With the 2011 NHL season drawing ever nearer it seems that new storylines are springing up every day.
While we were crushed by the boring free agent off-season and the dreaded dog days of summer, it seems that the boredom is now lifting as we are tantalizingly close to being back into the full swing of hockey. So, in that spirit, here is a bit of a round-up of what is going on with the Montreal Canadiens right now.
The Rookies are pumped
The Canadiens opened their annual rookie training camp this past Monday, and the players are doing their best to impress. Players like P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty have come to camp with additional muscle on their frames and are eyeing roster spots on the big club.
While Subban seems all but a lock to make it with the Habs this year, Pacioretty’s situation is a little more clouded.
Hampered by late season injury last year, Pacioretty never really hit his stride in Hamilton. This year, while he is clearly looking to steal a roster spot out of camp, chances are that he will start the season in Hamilton. With a logjam of players throughout the top three lines for the Habs, Pacioretty will be hard-pressed to make room for himself.
There is always the possibility that he could dethrone either Benoit Pouliot—who also put on 12 pounds of muscle over the summer—or Andrei Kostitsyn, but I don’t see that happening after camp. In all likelihood, Jacques Martin will start the season with Pouliot and AK46 as part of his top-six forward group. If, however, either or both of them are not up to the challenge, a strong camp by Pacioretty could put him in line to take one of those two spots.
Fisticuffs at Camp
As you may have heard by now, Subban and young Ben Maxwell got into a tussle during a scrimmage yesterday. While some will make a big deal about this, I’m here to tell you that it means nothing.
Maxwell’s squad was on the losing end of a 7-1 drubbing, and he was displaying the intensity that he needs if he wants any chance of making the big club. The way it looks right now, and with Maxim Lapierre, Jeff Halpern, and Lars Eller all ahead of Maxwell in the depth charts, this looks like his last chance. Moreover, and barring a miraculously strong camp, Maxwell looks like he will be left on the outside looking in and could possibly become trade bait later in the season.
Aaron Palushaj is looking strong
After scoring four goals in yesterday’s intersquad scrimmage, Palushaj looks to try and deliver on the promise that he once demonstrated in the St. Louis system.
Palushaj was considered—as recently as 18 months ago—to be one of the top prospects in a deep St. Louis Blues system. The fact that he was traded for Matt D’Agostini last season shows that he had fallen out of favour in St. Louis. But keep in mind that Palushaj–second round pick, 44th overall, in the 2007 Draft–has the ability to be an effective top-six player. Whether he can turn things around in Montreal remains to be seen but a year or so in Hamilton should help show what he is truly made of.
Gionta’s the new Habs captain
According to published reports in La Presse, Brian Gionta is the next captain of the Canadiens. While neither Gionta nor the Habs have confirmed nor denied the story, all signs point to the fact that this is a fait accompli, and that he will be officially named captain before training camp starts.
With the players hitting the links today for their annual pre-training camp golf tournament, Gionta is sure to be swarmed by the media. But, if there is one thing we learned during last year’s playoff run, it is that Gio does not get intimidated by the media and is adept at remaining tight lipped.
As for Gionta as the Habs captain, I personally feel that he is the best choice among a sea of good choices. He is calm, cool and collected with the media off of the ice, and is a fiery competitor on it.
Gionta has a Stanley Cup ring and cut his teeth in the perennial winning system that is the New Jersey Devils. Not to mention that he never takes a shift off, works harder than anyone on the ice, is well respected by his peers and the media, and brings a winners attitude to the team. If he is the standard that all others must hold themselves too, then the Canadiens organization is headed in the right direction.