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.)