The 5 Biggest Surprises at Montreal Canadiens 2013-14 Training Camp So Far
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With the 2013-14 regular season set to begin October 1, the Montreal Canadiens training camp is quickly winding down almost as fast as it began. In spite of the speedy turnaround, there still was no shortage of surprises to be had by Habs fans.
Injuries, earlier-than-expected cuts and unexplainable roster decisions in general…take your pick. Here are the five biggest surprises so far from the Habs’ ongoing 2013-14 training camp:
5. Daniel Briere Being Played on the First Line
Daniel Briere was the team’s prized free-agent acquisition this past summer, and admittedly, it's to be expected that he would be showcased to a certain extent. However, considering the success Brendan Gallagher had playing with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, it was at least a slight surprise that head coach Michel Therrien started off camp with Briere in his spot.
All Gallagher did was get nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy, outplaying the highly touted Alex Galchenyuk in the process. Nevertheless, Gallagher has been—at least temporarily—“demoted” to playing alongside Galchenyuk and Lars Eller on the Habs unofficial third line.
Of course, lines set during the preseason usually have about as much staying power as Mike Sillinger on any given team. However, with Brian Gionta entering camp injured, it just made more sense for Briere to temporarily take his spot on the second line and leave the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher trio to their own devices.
Brian Gionta, though, might have had other ideas...
4. Brian Gionta’s Speedier-Than-Expected Return
Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta.
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After he ended his second straight season on the shelf with a biceps injury, there was great mystery surrounding just how much captain Brian Gionta would be able to contribute this season.
While the answer to that question is still very much up in the air, the prognosis regarding his injury is very good. Gionta was reportedly expected to miss the start of the season following biceps tendon surgery this past spring according to NBC Sports. Now he is reportedly hoping to play in the Habs' Thursday night preseason game against the Ottawa Senators, according to TSN.
Should Gionta indeed be able to start the season, it would theoretically give the Habs three dangerous lines. However, this is one of those bad news/good news situations, especially for the forward prospects still in camp.
Now there could be only one spot up for grabs with just George Parros out for an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. In another bit of bad/good news, though, there really only seems to be one prospect standing out at camp this year anyway.
3. Michael Bournival’s High Level of Play
Michael Bournival isnt writing a unique underdog story by any stretch of the imagination. That doesn't make him any less intriguing though.
Every so often, there is one player who surprises in training camp and makes life difficult on the coaching staff. Two seasons ago, it was Brendan Gallagher (when he got cut, before making it last season). In 2005 it was Guillaume Latendresse (when he got cut, eventually "making it"—if you can call it "making it"—the following season as well).
This year, Bournival, somewhat amazingly, co-leads the league with four goals during the preseason as of September 24.
Granted, he's tied with teammate Max Pacioretty and Calgary Flame Dennis Wideman, each of whom, despite their talents, would be lucky to place in the top 20 in the same category during the regular season. Hell, the Calgary Flames might very well be lucky to even have a 20-goal scorer next season.
While preseason scoring means very little considering not everyone plays the same amount of games and the talent isn't necessarily top notch, four goals are definitely better than no goals. Plus, seeing as Bournival almost came out of nowhere to accomplish the feat it makes it all the more impressive.
The thing that is most impressive is that this is the guy the Habs got from the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Ryan O’Byrne. Management probably would have just been happy with him not scoring into his own net.
Needless to say, with the one spot potentially up for grabs, the 21-year-old is making a case to stay and not just until Parros returns from injury.
2. Jarred Tinordi Getting a Realistic Chance to Make the Team
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jarred Tinordi.
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At the start of training camp, defenseman Jarred Tinordi looked like he might very well be playing—and losing—a numbers game rather than hockey.
The Habs currently have seven NHL-caliber defenseman on the roster, each of whom are practically guaranteed to make the team on one-way contracts. That's not even including the injured Alexei Emelin, who might only be back by early December and is otherwise a second-pairing guy.
All that changed with injuries to Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray and Davis Drewiske. While Bouillon and Murray’s injuries are both minor and their status is day to day, Drewiske is projected to be out a month, meaning at least one spot is all of a sudden available.
It doesn't guarantee a lot of regular-season ice time, if any at all, but it is something.
Considering Drewiske didn't dress for any of the Habs playoff games this past spring and Tinordi got in all five, it might just be the natural order of things reestablishing itself. That or, with fellow defensive prospect Nathan Beaulieu nursing an injury himself, Tinordi has simply taken an unnatural interest in voodoo.
1. Louis Leblanc Being Cut as Early as He Was
Former first-round pick Louis Leblanc entered camp looking to make an impression. However good it was, though, it wasn't a lasting one as he was among the team's first cuts this preseason.
Taken 18th overall in 2009, Leblanc is just two years removed from a by-all-accounts successful season, during which he played 42 games with the big club.
Unfortunately, he’s just one year removed from a horrible one, during which he:
- Fell below 2012 first-round pick and fellow center Alex Galchenyuk on the team’s depth chart
- Was switched to wing and then fell below eventual Calder Memorial Trophy-nominee Brendan Gallagher on the team’s depth chart
- Suffered a high ankle sprain, ultimately playing in just 62 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs
- Scored just 10 goals and eight assists a year after he scored 11 goals and 11 assists in just 22 games
Leblanc should have still had an outside chance to make the Habs out of training camp based on his pedigree and skill. He even played well in the one preseason game he got in, registering an assist, two shots on goal and four hits against the Boston Bruins.
It all should have been enough to at least get a second look, but Leblanc might not have even gotten a look at the scoresheet before being sent down to Hamilton following the game.
There are two schools of thought out there. One is that Leblanc doesn't fit into the Habs’ plans anymore. The other is that he was going to be sent down regardless of how he played in order to send a message.
That message is inherently flawed, as he got into better shape over the summer and had a good attitude entering camp by head coach Michel Therrien’s own admission, per The Montreal Gazette. From the outside looking in, it seems to boil down to something to the effect of "hard work and on-ice results? Who needs them? Here’s a slap in the face for all your effort."
There's little denying that Leblanc was in all likelihood not going to make the team, but to dismiss his attempts to rebound from a bad season so easily and so early? That's the real surprise, especially since it came directly from a management team that has built a reputation in only one year of nurturing young talent instead of burying it.
Leblanc may very well not be as good as Galchenyuk or Gallagher, who made the Habs at his expense in 2013. Seeing as the last Habs fans saw of him was an up-and-coming prospect who didn't look out of place over a half-season, one would hope he eventually gets more of a chance to prove the opposite.