Prior to the club’s final preseason game on Thursday night, the Canadiens cut eight players from their training camp, to whittle their roster down to 27 players. Four of those players are injured veterans, in defensemen Davis Drewiske (shoulder, out for 2-4 weeks), Douglas Murray (lower body, considered day to day) and Alexei Emelin (knee, out until December most likely) and forward, George Parros (shoulder, day to day). The busy Montreal infirmary means good news for rookies Jarred Tinordi and Michael Bournival, as both have made the Canadiens for their first game of the season, next Tuesday night in Montreal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Throughout the Canadiens’ preseason, the 6’6 foot American defenseman, Tinordi demonstrated glimpses of the commanding presence that the Habs have long envisioned, since selecting him in the first round of the 2010 draft. Tinordi logged an average of 16 minutes a night in the team’s six preseason games, and contributed in all aspects of the game. Those that watched each preseason game noted Tinordi’s overall calmness with and without the puck, and throughout 5 on 5 and penalty kill situations. Tinordi also recorded three assists in those games. In spite of the Habs having upwards of eight veterans signed to play defense at the NHL level this season, earlier during the team’s training camp, general manager Marc Bergevin said the team would make space for the young players that played their way onto the team. By all accounts, Jarred Tinordi did that during this training camp. With Douglas Murray set to return to the lineup sometime in the next week, it will be interesting to see how coach Michel Therrien will use Tinordi in the early days of the season. Most feel that he will likely start the first game of the season, paired with Francis Bouillon (Andrei Markov will pair with Rafael Diaz, while PK Subban will pair with Josh Gorges). Given Tinordi’s progression during this camp, and the strong play in his limited play in Montreal at the end of last season and in the playoffs, I think he should be given every opportunity to play and develop at the NHL level. Where that will leave Murray, and eventually Drewiske over the next few weeks will be of interest.
In regards to the offense, much of the Canadiens personnel was well established prior to the training camp, with one exception. Left winger Michael Bournival, who was acquired when the Canadiens sent Ryan O’Byrne to the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, had an impressive preseason. It was a tight competition between Bournival and Christian Thomas. In the end, it was the young Quebecois who got the nod. The speedy winger was tenacious in forecheck, and used his speed and work ethic to amass four goals in six preseason games. His efforts were good enough to get him onto the Canadiens roster leading into the first game, but where he fits in on the lineup card will be the question, given that many of the team’s lines appear set.
Brian Gionta has returned from a torn bicep sustained at the end of last season, and played in the Canadiens final preseason game against Ottawa. He will likely start the year with his usual linemates Tomas Plekanec and Rene Bourque. David Desharnais looked somewhat rejuvenated during the preseason playing alongside Max Pacioretty and new linemate Daniel Briere, and the trio will hope to emulate the success that Desharnais and Pacioretty had with Erik Cole playing on the right wing in 2012. The Canadiens’ most intriguing line is that of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Eller showed absolute flashes of brilliance last season, using his size and playmaking skills to full effect, taking over certain games. He finally started to show some signs of why he was so coveted during his 2007 draft year. Like most young players though, his biggest challenge this year will be to find consistency to his game. Galchenyuk and Gallagher teamed up as rookies last year to provide a big boost to the Canadiens morale and outlook after a disappointing 2012 season. Much of the Canadiens success this year will be dictated by how these young players continue to develop, and cope with the rigors of a full NHL season. I am certain there will be many road bumps along the way. If Bournival is to get minutes in the NHL in the next few weeks, the fourth line is likely where he will play, but even there, he will find stiff competition for a spot. Therrien may prefer to play veteran and versatile wingers Travis Moen and Brandon Prust ahead of the youngster. Ryan White will also be relied upon to provide some quality minutes throughout the season.
The Canadiens’ goaltending has also long been set. Carey Price will look to improve on his dwindling save percentage over the course of last season, and appears fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in Game 4 of the team’s playoff loss to Ottawa. This preseason, he posted a .910 save percentage in four appearances, and overall the opinion on his play from fans and media was mixed. It will be a big season for Price, as he hopes to make the Canadian Olympic team, and as he looks to finally earn the full trust of a surprisingly patient fanbase. Peter Budaj will return as his backup, and is a very reliable one at that. The Canadiens do finally have some depth beyond the NHL level in goal this season, with Dustin Tokarski and Robert Mayer playing in Hamilton. The future is also bright, as Zachary Fucale, the team’s second round pick in the 2013 draft, looks to build on a solid 2012/13 season with the Halifax Mooseheads, where he captured the Memorial Cup and is considered one of the top goaltenders in junior hockey at the moment.
There remains much question about where Bournival and Tinordi will figure into the Canadiens lineup in the coming week, but I believe that we will see this lineup against the Leafs for the opening game:
Tracking the development and how these youngsters will be treated will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the early NHL season for me, and much will be expected from them for the Canadiens to repeat the blistering pace the club set last season.
– Jaideep Kanungo, Hockeyland Canada