Training camp is just one week old and multiple intriguing storylines have already emerged as the Montreal Canadiens continue preparing for their 2022-23 season opener on Oct. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre.
For Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, Martin St. Louis, and the new management team, this year is less about results and more about progress, development, and experimenting. It’s about laying the foundation for a championship team and finding the right pieces that fit into that equation. Here’s what’s catching everyone’s attention in and around Montreal these days.
Stiff Competition on Defence
There are spots up for grabs on the Habs’ blue line for the team’s prospects, especially with Joel Edmundson sidelined due to injury, and the battle for those jobs is going to be fierce right up until the final cuts.
Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris appear to have the early edge, but there’s still time for evaluation and determining what’s best for each player. Justin Barron, Corey Schueneman, and Arber Xhekaj have also performed well and had their share of shining moments. All five bring something different to the table and are pushing hard to make the opening night roster.
There’s also a strong possibility that Hughes brings another defenceman into the fold at some point to provide some veteran support for his youth on the backend, an addition that will only increase the competition. Mike Matheson and David Savard have played the role of big brother more than admirably so far and their presence has helped ease the transition for their young teammates.
The Owen Beck Show
Speaking of prospects, while much of the spotlight going into training camp was being shone on no. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky, it’s Owen Beck, the Canadiens’ second-round selection this summer, who has been stealing the show.
The 18-year-old centre has put his complete game and high hockey IQ on full display since the start of rookie camp. In his first preseason game against the New Jersey Devils on Monday, he played on the top line alongside Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman. He had 17:22 of time on ice in his NHL debut, won 10 of 17 faceoffs, and generated a few scoring chances, including a shot that hit the post off a strong rush into the offensive zone. He’s making things happen and is noticeable in a good way during every shift.
“He plays a very mature game,” said St. Louis. “Doesn’t play like an 18-year-old. He was in tonight with Cole and Hoff, with Suzy (Suzuki) being hurt right now. It’s an opportunity for him, and he took advantage of it.”
While the expectation is that Beck will be returned to his junior team, the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), don’t be surprised if he leaves Montreal with a well-earned entry-level contract.
Some New Combinations Are Clicking
Several new line combinations and forward duos that St. Louis is testing are developing some solid chemistry.
The trio of Christian Dvorak, Evgenii Dadonov, and Brendan Gallagher has looked particularly good. The three players complement each other well with Dadonov, the newcomer, showing some impressive skills, awareness, and creativity. At this rate, they will likely start the regular season together.
Kirby Dach and Rem Pitlick have also been quick to find one another on the ice with ease, giving the impression that they are longtime linemates. Once injured players like Suzuki, Josh Anderson, and Sean Monahan return to full health at some point over the next few weeks, Habs fans will get a better idea of what the head coach has in store for his revamped forward group.
From a more general perspective, beyond the depth of the Canadiens’ prospect pool being evident, this training camp feels like the dawn of a new era. There’s more intensity and talent present than in years past. Just as Hughes promised Dach after acquiring him at the draft, the coaching staff is emphasizing a quick transition game that encourages more offence and the players are aggressive in all three zones. Plus, the defencemen are mobile carrying the puck and making decisive first passes out of the defensive end.
It’s a refreshing change of approach that will continue into the regular season and beyond as the Habs begin the rebuilding process. Not to mention that more changes and important decisions are coming over the next two weeks before the puck officially drops to begin the 2022-23 campaign.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.