Of the group of eight or ten rookies and prospects dressed against the Sabres in Roberval last night, three players excite me most.
Max Pacioretty, Ben Maxwell, and Yannik Weber will all be solid NHL'ers in the not too distant future.
Pacioretty seemed to compete in every single facet of the game, as a natural would. It is obvious his physical strength is already big league. One AHL season ought to be more than enough for him to accede to the bigs. He possesses all the offensive gifts needed plus the instinctive defensive alertness that sometimes isn't teachable.
What I liked best, was that there seemed to be no part of the ice that was a stranger to him. He competed for the puck in every area it was available to him. He also didn't hesitate a touch to employ his body to fight for it when the chance presented itself.
Maxwell impressed me not only with his edge in the offensive zone, but also with his overall awareness. No less than four times did I see him come back on the play to help out his defenseman. On two occasions, he was in place before a straying rearguard. I quickly got the feeling that this was a thinking man's center.
What really kicked in, was when Maxwell was coiling back to help - score was 3-0 Montreal. Most rooks trying to make the club would be trying to seize the opportunity of a potential rout to pot some nice netters and impress.
Maxwell has already learned third period leads mean shut down hockey.
Weber has often been billed as the second coming of Mark Streit, strictly due to shared Swiss origins. For me the comparisons end there, as Weber displayed a command of his position that was surprisingly composed for a junior hockey player.
This might be a stretch, (as comparing a second exhibition performance to a playoff game ought to be), but Weber was more at ease in this contest, than Streit was the last time I watched him play defense for the Canadiens. All told, Weber made a slew of boobs and misreads, but he showed a certain composure on the point despite his mistakes, especially on the PP's.
I found it pleasantly surprising how well Weber bounced back after he erred. Usually if a defenseman gets badly burned on a play or two, the remainder of his moves border on tentative.
The kid also reads what's ahead of him very clearly. On a few occasions, the slapper at the net he was frothing to display vanished as an option. Smoothly, and without panicking, he passed off and repositioned for another try. A nervous and less confident talent would drill a blast into approaching shinpads, praying it finds a way through.
Goalie Marc Denis showed he was still a capable NHL stopper. Although I missed the first goal scored against him, I found him to be quite alert and in the groove most of the night. With only two of the Canadiens starting six defensemen in front of him, he was surprisingly composed. It showed that he was an experienced veteran.
If Denis were to be called up in case of injury, based on this performance, I wouldn't initially worry much over whether he could handle the duty.
Mike Glumac also made an impression on me. The trouble with that is, he is a 28 year old minor league vet, with close to 40 games of NHL experience. So then, he appeared as he ought to have. He should be very usefull in Hamilton, subbing in Ajay Baines role.
Of the remaining group of players, few gave me a big league impression.
Ryan Flinn looks mean, immature, and ready to make bad decisions when the team requires them least. At best he's the second coming of P.J. Stock.
Regarding Mathieu Aubin, the most I can say is that I saw him play.
David Desharnais, small, skillfull, and working quite hard to do many things as right as possible, definitely has game in him. In a glimpse though, it looks alot like Mikhail Grabovski's game. He'll need to become a bastard for occasions in a Doug Gilmour smaller man kinda way before he can even dream of an NHL lifetime.
I was looking for some other players out there.
Rumour has it that Pavel Valentenko played. Same for Olivier Fortier.
Not noticing a defenseman isn't always a bad thing.
On the flipside I noticed Chad Anderson a whole lot. He's big alright, but it looked like the tools left the toolbox behind. He was blunderville in Hockeyville.
All taken together, one visual assement is hardly enough to draw conclusions from.
Second opinions, as any good doctor will admit, are a much better stage to gauge from.