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Ten issues to watch for at the Canadiens’ training camp
Over the next few weeks, the Montreal Canadiens will be back in action. The golf tournament will allow us to reconnect with the Canadiens, who should have a better club than last year.

On paper, it should be no worse.

But even if the CH still has a number of veterans who are assured of their place for the club’s next season, there are still stakes to be met ahead of the Habs’ next training camp.

With the help of colleague JB Gagné and his brainstorming skills, I’ve come up with a dozen or so. Here they are, in order and out of order.

1. Who will play with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield?

At this point, everyone assumes that the healthy return of #22, who signed long-term in recent months, means that he’ll be reunited with his friend on the Habs’ first line.

But who will be with them? That’s the 1,000-buck question.

Josh Anderson, Sean Monahan, Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard are all, at some point, candidates to possibly play on the first trio.

I like Josh Anderson’s chances, quick as that. That said, expect a lot of guys to get their chance at camp, so that we can evaluate everyone properly.

2. Who will play center?

Nick Suzuki, it’s agreed, will pilot the first trio. If this isn’t the case, it’s either because the main man has been injured, or because the CH has acquired a first-choice center in the meantime. Either way, there’ll be a lot of talk about it if it happens.

But as for the rest, the CH has no shortage of candidates to play center.

  • Christian Dvorak
  • Kirby Dach
  • Alex Newhook
  • Sean Monahan
  • Jake Evans

Obviously, other guys can help out here and there, but among the guys who are natural centers, let’s just say that Martin St-Louis is not short of resources at the moment. Centers will play on the wing, of course.

I have a feeling that Newhook could play on the wing at first – without ruling out a change later in the season. But why? To avoid being caught playing too low in the line-up and to get used to his new environment.

I also have a feeling that Sean Monahan could be called up to play wing.

If the season were to start today, I think in an ideal world Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans would be my club center players. Having said that…

3. Will the injured all return in time?

The Canadiens finished the season with 2,635 players on the injured list. While most of the guys should be back in action, it’s not a given that all of them will be.

We know that Christian Dvorak may not start the season on time. And in reality, this could be a blessing in disguise, as it would help to make room for certain players.

With all due respect to the guy, however useful he may be on 200 feet, he’s not part of the long-term plans.

In reality, it would not only help make room at center for a guy like Monahan or Newhook, but it would also make room, early in the year, for a young guy from Laval…

4. Who will be the extra forwards?

There are solutions to the problem of surplus forwards. Whether it’s injuries (which postpone the problem until later), transactions or simply cutting guys and sending them to Laval, there are ways to make room.

And with all the forwards in place, we’ll have to find a solution. And in the meantime, these 10 have their place if they’re healthy.

  • Nick Suzuki
  • Cole Caufield
  • Brendan Gallagher
  • Josh Anderson
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Joel Armia
  • Kirby Dach
  • Alex Newhook
  • Sean Monahan
  • Jake Evans

Juraj Slafkovsky, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Michael Pezzetta and Jesse Ylönen join forces to fight for a position.

In the case of the first two, it’s mainly based on the fact that they can go to Laval without going through the ballot, since they actually belong in the top-12. And that’s even if RHP has to slow down.

In my opinion, if everyone is healthy, it’s guys like Ylönen and Pezzetta who are called upon to eat popcorn in the heights of the Bell Centre during games.

But then again: with injuries on the horizon (including Dvorak’s?), that can open doors. And from there, forwards #13 and #14, if the CH goes with 14 forwards, may have a chance in the top-12.

5. Which forwards will stand out?

If the CH ever goes with 14 forwards and Dvorak (or any other guy) can’t start the season, it’ll open the door to prospects. It’s not something we thought possible before the Pittsburgh deal, but without Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick, it’s easier.

Guys like Filip Mesar, Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman, Owen Beck, Riley Kidney, Joshua Roy, Xavier Simondeau, Nathan Légaré and Lias Andersson will want to make their mark. We’re talking about the forwards here only.

Who will stand out? And will he make his mark from the very first game?

It’s worth noting that even if none of these guys makes the cut in camp, making a good impression in camp is a good idea to earn a call-up if need be.

6. What kind of training camp for Juraj Slafkovsky?

Slaf is a special case. After all, the young man was the Canadiens’ first pick in 2022 and hasn’t played in months due to a season-ending injury.

There are a lot of questions surrounding him, and camp will be the first clue. Will he be a better player than in 2022-2023? Will he be fully healthy? Will his different training help him?

We know expectations won’t be huge (in general) in his case, but he needs to progress.

Slaf, who has acted as a youth coach recently, will have to be a sponge himself and learn well from his coaches over the next few months in Montreal. He can do it.

7. What kind of training camp for David Reinbacher?

For me, Reinbacher’s case is like Slaf’s: it’s special. As a top prospect, he’s in his own category, and his evaluation is different.

What’s more, he won’t be competing with the likes of Logan Mailloux and Justin Barron – to name but a few – to make the club: we know he’ll be spending next season in Switzerland.

The club’s first pick in 2023, whose presence in town polarizes because of his position, will have to show what he can do.

Fans can’t wait to see how he performs on the ice. We may have seen him with Lane Hutson this summer, but that was against weaker opposition – and here, Hutson will be absent from camp.

8. Which defensemen will make the club?

Right now, Mike Matheson, David Savard, Jordan Harris, Gustav Lindstrom, Justin Barron, Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Johnathan Kovacevic and Chris Wideman are fighting for six spots on the ice.

Barring a surprise, it’s going to come down to them.

Which of them will be on the ice is anyone’s guess. Whether the club will go to seven or eight defensemen. We can wonder who will be cut to go to Laval. We can wonder how many left-handers (Guhle, Harris, Xhekaj) will play on the right to stay in the NHL.

One wonders if balloting will be a factor or if decisions will be made on merit. Whether Chris Wideman will be saved by his veteran status. There’s a lot to wonder.

9. Who will be the goalkeepers in town?

Right now, the Canadiens are counting on Samuel Montembeault, Jake Allen, Casey DeSmith and Cayden Primeau to fill two – or three? – NHL positions. It’s just too much.

Barring a miracle, Cayden Primeau is fourth in line. He’ll go to Laval and be put to the vote.

I don’t believe in a ménage à trois, but at the same time, if the market isn’t kind and all the goalies are healthy, the other three could start the season in Montreal.

We do know, however, that even if the goaltending market slows down, Kent Hughes is on the phone. He may be waiting for an injury to send a goalie elsewhere… and it should be DeSmith.

10. Will Martin St-Louis have a different camp?

There’s a lot of talk about the players, but in reality, the coaches aren’t overflowing with experience in their respective positions either. This will be Martin St-Louis’ second NHL camp as a coach.

Will he be less intense than last year? After all, last year’s camp was referred to as “Camp Torturella” after just a few sessions, so intense was it for the players on the ice.

Will the coach do the same? Will it be different? We’ll see.

In any case, one thing is certain: to limit injuries, I imagine everything has been discussed. And that includes, of course, the intensity of the coach’s training camp.

In gusts

– It’s done.

– To be continued.

– Interesting.

– Retirement: necessary for Jonathan Bernier. [98.5 FM]

– Well done.

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