Today the Canadiens will announce a large group of cuts for players whose hopes are now Hamilton bound. What will remain of the players in camp for the final two exhibition games, are prospects that the Habs organization, and coach Guy Carbonneau, feel have a shot at starting the season in Montreal.
For those players, the questions surrounding whether they stick with the team or not, have everything to do to with the quality of contributions they can offer the Canadiens this season if they are in fact NHL ready. Determining whether they stick in the final tally will speak for their progress, as well as their ability to adapt to a more involved game with bigger consequences.
As I am writing this in wee hours of Monday morning there is a good chance that cuts have been announced by the time you read this.
From what I've seen and read of the Canadiens camp and games so far, I see but five players able to complement the Habs destination this season. Considering that the team could ice a full roster without a single Hamilton promotion, this number is consistant with the players ages and developemnt within the organization so far.
Maxim Lapierre and Andrei Kostitsyn are not in the equation - they are Montreal Canadiens in every way.
In a previous post, I stated that goaltender Carey Price would start the year in Montreal, but it does not seem to be in the cards. I still firmly believe that the team would be better off with Price in tandem with Huet. The Habs brass has other ideas, and the cautiousness is understandable in regards to the gem they are dealing with. I've no qualms with the notion that an abundance of AHL playing time can only help the future star.
It will be an interesting file to watch unfold!
Other than Price, there are four other hopefuls I feel are NHL ready, though their futures quite obviously do not fit into the Canadiens present circumstances.
Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, J.P. Cote and Yann Danis have each progressed professionally to the point where they are surely good enough to be NHL players - just not in Montreal at present. As they are not in the Canadiens current plans, the team must act quickly to determine their fate and gain a return on their values.
I like what all four have to offer, but there are only so many seats on the bus.
After eliminating those five names from the group, the Habs brass will be staring down five more players that have been bright lights in the teams first five exhibition games.
Those players include Matt D' Agnostini, this camps biggest revelation, and Sergei Kostitsyn, a slick and multi skilled talent who has shown an uncanny ability to find the net and adapt to his surroundings better than any other hopeful.
Rounding out the group are speedball Mikhail Grabovski, the well rounded and groomed Kyle Chipchura, and rugged defenseman Ryan O'Byrne.
The reason these five players will stick around the longest have to do with the options they present to the team and it's current needs.
O' Byrne is a lanky but rugged rearguard whose size is an element currently in short supply on the Habs blueline. His addition is only a matter of time, as he is a projected talent still in need of grooming. The Canadiens must decide between which destination can offer him the quickest progression. He would garner large chunks of AHL ice time in Hamilton as opposed to seeing perhaps 35 NHL games with Montreal should he make the cut. This decision will have much to do with whether they deem he can offer the Canadiens more than Mathieu Dandeneault and Josh Gorges at this point.
Grabovski is an offensive catalyst, whose speed is blurry enough to make oppositions coil. Trouble is, he lacks a great deal of finish on plays and shows compatibility with only a few of the Canadiens regulars - namely the elder Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev. His lack of adaptability to other players may tag him as a player who needs a step back before stepping up for good.
Sergei Kostitsyn brings the same cards as Grabovski to the table along with more versatility. While being speedy, he also shows a knack for multiple usage. His hunger has been commended as he is an able passer and shooter, whose instincts into defensive areas are also apparent. He has also been compatible with only a select few from the Habs lineup, but has the tools of a sparkplug who can contribute from any line.
Matt D'Agnostini has darkhorse written all over him. The game which he brought to the Hamilton Bulldogs last season has been a highlight of the Habs camp so far. He continues to be the right guy in the right place at the right time, making him extremely hard to ignore. It will be his play away from the puck that tells his fate. While lacking in size, he has shown fearlessness in traffic. His fate may eventually be tied to what the Canadiens foresee in the case of impending free agent Michael Ryder. He has done everything possible to make the 2007-08 Habs, but patience might be a virtue he seeks. With dedication and hard work, an NHL stint isn't out of the question for D'Agnostini this season.
Kyle Chipchura is the closest of all Habs prospects as he is slotted to fill a particular defensive role on the team. Groomed in a Carbonneau and Gainey mold, many speak of the maturity in which he brings to his game. The Canadiens have a spot for him and it is up to the player to show he is ready. His positional awareness and the success he has had in camp so far tell that he must be measued against higher standards of play to gauge his progression. Count on him being in the Canadiens lineup in the first game against Carolina.
Much can change in the Canadiens next two exhibition games. Given what has been seen of the five players spoken about above, the Habs ought to give them every opportunity to play their cards in the coming days.
It will be an interesting week ahead.