Montreal, QC—With the Montreal Canadiens 2011 training camp in full swing, the Habs young prospects are slowly starting to make their mark.
While the Habs have done a good job of restocking their cupboards over the last few years and boast a variety of good young players—Alexander Avtsin, Jarred Tinordi, Max Pacioretty, and Ben Maxwell—there are three individuals who seem to be grabbing most of the headlines so far at camp: Aaron Palushaj, Lars Eller, and Louis Leblanc.
Eller Makes His Mark
Leblanc and Palushaj seem to be destined to play in juniors and the AHL this season, respectively, but Eller seems all but a lock to make the team out of camp.
Jacques Martin yesterday lauded over Eller's speed, skill, and on-ice vision and rewarded the youngster's hard work by giving him a tryout on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
The ancillary benefit of that trio is that it will surely serve notice to Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn that their hold on their positions in the top six are tenuous, at best.
If either of these players cannot produce the way they are expected to, Martin will surely switch Eller into one of their slots at some point during the season.
Leblanc Turns Heads
To his credit, if Leblanc continues to progress as expected, he looks like he should make good on his elite second-line center potential. He is big, fast, and skilled and seems to have all of the tools to become a force in the NHL.
But let's take it one step at a time.
Leblanc, for all his promise, will be best served by playing for the Junior de Montreal this season, and being a key component on the Canadian World Junior Champion team this winter.
Both of those things should help continue his progression and make him AHL ready next season.
Aaron Palushaj Will Be a Key Component in Hamilton
Fast, fast, fast. That is what Palushaj is.
Once one of the most highly touted prospects in a deep St. Louis Blues farm system, the knock on Palushaj right now is that he doesn't necessarily have the hands to get it done as a top six forward.
But that doesn't mean that he isn't and can't be a valuable player.
Quite the contrary, actually, as Palushaj has the size and speed to become a very effective third-liner and maybe even a fringe second-liner, down the road.
Cue the Preseason Games
Tonight, the players finally get a chance to play against some real NHL competition. Well, semi-real anyway, given that most teams are icing lineups that consist of half of their NHL players, at best.
No matter though, as the Habs first preseason game will see them take on the Boston Bruins in Montreal tonight, on RDS, in what is sure to be a charged atmosphere at the Bell Centre.
While preseason games that lack the likes of Zdeno Chara and Brian Gionta don't tend to be the most exciting events in the world, I would take a page out of Pierre McGuire's book tonight and pick one or two young players to watch.
Tonight, for example, Palushaj will be playing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.
Watch this kids speed, and see how he lines up against the likes of Milan Lucic.
Those are the kind of battles that take place this early into the preseason, and we get to see our first taste of how our youngsters stack up against NHL players.
Other players to watch tonight will be Jeff Halpern and Louis Leblanc, who will both be making their Bell Centre debuts.
The raucous Montreal crowd is sure to give them—and all the Bell Centre virgins—a warm welcome and a small taste of what they can expect in the future when playing in front of the most frenzied crowd in the league.
I know it's a preseason game and all, but I for one can't wait to see the Habs back on the ice.
What about you?