Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The First Cut Is the Deepest

Well, that was fun. After no hockey at all for months and months, we got deluged with five games in five nights. While the games themselves were a bit of a mish-mash of styles and abilities, there were definitely highlights. For me, one of the best parts of camp, pre-cuts, is the chance to catch a glimpse of the team's future in all its awkward, promising glory.

Among the prospects and bubble guys I liked:

David Desharnais. He's a little sparkplug, strong for his size and as determined a player as you'll find anywhere. Just imagining his net radar and feistiness in Andrei Kostitsyn is enough to make you weep. I used to wish he was bigger, but I'm starting to think he has a chance to play in the NHL just as he is. The only thing is, I don't see where he'll fit in with the Habs. Gomez is signed for five years, Plekanec is a better player and should be re-signed next year if Gainey can afford him, Lapierre is a good third-liner with the size the forwards lack generally, and the fourth line spot is more of a limited-minute, grinder role on Martin's teams. Of course, injuries happen and players who look to be locks right now can underperform, making way for others. If Desharnais can build on his strong rookie season in Hamilton, maybe he'll force his way in someday.

Ryan O'Byrne. He's finally starting to put it all together, and I couldn't be happier to see it. He's been hitting everyone in sight, he's been playing simple, effective D in his own zone and he's taking his time with his breakout passes a little more than he used to. One unfortunate problem about developing through the Habs system is that everyone expects you to be an NHL-calibre player the minute you're called up. Not everyone develops that quickly, and sometimes we give up on prospects too soon. I'm glad the team didn't quit on O'Byrne before he started to blossom. As they say, you can't teach big. And big guys who can skate aren't the most plentiful commodities around.

Ryan White. I really liked the get-up-and-go of White this time around. He played some responsible D in his own end, and he was aggressive and quick in the offensive zone as well. I think after another season in Hamilton, he'll have a chance to pass Kyle Chipchura on the Habs' depth chart. I don't know if he'd be ready for the fourth-line centre position next year when Metropolit likely moves on, but if he keeps improving, he'll have a shot.

Tom Pyatt. He looked energetic and involved in the play against the Penguins. Maybe he'll be no more than an AHLer or maybe he'll make it to the big league. But he looked to me more like a guy with a chance to make it some day than not. Which is surprising to me because I've only seen him as a throw-in on the Gomez deal until now. The fact that he's turning out to actually be an interesting prospect is a bonus.

Guys I didn't like that much:

Mathieu Carle. I guess it's a good thing that Carle didn't get terribly injured in his first pre-season game like he did the last two seasons. But he still looks like he's lost in his own end and he's not terribly strong on the boards or in front of the net. He was a non-factor in the games he played and at this point, that has to mean he's not long for the Habs' organization. At least not if he doesn't make a notable improvement in his ability to play smart defence at NHL speed soon. He's already been surpassed on the depth chart by Yannick Weber and soon will be by PK Subban.

Andrew Conboy. He's just not ready for NHL competition, which isn't really surprising considering his half-year of college and subsequent couple of months in the AHL are all that separate him from high school. But he didn't do anything to really make an impression.

Greg Stewart. I liked him when he was trying to scratch out a place in the lineup last year. Now he looks like he thinks he has a spot and he isn't doing much to make himself stand out. He's not fighting, he's not driving to the net and wreaking havoc like he did in his early call-ups. He's just not really doing much of anything I can see.

Lots of other guys made a brief impression one way or the other, but those are the ones who stand out after the first five games of the pre-season. Now the cuts are made and we get down to business. It was fun to see these guys while it lasted though. Have fun in Bonnie Scotland, guys. If it's not Scottish, it's crap! (Or it's still on the NHL roster, which is pretty good too.)


Ted said...

Hi JT,

I noticed you didn't mention Neilson (I know, I know - its not real hockey) but I have to tell you that Stewart the other night stood on the sidelines while Neilson jumped into the game without hesitation. Call me a neandrathlal, but I liked it. I liked his energy, his desire and his understanding of his role. He was as infectious as some of the other additions who look like they actually want to play. I would love to have him watching over some of our new talent.

Howard said...

Thanks JT for getting me away from that traitor love-in on TSN.
The big shocker for me was PK Subban being in the first wave of cuts. Sure he was injured and didn't really get a chance to strut his stuff (much to the chagrin of the Bell Centre faithfull) but I would have kept him around because he is our prized prospect, half the future of our D along with Weber.
I would have kept him around the show just because he's earned it and to give the kid a little taste of the big time but I'm sure he'll benefit from the excellent coaching in Hamilton (or should I say Edinburgh?)
We'll see him soon enough what with the geriatric nature of our top 6.

Howard said...

The thing I liked about Neilson was that he didn't seem restrained by any "code". I've seen quite enough of BGL's gentlemanly duel rules thank you. Time to swing with wild abandon. I only wish Neilson would have been around Thurs to meet Lucic!

J.T. said...

@Ted: I didn't mention Neilson because the jury's out for me. I liked his enthusiasm and fearlessness, but Stewart looked like that when he got his first shot too. In my experience, that initial burst of frantic energy in those types of players doesn't last. It can't...they'd burn out too quickly. And after that wears off, there's often not a lot else there. If you *do* get a guy who can keep that up indefinitely, you've got a keeper. So I'll wait and see if Neilson keeps it up before I'm sold on him. Otherwise, he's just another enthusiastic young fighter. Here today, gone tomorrow.

@Howard: Is it just me, or is traitor-loving TSN worse than ever this year? I think it's Pierre McGuire. He's got absolutely nothing good to say about Gainey or the Habs and it's really grating. I wasn't shocked at Subban getting cut. He didn't show enough to make the team, so there really wasn't a point in keeping him any longer.

saskhab said...

Apparently Martin disagrees with you about Carle since he's still around, and he has no problem playing him in games. He looked fine to me, as well. A few sore spots, but he generally keeps things simple and moves the puck forward, which is what Martin wants from his D.

Howard said...

@JT - It's not just you. I think Mcguire has a huge traitor lovin' man crush on Brian Burke. Always has, always will! Pathetic really to see a grown man behave that way!