities as hard to come by as the smooth skating stride.

Where can we go with Guillaume from here? Personally, I see two routes:

1) Commit to him as a scorer, put him back on a scoring line and be patient with him for the next 40 games. see where it leads.

2) Trade him while he still has some value on the market.

If you asked me at the beginning of the year, my answer was Route 1. Given that it's only been 20 games for him, with little patience, I would like to extend him for another 20. But I am a heck of a lot closer to Route 2 than I ever have been in the past.

Kyle Chipchura – Forgotten man. Recently made captain in Hamilton. You know what? He is also excelling in Hamilton at the moment.

A lot was expected from Chipchura the rookie last season and he delivered on most counts. UNfortunately for Kyle, his demotion coincided with the ascension of the Kostitsyns and the Canadiens through the standings. he was never the cause of their lethargy, nor would he have been able to cause a turnaround, but he was a solid Canadien last season. He is now a repeater, as his second chance is still in the offing.

Where does the delay come from? Gainey. As Price has benefited from decisions, Kyle has suffered. Last off-season, Gainey signed Smolinski and Kostopoulos. This off-season he signed Lang and Laraque. Both sets ultimately cost Kyle his place on the team. Combine that with Carbonneau's folly of Dandenault in the lineup at all costs and the young forward has nowhere to go.

All this, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. Kyle is clearly becoming a seasoned player down on the farm. The Bulldogs are winning, scoring and Kyle is the leader of the show. He is scoring and playing +15 hockey. It's excellent for Habs fans. he should be able to jump right in at any point we need him now. It appears that this will be next season.

Ryan O'Byrne – O'Boy. Ryan started with such promise. But then we were all surprised when he showed himself to be a rookie.

To be honest, considering his errors all come before the 80-game mark of his young career, I can't be too concerned. Defence in this league is hard work, and time is what everyone needs to make it. Repeating a year is par for the course among defenders. Heck, repeating only one year would be under-par.

Where does the delay come from? Time. This question for Ryan is a bit of a misnomer, in that his development hasn't really been delayed, but is on track, considering. There is some question whether the coaches wish to be patient with Ryan this year in particular, but apart from that there's no need to panic. I would hope that if they decide to keep him around they will tutor him, and if they decide not to, that they will make him deputy to Kyle Chipchura on the farm

I have to be fair. I hate Ryan's mistakes, but when he plays soundly, I like his style. He seems to base his game on positioning (what better basis?) and minimises exposure to foot races, puck-handling and complicated play. I think the team should stick it out with Ryan this year, as I feel he might be playoff ready if they do...

Jaroslav Halak – Can't win, can he? There is nothing Jaroslav can, could, or ever will be able to do to topple Carey Price.

Jaroslav has already manned one last ditch playoff drive (all pressure games), performed well in two training camps and put up statistics each time out that would make GMs turn heads. This year (in what some might think is a bad year for him given Price's 234 consecutive starts), he has good, bordering on great, numbers again. Yet here he sits, waiting for a graduation at some point in the future.

Where does the delay come from? Timing. Simple as that. Jaroslav's parents were too slow in conceiving. Gainey was too slow in trading Theodore. Aebischer didn't crumble soon enough. TIt was the wrong year to leave the Bulldogs for the playoffs. And Carey Price comes along.

Halak is probably just too close in age to Carey Price. He will never be the starter in Montreal, because Carey has been anointed and so long as he is good/great himself, then Jaro backs up. If Jaro plays better, no matter. the only way in is Carey's fall or injury. Neither of which any sane Habs fan would wish for. No, if he is going to be an NHL starter (and he is good enough to be one), it will be elsewhere. Personally, I can only hope it won't be in Toronto, Boston or Philly and preferably somewhere far, far away.

Youth moving forward

It's astonishing having taken stock of the second and third years how many youngsters the Habs have in the squad. It's exciting that there are successes and exciting that some look like successes for the future. Equally great is the lineup waiting to be on this list next year and future rookies.

It's easy to forget how young the players are, but it's worth reminding ourselves once in a while when we go off on one about Sergei or Guillaume. The more we as fans are willing to let these guys learn, the more they inevitably will learn. And in a league where trading has dried up completely, patience and mentoring of young prospects like these nine is the way forward.

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