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Development camp analysis: A dominant defense and a “new” name to remember
Yesterday, I went to 10/30 and Complexe Bell in Brossard, as I like to do every July when circumstances permit. I came away with two certainties.

(Better than Descartes, say the most astute observers!)

First certainty: the inventor of Crocs is a dark individual who has created an infinitely ugly and uncomfortable product for my feet.

Second certainty: The CH’s defensive future is very promising.

So, before trying on Crocs for the first time in my life – 5 pairs, each more despicable than the last – I attended the Reds vs Whites game yesterday in Brossard.

I really enjoyed this first part of my journey!

Here are six reflections that will complement and corroborate some of the remarks made yesterday by my colleague Marc-Olivier Cook on the end of this development camp.

1. Clear-cut domination by the defenders

I didn’t have a stopwatch with me, but I’m convinced that the Red and White defensemen had the puck on their pads about 75% of the time, without exaggerating. Like, serious-serious.

Yes, it was only four-on-four and it’s normal for the defensemen to control the puck more in this phase of the game, but still….

Lane Hutson alone had to control the object for 10 minutes.

Hutson warming up before the game…
(Credit: Tony Patoine)

Okay, now I’m exaggerating a little, but no kidding, the little American probably brokedanced with the rubber twice as long as his closest pursuer.

Joshua Roy? Logan Mailloux? Filip Mesar? Adam Engstrom? Xavier Simoneau? One of these five…

The game never seems to die with Hutson. What would be high-risk plays for others, such as feinting at one or two players coming out of the zone or at the opposing blue line, seem to be routine for him. And often, just when you think he’s going to lose the puck, he picks it up a split-second later, being quicker and more agile than his opponent.

As the man himself says, “There will always be mistakes anyway, so while I’m at it, I prefer to make plays with the puck.

I can’t recall ever hearing a Canadiens prospect speak so confidently. The question doesn’t even seem to arise for Hutson. And that’s just as well, because it’s a philosophy with which his future coach Martin St-Louis is quite in tune.

That said, we did see him get bypassed quite easily in his zone on a few occasions. Let’s just say he still needs to improve his backwards skating and his play without the puck.

In this respect, we can see that Reinbacher, even if not always perfect, will be a great help in his territory. Offensively, he also came close to scoring on at least three occasions on passes from his creative friend.

Hutson et Reinbacher
The two are (already) a pair.
(Credit: Tony Patoine)

That said, beyond Lane Hutson and Reinbacher, overall, yesterday only served to further reinforce the idea that the staff’s plan is to build an outstanding defense that will ultimately give them a competitive edge over the rest of the NHL.

2. Adam Engstrom: from shadow to light

Of course, anyone who wasn’t a 4-year-old glued to his parents’ tablet or his nose in the bottom of his blue Slush Puppie will have noticed Hutson and the dynamic duo he formed with the new kid on the block, David Reinbacher.

But you’d have to be as short-sighted as Mr. Magoo not to notice the colossal match Adam Engstrom played alongside William Trudeau. Engstrom was undoubtedly my favorite player of the day.

In my eyes, he was the best defenseman on the ice yesterday, combining efficiency and creativity throughout the game.

Engtrom patrols the blue line with aplomb.
(Credit: Tony Patoine)

This guy deserves to be talked about in the same breath as all the other fine young defensemen in the organization, and even to start thinking about putting his name ahead of others more in vogue in the team’s defensive hierarchy.

In short, it’s high time we got up to speed!

After seeing him on Sweden’s first pair at the WJC (U20), we already knew that Engstrom, 6’2, 193 lbs, was good defensively and skated very well in all directions. Then, he finished the season strong in Rogle and was, in the opinion of many, his team’s best player in the playoffs with a 5-point performance in 9 games.

Yesterday, in addition to delivering a vision-intensive, camouflaged pass to Jack Smith, who then scored on an excellent shot, Engstrom also showed us that he had very good hands on several occasions, thwarting several opponents with beautiful offensive breakthroughs.

In fact, used to playing against men in a very good league in Sweden (SHL), it often looked very easy in Brossard in early July at 4-on-4 for this3rd-round pick in 2022 (92nd), selected 30 ranks behind Lane Hutson.

I’m now convinced that, in Engstrom, 37 points in 66 games in all competitions last year, the Canadiens have another defenseman who will one day play in a top-4 NHL team.

Too much talent, too much quality and too much dog (compete level) to see him as just another third-pair defenseman.

