Four to Watch at Habs’ Development Camp

The last few days of the NHL offseason have been all about the free agent frenzy. With the NHL draft behind us and players changing cities, signing mega-deals, and teams remaking their rosters, there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to NHL prospects. That, however, is about to change in the city of Montreal.

Tomorrow morning the Montreal Canadiens open their annual player development camp, kicking off a two-month push towards the new NHL season. The Habs’ Brossard-based practice facility will be filled with bright-eyed, bushy tailed NHL hopefuls who will be learning a little more about what it takes to become an NHL player.

While there will be a ton of talent on the ice, there are four players in particular that should stand out and not just because of their skills. Jarred Tinordi, Lars Eller, Aaron Palushaj, and Alexander Avtsin are all big kids—the shortest being 6’0″ and the tallest 6’6″—with tons of talent to boot.

These four prospects represent a step in a new direction for a franchise that has been undersized for far too long. So let’s take a look:

Jarred Tinordi – Drafted first round, 22nd overall, 2010 NHL draft
Hockey’s Future Profile

During this year’s NHL entry draft, many people thought the Canadiens would make a big splash by trading for an impact roster player. This was not to be. What they did do, however, was trade up five spots to select hulking defensemen, Jarred Tinordi—a player who was highly coveted by many organizations picking in the twenties.

At 18 years of age Tinordi already stands at 6’6″ and 205 lbs, with a projected NHL playing weight of around 240 lbs. In addition to his size, this stay-at-home defenseman plays an aggressive in your face brand of hockey, possesses a good skating stride, and great first pass. As if that weren’t enough, Tinordi has leadership skills up the ying-yang, and has future captain written all over him.

If you’re looking for a comparison, he is something of a Mike Komisarek-plus. Bigger, stronger and a better skater than Komisarek, it will be a treat to watch this kid develop into the top-4 defenseman that he is projected to become.

Lars Eller – Drafted first round, 13th overall, 2007 NHL Draft
Hockey’s Future Profile

Lars Eller represents a different kind of prospect altogether, than Tinordi, and more because of how he got here than his skill-set. Being the lynchpin in the trade that sent Jaroslav Halak to the Blues, Eller is sure to attract a lot of attention come training camp.

At 6’0″ and 198 lbs, Eller is projected to be a second line center in the NHL. In addition, his stature will provide the Canadiens with an element of skilled-size down the middle that they have not had since Kirk Muller was wearing a Habs uniform.

Described as a natural playmaker, Eller displays great on-ice vision and has a knack for finding the open man. Eller is pretty solid at both ends of the ice—which should make Jacques Martin happy—but, like most young players, could use some more work on his game without the puck.

Of all the prospects at camp, Eller is the one that people will be watching the closest because if he does not pan out as projected, the Halak trade will end up looking like a bust.

Aaron Palushaj – Drafted second round, 44th overall, 2007 NHL Draft
Hockey’s Future Profile

Aaron Palushaj is an interesting prospect for the Canadiens because he was at one time very highly regarded in the St. Louis Blues organization. Palushaj’s development hit a snag over the last 12 months and he started to fall out of favor in St. Louis. As a result, he was his traded to Montreal, last season, for Matt D’Agostini.

Checking in at 6’0″ and 185 lbs, Palushaj is projected to be a top-6, goal scoring winger who is not afraid to play with a physical edge. Palushaj is not that dissimilar to Max Paccoriety expect that Paccoriety is more of a pure power forward, where physicality is a much smaller element of Palushaj’s game. At 21 years of age, Palushaj seems destined to start the year in Hamilton.

Can he continue to develop and become a top-6 winger? Will he continue to fall and become a third or fourth liner? No one knows, but this development camp will go a long way towards determining Palushaj’s future in the Canadiens organization.

Alexander Avtsin – Drafted fourth round, 109th overall, 2009 NHL draft
Hockey’s Future Profile

At 6’2″ and 198 lbs, Avtsin is the type of big scoring winger that the Habs have coveted for years and out of all of the prospects at camp, perhaps none has as high a ceiling as he does. Look him up on the Internet and you will see that Avtsin is a human highlight reel. Displaying quick skating and soft hands, he attacks defenders at speed, cutting to the net to finish with a rifling wrist-shot in a style that has some calling him him “mini-Ovechkin”.

Avtsin’s combination of size, speed, and skill make him the ideally suited for success in the NHL, but he remains a project as he has not yet played a lot of hockey against high-level competition. While he has the raw talent to be a top-six forward, he needs seasoning in the North American game.

Fortunately for Habs fans, Avtsin just opted out of his contract with Moscow Dynamo and is sticking to his commitment to come to North America this season. This is great news for an organization that has had a ton of problems getting Russian prospects to come overseas—See Alexi Emelin and Pavel Valentenko for exhibit A and B.

Making the Habs out of camp is a long shot, but Avtsin has options with the Montreal Juniors hold his junior rights and the Hamilton Bulldogs warming up a spot for him. A season or two of aggressive North American-style hockey is exactly what Avtsin needs in order to learn how to use his size to his advantage. Tomorrow’s development camp is a first step in that direction for him.

Whatever becomes of these four prospects, the Canadiens look like they are starting to restock the cupboards that were starting to look a little bare. Given the cap constraints that the Canadiens face going forward, an injection of young, skilled, and inexpensive talent should help the them remain competitive for years to come.



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