Montreal Canadiens' Training Camp Battles

Daniel BigrasCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2008

As with every other NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens have started their official training camp. And so far, after only a few days into it, we can already see that the Canadiens are working hard on getting ready to defend their Eastern Conference points title for the 2008-09 season.

Many Montreal observers already know that it will be difficult for a young gun to win a spot on the big team before the first game on October 10. But are there any that could realistically knock on Bob Gainey’s door, like Carey Price did last year?

Max Pacioretty seems to be one of them.  His name is on everybody's lips. But it seems more like a marketing ploy than a real deserved praise.

In my humble opinion, in the first two training camp games, he's not making a real difference. I remember the ruckus Guillaume Latendresse caused in his first training camp —it was obvious that he was making an impact. Max is not making the same noise—so far.

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in the intensity levels that the young prospects are showing, except for two players—Yannick Webber, the young Swiss following Mark Streit’s footsteps, and the diminutive David Desharnais, who reminds me of a certain Mats Naslund, in every sense.

Desharnais has a strong grittiness, good passing ability, his scoring desire is obvious and, well, obviously his height is very similar.

Webber is a similar to Streit in so many ways—very offensive, very good shot from the point, and defensively, so far, he’s not showing to be much better than Mark. But he has something different to offer—Yannick is right-handed, something to look for in any hockey player these days, especially in a defenseman.

During the special Hockeyville game in Roberval, Québec, Webber’s name was heard many times. It seems that Coach Carbonneau is testing the Swiss—and he’s responding fairly well for a 20-year old.

David Desharnais also had a very good game against the Buffalo Sabres’ training team. His size didn’t show, actually. It’s almost useful to be as small as he is—he’s harder to hit and can find room around the net very easily.

His playmaking abilities are obvious.  In his last three seasons he had more than 70 passes each time and scored 30-40 goals too. He raised many eyebrows when he published a 29-goals, 77-assist season in the East Coast League.

But the real battles are not amongst the youngsters. They are for the checking line—the Laraque Line, as I call it, since he’s the only player with a guaranteed spot on that line.

And it’s not a matter of who will stay, as Kostopoulos, Bégin, Lapierre, and Dandenault have NHL contracts and will start the season in Montreal. It’s a matter of knowing which of them will make a good line with Georges Laraque, and which will play a backup role most of the season.

So far we have seen Lapierre, Dandenault and Bégin, and they are all working hard to attract Carbonneau’s attention. They are all hitting hard, and they are all showing a lot of grit.  It will be an interesting battle when Kostopoulos is able to show his skills, because he will not let his hometown-team spot go so easily.

From what I’ve seen, it will be a battle between Steve Bégin and Tom Kostopoulos.  They can both play left wing, they are both lefties, and they are both very good defensively. No matter who wins this spot, it will make an interesting tough line!