In any case, at the same age, he’s a long way ahead of Jordan Harris – it’s not even close – and it’s worth remembering that many saw Harris in their soup back in the day…

Do the rule of three.

3. Joshua Roy: Hockey’s easy!

As good as ever, always with impressive timing in his play, Roy multiplied his clever passes throughout the game, while regularly converging at the net to deflect shots from the point as is his wont.

Rather than finding him dragging his feet on the ice, I see a forward who plays with his neurons and never takes unnecessary strides. This is true both offensively and defensively, where he always seems to guess his opponent’s next move a play or two in advance.

Offensively, Roy finds open space on the ice and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. And of course, you can’t overlook his ability to put the puck in the net. In fact, he was the only player to score on a shootout:

I wouldn’t classify him as the Canadiens’ top prospect the way Craig Button did, but I’m still thinking about his disarming performance at the CMJ alongside Connor Bedard, and I can’t wait to see how he adapts to the pros.

For now, let’s just say that I see him as an improvement over the Hoffmans, Byrons and Drouins who have patrolled the left wing on multiple trios in recent years and, thanks to his composure and sense of play, I don’t think he’ll need to spend several winters in Laval…

Not to mention that Hoffman, Dvrorak, Evans, Gallagher and Armia aren’t exactly must-haves in the lineup anymore. With good performances at camp and in Laval, and a few personnel moves, sooner or later there’ll be room for Roy in the lineup.

As we saw at the CMJ before being promoted with Bedard, we know he can play with panache on the3rd line.

But this guy really knows how to play field hockey, and he knows how to do it with talented guys around him.

Who knows if he won’t find himself on the left of Suzuki and Caufield before too long?

4. Struble: A wise decision to contract him

Jayden Struble certainly hasn’t progressed as much as I expected at Northeastern. A bit of a shadow of Harris in his early years, he didn’t dominate offensively as one would have expected in his final year when Harris was playing in Montreal.

Instead, he focused on defending and simplifying his game, and remained healthy for a second year running.

There seems to be some use for him in the organization.
(Credit: Tony Patoine)
The player we saw yesterday was mobile, solid, efficient and was able to stop a Logan Mailloux surge with good physical contact.

Here’s a guy who seems intent on forging his own identity in the Montreal organization chart, in a style that lends itself well to a third-pair defenseman. From the high-risk defenseman he was when he arrived at university, he has become a very stable defenseman who inspires confidence.

In the event of a few injuries up top, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the 22-year-old make his NHL debut sometime this season.

5. Logan Mailloux: Will he put pressure on Kovacevic and Barron right from training camp?

Like just about all his main colleagues on the blue line, Logan Mailloux was good yesterday in Brossard. Rather discreet at the start of the game, I’d say he was more noticeable in the second half.

We’ll probably want to give him some mileage in Laval in 2023-2024, as he’ll have played a total of only 120 games in the OHL, including the playoffs, recording 90 points in the process.

Still, it will be very interesting to see where he stands in training camp in relation to the other right-handers, Justin Barron and Johnathan Kovacevic, who can’t afford to take anything for granted in September.

6. Mesar: Let’s not draw any conclusions from his time in Kitchener.

In some ways, Filip Mesar’s adaptation to North American field hockey was less straightforward than that of his compatriot Juraj Slafkovsky. Even if the NHL is the best league in the world, things were simpler for the big #20, who didn’t have to move or wonder for too long. Everything was pretty much decided for him, and he would really have had to look very bad at training camp or early in the season to be sent off to continue his development elsewhere.

In Mesar’s case, he had a very good camp in Montreal, then they thought of playing him in Laval before finally changing their minds and sending him to the OHL, where he had a mixed season with ups and downs interspersed by the CMJ.

Mesar looked pretty good yesterday alongside Owen Beck.
(Credit: Tony Patoine)

But, even if I would have preferred Czech Jiri Kulich – selected two spots after him by the Sabres in 2022 (28th) and dominant in the AHL last year – the way he looked yesterday, Mesar remains a good offensive prospect for the Habs.

Not everyone can shoot a puck like that:

We can still see a sort of in-between between Ylonen and Lehkonen, a smart 3etrioforward capable of producing offensively and helping out in the top-6 when needed.

It’s really his adaptation to the AHL in what we hope will be a more stable year that will tell us more about his true potential.

That’s all for today!

We’ll be back soon with an article that will give us a little more food for thought about what’s next and how to avoid a catastrophe on the Tricolore’s defensive side!

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