Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Notes from Camp (Part 1 of 2) - The Forwards

With the last of the preseason games now in the books, training camp now moves into its last phase before the regular season starts - the team building phase. Here are my thoughts on training camp so far in a two-part series starting with the forwards that for one reason or another made an impression:

Andrei Kostitsyn

Although neither a lover or hater of Andrei Kostitsyn, he seems to me to have an added maturity and more of a veteran presence. Maybe this was just a short-felt impression that I had which was accentuated by the fact that he was in fact surrounded by lots of kids in camp but I have a gut feeling that this will be a good year for #46.

This is a big year for Kostitsyn as he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. Although many believe that he’ll sulk on the third line if played there (as appears likely), I believe that you’ll see a completely different Andrei. Any of his negativity this year will not only translate badly for his reputation amongst Habs management but also amongst all 30 GMs in the league. Andrei has a very smart man as his agent in Don Meehan who I’m sure has advised his client that any misgivings that he may have with the Habs can be erased from his memory very easily by bearing his head down and playing hard which in turn will earn him a contract from any of the other teams in the league. In fact, if he plays so well, he then forces Pierre Gauthier to offer him a very rich contract in order to avoid going to free agency. In my opinion, Kostitsyn simply has too much raw skill and talent for it not to translate into a great year should he put forth the effort that I believe he will - just don’t expect him back next year.

Brendan Gallagher

Like everyone else, I was absolutely enthralled by young Brendan Gallagher this preseason. I’m also happy to say that although I was surprised by how well he competed I was not shocked. A close friend of mine had pointed him out to me early last year as Gallagher was ripping it up for the Giants. That being said, I’m very positive about the kid’s future and really believe that he will be a fun prospect to watch over the Christmas holidays when he plays for Canada at the World Juniors.

I will tell you what did shock me - the number of people (especially from the English media) calling for young Gallagher to stay on with the team. In all honesty, please explain to me what was so different about his camp from that of one young Guillaume Latendresse (other than the fact that Latendresse performed even better in his camp). This case is no different, the French media were wrong then and the English media is wrong now. Both kids were not ready for the leap to the big leagues at such a tender age just as Max Pacioretty wasn’t ready when he first made the team. These kids are good (no doubt) but they do need to get their seasoning in the AHL it bodes for a better NHL player down the line.

Louis Leblanc

Another interesting observation that occurred during preseason was something that I noticed on twitter. All of a sudden twitter was abuzz with how Louis Leblanc’s development had suffered a major setback due to his injury and how his career potential was at best a solid 3rd liner. Look, I’m not going to sit here and say that he’ll be a 1st or 2nd liner but at the same time I felt like it was undue criticism. I don’t like projections being made of a player people have yet to see perform at a NHL let alone AHL level. Everyone has the right to see what they want and they may eventually be right but the point is you at least allow someone to show you what they have. Being injured is not great for development but it also doesn’t mean that development is stalled forever.

Erik Cole

I’ve been very pleased with Erik Cole so far and as I discussed earlier during this off-season, I believe that he will be a very important key to helping this team take the next step forward. It’s not just the size but the tenacity for driving the net coupled with the speed that he has. I was a tad worried that with his age he may be starting to lose a step but on more than once occasion, Erik put the pedal to the metal and impressed me as he wheeled around and past a defenseman almost effortlessly.

Scott Gomez

It’s way too early to make any judgement on Gomez but I will say this, the guy looks like he cares and seems to be putting in the effort to show it. Really, at the end of the day, that’s all we can ask at this stage of his contract. Hopefully, he continues to show night in and night out that he cares and more importantly puts forth the actual on-ice effort to demonstrate that care in the eyes of all the Habs supporters. I’m cautiously optimistic on Scott Gomez.

Andreas Engqvist

I’m not sure if this is just a case of bad scouting but I simply don’t see where and how a projection was made on this kid being able to effectively center the 4th line. I was unimpressed with his performance during his brief call-up last year and although he apparently excelled in a defensive role in the AHL under the tutelage of Randy Cunneyworth, I find it very hard to understand that these coaches don’t realize the massive disparity between the NHL and AHL. In fact, I’m quite sure that they are more than well aware of it considering their experience. So what’s the deal? And to top it off, Andreas put forth a disappointing effort during training camp. I hope we all get to see what it is that management sees in this kid because at this point, not only do I not see it but I’m actually worried that this might very well be the team’s Achilles’ heel.

And with that, I conclude the first part of two blog posts outlining my feelings on training camp. Next post will tackle the defense.

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