Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Canadiens Prospects and Newcomers

A few days ago, I compiled a bit of a list for you all of the players that we may never see again. From Yannick Lehoux to Alex Monahan, there will always be players who don't make the final step in their decades-long journey to the NHL. Of course, there's sympathy, but they must be proud to have even made it as far as they did and hopefully cherish the opportunity for even a single development camp if that's all they ever get.

Today, it's time for a change of gear. Time to focus on the players that the Canadiens do still have in the system. And, more interestingly, some that they have been adding.


Andreas Engqvist

By now you'll have all heard that the Canadiens have signed Andreas Engvist to a three-year deal starting this season. Reports of that are all over the web.

But unless you read Swedish, the most you can find out about this guys is that he is 6'0" tall, 200 lbs and scored a few SEL goals last year. There are videos highlighting his best moments (looking good), but we all know most players could put a highlight reel together.

I did a little more digging to come up with something extra for you all and this is what I found:

Apparently the Canadiens have been after signing Engqvist for a while now (along with other clubs), but he's happy to sign here



– And the best from a very clued- in fan who saw the events in person:
"Clearly, I am way too happy to see big centermen on the ice ’cause he also impressed the hell out of me. Clearly needs to work on his foot speed. Probably amongst the big guys, the one that needs to improve the most on his overall speed, first steps and agility. But he is big, loves to implicate himself physically, loves to sit in front of the net, has some nice hands and a nice shot. I really don’t see how we will not sign him to a contract. Either it’s this year or next year, Habs NEED to make some kind of arrangements to get him here. He has a nice potential. Great size, great strength upper and lower, so beside his speed, I really don’t see how you cannot like this kid. Out of the Swedish kids, I mean today it’s no contest Engqvist way ahead of Johansson."


Development camp suite

If you are a masochist and like to watch skating drills that will tell you very little about how a player will react on the NHL ice in 5 years time, there's plenty to see on youtube. But if, like me you'd prefer not to listen to the man on the handycam, then I found a nice snippet from the CFCF evening news that's still available on their website. It doesn't give the all encompassing view that you'd have got going to the game in person, but it does give a glimpse of PK Subban in flight, some of Mac Bennett (though not enough to understand what they were on about) and Avtsyn.

The best summary I found was not from the mainstream media (though that CFCF report was a great recap), but from a fan. His whole piece of commentary can be found in English on Matthias Brunet's blog in the comments section (posted by stanley 25 at 09h51). That'll be for the most crazed among you – and I know you're out there.


Dany Masse

Dany Masse was the first free agent to get the ball rolling this year for Bob Gainey. Signed on the very eve of this season's playoffs, it was good to see Gainey scoop up a player that would have surely been given a shot somewhere else.

Looking at Dany Masse's statistics could be a bit deceiving, because although he did score 110 points with 40-odd goals in the QMJHL this year, he was a man among boys – something the 5'10" player may never e again.

But his signing was worthwhile for other reasons. For one thing, he was part of a championship team, which is always a good thing. And not just any championship team, but the team that turned last place into first with a 37-point turnaround. The lessons from that experience are surely valuable ones. For another thing, he was coached by Guy Boucher (new coach of the Bulldogs). As Dany was signed first, it may be that he already did all he needed to do with the Habs already by adding just that little extra incentive for the top junior coaching prospect in all of Canada to choose the Habs. Guy Boucher must like Masse, because, as Dany states in this interview before deciding whether to keep up with the QMJHL:
"He changed my mind," smiled Masse, who spent two seasons with the Titan scoring 55 goals and adding 80 assists in 139 regular season games. "I decided to go right away. I think it is the best decision I've ever made."

As a player, Dany is surely a big gamble. He was on the radar for NHL scouts as many as 3 years ago, but has gone undrafted in each subsequent draft. While his breakout season may be a turning point, it may simply be the exception to the rule. But as there is no harm (for the Canadiens big club, anyway) in giving this young man a chance, then I think it is certainly worth the gamble. Odds are he'll go the way of Thomas Beauregard, but if he's about to take off, then I'm glad we have his rights.


Mikael Johansson


The original Swedish free agent signing. This one happened back in May when we were all still licking our open wounds.

In many ways, he's probably the more interesting of the two new Swedes. Where Engqvist is bigger, based on the reports and the statistics he's not a top-line talent to get excited about. Johansson is the more skilled.

Mikael was also drafted – drafted by the Detroit Red Wings (which must mean something). Sure, he wasn't signed by them, but the line is that he hadn't progressed by the time contracts were being handed out. The difference now is that he has had his jump in form. Last season was the marked improvement where he doubled his goals and his points totals to find a place on scoring leaders. This season his goal totals suffered, but he was still posted the 12th most assists leaguewide (even though 28 doesn't look much).

Importantly, Johansson was also member of a championship team, as the team went through a 55-game schedule with 30 wins, 8 losses (3 in OT) and 17 ties. A most impressive season and massive improvement on the previous year.

According to his teammate on the Swedish champions Farjestad, he is skilled to the utmost degree. Fast skater, incredible hands and a catalogue of moves (you can hear all about Mikael about 2/3 of the way into this interview from SRC radio fromt he spring). According to our favourite fan at the camp, Johansson is overhyped. Apparently he looked pretty average in the scrimmage. While it may well be the case, one has to think that the Canadiens were still right to take a chance on a guy who could make the leap that Brunnstrom did last season (a player who may be labelled a bust by some, but who was probably a clip above Latendresse in scoring this season even as a rookie).


Mathieu Darche

The veritable old man in this piece, I wanted to give a nod to Mathieu Darche, my fellow Redman.

The Canadiens signed Mathieu on July 2nd, before they even put pen to paper with any of their own RFAs. In what may well be an AHL only signing, I think the Canadiens have picked up a nice piece here. And, if injuries do happen and you stare down the left wing depth chart and start to realise there isn't one, then it will be a relief to have Darche in the pocket for a call-up. After all, he has played over 100 NHL games, with one 73-game season 2 years ago. The timing of the move shows me Gainey was targeting Darche and was worried that other teams might also be interested.

I wouldn't look for him to be the star of the training camp in the fall. But the quietly effective player will be sure to keep some of the other aspiring Habs honest and at their best.


Gabriel Girard

As a final note, I wanted to mention Gabriel Girard one more time. I really think the Canadiens have a big problem in the goaltending depth column at the moment, particularly if Halak starts to make a fuss about getting traded. Nobody wants to see Cedrick Desjardins too much and after him is like staring into the abyss.

Girard did not have the best development camp (well scrimmage), but has some pedigree. His stats in Shawinigan this year were very, very impressive and he did outstanding work to press Drummondville to the very last (no small feat this year).

I hope that the next new signing I read about will be his...

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