With three forwards going down to injury during Tuesday's 2-1 OT loss to Buffalo, the Canadiens' depth was about to get a major test. Max Pacioretty looks like he might be able to recover quickly, and will try to see if he can play on Friday vs. Ottawa, but Mike Cammalleri looks to be out for about a month and the status of Jeff Halpern hasn't been made clear yet. With the top two forwards for the Hamilton Bulldogs (Pacioretty and David Desharnais) having played their way onto the Habs in the past month, it wasn't clear who was next in line. Maxim Lapierre was traded for a defenseman, while Dustin Boyd was waived, likely ruling him out. Boyd has to go through re-entry waivers at some point in order to make it back to the Habs' roster, so he's effectively out for the year unless the Habs want to have half his remaining salary count against the cap.
The Bulldogs still had a trio of players available that had played games for the Canadiens last year: Ben Maxwell, Ryan White, and J.T. Wyman. Maxwell is the top scorer left for the Bulldogs, while White and Wyman are more known as checkers that could fill in on the fourth line at the NHL level. Another option was Aaron Palushaj, acquired from the St. Louis Blues last year in exchange for Matt D`Agostini, as he was the top scoring winger left on the team, as well as the highest drafted player on the team (44th overall in 2007).
Instead, the Canadiens bypassed all the players with NHL experience, and ignored draft status as well as counting stats like goals and assists and called up Andreas Engqvist, an undrafted twenty-three year old centre from Stockholm. He'll become the first Swedish player to play on the Habs in five years, when Niklas Sundstrom played RW for the 2005-06 season. The Habs haven't had any success in picking any players out of Sweden in recent years, missing out completely on the resurgence of talent in that area, so Egnqvist is a lone wolf in the Canadiens organization.
Despite his underwhelming counting numbers (14 points in 38 GP with Hamilton), Engqvist has reportedly adapted quite well to North American hockey, often patrolling the third line for most of the season and spending a lot of time killing penalties. He's really built to be a checking centre as a professional, offering a nice combination of size (6'3", 198 lbs), smarts and versatility. He is now tied with Benoit Pouliot for the tallest forward on the team, and though he isn't quite as lanky as Pouliot, he's still only tied for sixth in weight with Lars Eller.
We at EOTP had Engqvist at 23rd this summer on our Top 25 Habs Under 25, which kind of reflected both a low opinion on his upside (no one thinks he's a potential top six forward), and a bit of an unknown factor in the group. Despite this, he's amongst the top of all the players in his age group in the organization in terms of professional games played, as he's played in 202 games (regular season and playoffs) in the Elitserien (Sweden's top league), plus nine games at last year's IIHF World Championships. He's been deep at both levels, having lost in last year's Elitserien Finals with his team Djurgarden (accumulating five goals and thirteen points in sixteen games), while helping Sweden win bronze at the Worlds with one goal and three assists in nine games.
Simply put, despite his lack of NHL experience, he is one of the most polished of the players in the Hamilton organization to date. If Halpern is out for a few games, he should be able to slide in quite nicely in his spot. He's also right handed, which should be helpful now that the team has parted ways with Lapierre. It'll be up to the rest of the team, including players like Pouliot, Eller, and Desharnais, to step up offensively in Cammalleri's absence.
The team could have went in any number of directions with this call-up, including recalling Louis Leblanc out of the QMJHL for his nine game tryout, but instead chose a low maintenance, off the radar centre who not many fans and NHL observers know much about. Is it an indication that the prospect pool is currently shallow, or just another reflection that the organization evaluates its players a little differently? Certainly, the team could use a player like Engqvist in the coming years, so this could simply be a matter of getting his feet wet at the NHL level.
It's always a bit exciting when a player gets called up for his first NHL game, so I know I'll be watching #63 closely on Friday night. He'll be the first player to make his NHL debut this year for the Habs.