Well, the 'Dogs are fast, I'll give them that. I had a great view of their game versus the Manitoba Moose, (which they lost, 3-2) sitting directly behind the Hamilton bench. There are a lot of little speedy guys in the lineup, but the one who stands out, by a fair margin, is David Desharnais. After watching him practice, and seeing him in the game last night, I think if there's a small man in the Habs' system with a real chance to make the NHL, it's him. He's short, but he's solidly built and he's a very good skater. He's also strong and, with his low centre of gravity, tough to knock off the puck. I ran into him in the hallway, and he was busy sawing three inches off an already shortened stick...smiling, quick and sure-handed. In the game, he scored one goal by driving the net with the puck and continuing his forward momentum after being tripped, pushing the puck ahead of him and through the goalie. He then assisted on the 'Dogs second goal with a sweet pass from the left of the net right onto J.T.Wyman's tape as Wyman slid into the slot from the point. In today's game, (the championship versus the Marlies...4-3 'Dogs in OT) Desharnais had another two assists to finish the mini-tournament with six points in three games. He was named tournament MVP as well. I really like him, and I'm rooting for him to get a shot at the NHL. If he puts up points in Hamilton like he did in Cincinnati last year, it may be tough to deny him a spot.
Speaking of Wyman, I was surprised to see him on defence in the Saturday game. I'm not sure if he was there because the team was short on D with Henry and Weber still in Montreal, or if it was an experiment Don Lever was trying. In any case, he looked comfortable on the point during powerplays...less certain at even strength. But he didn't look awful by any means, and he did fire a very nice shot for the team's second goal. I don't know if we'll see that happen again, but it's interesting.
Pavel Valentenko looked strong for much of the game, but he took some big hits. In practice, he wasn't working that hard, at least to outward appearances, but he was a horse during the game. At one point he got tired of being targetted by some of the Moose's bigger guys, and he pasted one of them to the right of the Manitoba net. He ended up getting a boarding penalty for his trouble, but they left him alone for the most part afterwards. He's a good skater and had a couple of nice shots on the PP.
I was looking forward to seeing Ben Maxwell after being impressed with him in his pre-season games with the Habs, but he was scratched. He practiced in the morning, but I saw him afterwards with what looked suspiciously like an ice pack under his t-shirt in the middle of his back. I hope he's not injured again this year. The big knock on him is that he's hurt a lot, and is possibly a fragile player. Otherwise, he's great though.
Matt D'Agostini didn't do anything spectacular. He was good on the PK and made a couple of smart plays to clear the puck. He played a regular shift with Ryan White and Greg Stewart, and none of them were much of a threat on offence. I don't know if it's post-NHL-camp-cut syndrome, but those three looked like they weren't all that interested in the game for most of it. Towards the end, though, when the 'Dogs were down by a goal with a couple of minutes to go, they turned it on a bit. Stewart looked like he was really trying at that point, but it didn't come to anything.
I thought Shawn Belle did a decent job manning the left point with Wyman on his right. Again, he wasn't spectacular, but he didn't do anything glaringly bad either. Which, I guess is what you want from a journeyman.
Cedrick Desjardins was steady in goal. The second one he allowed was a result of going down too early, but he made some nice saves as well. I think he'll be surprising at the AHL level.
One guy who really surprised me was Chad Anderson. He was very steady as Valentenko's partner, and played a smart game on the PP, with some nice atypical passing decisions. I think he might end up being an interesting and useful pickup.
Other than those guys, I noticed Trotter a couple of times for good plays he made. No one else really made much of an impression on me, either in practice or in the game. I did get to speak to some of the players after practice though, and I'll have details of some of those conversations in later blogs.