Offseason Begins With Scouts and Prospects

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IJune 2, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 24:  Brian Gionta #21 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 24, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It's just over a week since the Canadiens season ended and many fans are already looking toward the future to get an idea of what can be expected from the team. Its understandable having just been through a season of never knowing what to expect on a game by game basis. It's also unclear whether the Habs' playoff success is an aberration or signs of things to come.

The week began with news that the Canadiens had cleaned house. While some of us were hopeful that the Molson brothers, in their wisdom, had terminated Pierre Boivin, Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin, it was not to be...for now.

Instead Gauthier had axed five amateur scouts and one pro scout. It was a curious move to be sure coming only weeks before the NHL amateur draft. Gauthier was sure to collect their player evaluation notes before the dismissal.

Having said that, the amateur draft is a fluid event with discussions and decisions being made in real time. Apparently Gauthier decided that he didn't require the input of the scouts. While he did hold the position of Director of Amateur Scouting with the Quebec Nordiques, Gauthier's career with the Nordiques, Senators and Ducks, can be described as checkered, at best.

Some in the mainstream media are speculating that the reduction in scouts is a cost-saving measure and that the Habs would adopt the Buffalo Sabres model of video assessment. The move would be an odd change in philosophy given that video alone is an unproven system of player evaluation. It's also hard to swallow as a budget measure given the millions of dollars raked in by the Canadiens during the playoffs combined with their upcoming ticket price hike.

It's possible that the scouts will be replaced with people hand-selected by Gauthier. Objective sources will point out that the Canadiens prospect pool had been replenished by the good work of Bob Gainey and Trevor Timmins after being decimated during the Rejean Houle regime. Ironically, most agree that it was pro scouting under the direction of Gauthier that was the weakest part of the Habs' organization.

For now, we are left to guess the reasons as Gauthier is not talking. He has no plans to speak to the media until he pays a visit to the Canadiens' development camp on Friday.

The trimmed-down camp for Habs' prospects began on Tuesday with 22 players, down from 38 a season ago. Part of the reduction is explained by the timing of the camp, prior to the NHL amateur draft. A handful of players from the 2010 draft will gather in July at Brossard for training and evaluation.

But fewer players in camp also seems to relate to decisions by Gauthier and his staff. Goaltender Jason Missiaen, who had shown improvement with the Peterborough Petes, and defenseman Niklas Thorp were released. First round draft choice in 2006, David Fischer, was not invited to the camp.

The Canadiens did not make arrangements for any of their Russian prospects to come to Montreal including the highly touted Alexander Avtsin. The 19 year old winger spent last season with the now defunct Moscow Dynamo of the KHL.

When players finally made their way onto the Brossard ice (one hour later than scheduled), all lenses were focused on Louis Leblanc, the Canadiens first round selection from 2009. Afterward, Leblanc skirted questions about a return to Harvard or jumping to the pro-level in Hamilton.

It seems that the media has learned nothing from the Guillaume Latendresse debacle speculating that Leblanc could be up with the Canadiens by the end of next season. Reports are that patience will be required with Leblanc who has played a timid game with the Crimson, and that he is at least two years away from being ready for the big club at his present pace.

Leblanc showed little in the first day of the development camp making me wonder if he would rather be elsewhere. That was until a one-on-one drill where he outclassed his partner. Chalk it up to the chance to shine plus luck-of-the-draw at being paired with Michael Cichy, one of the weaker skaters.

Other players in the development camp should be receiving more attention. Danny Kristo is speedy right-winger with slick moves. What sets him apart is his tenacity that was displayed at the World Junior Hockey Championships for Team USA. Kristo has a better shot than expected.

Joonas Natinnen is a smart, two-way center. He has some size, is not afraid to battle for the puck, and is a smooth skater. His weakest element is probably his shot.

Steve Quailer is a 6'4" left-winger with speed and good hands. Quailer missed his Northeastern Huskies' season after an ACL injury on October 7. Quailer will continue to build his strength over the summer.

Gabriel Dumont came into camp with impressive numbers from his season in Drummondville but he was no match for Olivier Fortier in the man-on-man drill.

Joe Stejskal was the standout on defense on day one of the camp. He is solid, competes hard, and has an excellent shot.

With the Canadiens releasing Missiaen, Petteri Simila was the only drafted goaltending prospect in camp joined by three players who were offered a try-out. Simila was the best of the group but that's not saying much. Thomas Baumle, Riley Gill and J-Christophe Blanchard didn't move very well, and puck handling was atrocious for all four.

The development camp continues all week in Brossard.

(photo credit: Getty)

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