Alain Berger was not exactly a household name when he became eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. In fact, he wasn't even on any team's radar and remained undrafted. Like many aspiring hockey players, and with several options in Europe available, the hard-working right-winger kept pressing on.
Berger's play in Switzerland did catch the eye of the Oshawa Generals (OHL), who drafted him 27th overall in the 2009 CHL Import Draft.
After a 19-goal performance in his rookie OHL season (2009-10), Berger got his first shot at the NHL last September when he was offered a tryout by the Florida Panthers. He was cut with one practice remaining before the Panthers' first exhibition game.
Berger remained unphased and proved the Generals scouts right by tallying up 52 points (29 goals) in 65 games last season, adding 5 goals in ten playoff games.
His sophomore performance was good enough for the Montreal Canadiens to offer him a three-year deal back in April. "I'm very excited to sign with Montreal," said Berger on news of the signing. "To have the chance to be with such a historic team here in Oshawa the last two years has been great and I look forward to the opportunity to join another historic team in the Canadiens."
He'll get his first pro experience with the Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL), but should pick up some pointers at this season's training camp.
Strengths: The first thing that stands out about this 20-year old is his size. Standing at 6'4" and 205lbs, Berger's physical presence alone made him stand out in Switzerland and the OHL.
A game analysis from OHL Prospects noted that he's not afraid to take that big body to the net. Not only does his size infuriate opposing goalies and defenders, but he also has good hands in front of the net. This attests to his 14 goals on the power play.
Berger is also effective in using his size at both ends of the ice, and has taken a leadership role with the Generals as an alternate captain and wearing the C on occasion.
Chris Boucher's one-game detailed analysis gives Berger ratings deemed NHL worthy. Boucher reinforces Berger's defensive abilities (75% in defensive zone puck battles, with one takeaway) as well as his passing efficiency in the offensive zone. Boucher notes in his report that Berger played the left wing in this game, and did on several occasions last season, showing he carries the versatility common amongst many young European players.
The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey offered his thoughts on Berger with EOTP, based on a small sampling he saw at this summer's development camp. "Berger has good size and skills and time in North America has been good because he knows the small ice and speaks excellent English." Hickey also noted Berger was an effective passer.
Weaknesses: The general flaw in Berger is his weaker skating ability. A broken foot, during an exhibition match leading up to the World Junior Championships, may have kept him from being a late NHL draft pick in 2010. Whether that injury has never fully recovered could be the difference in making him a top-six or a bottom six player.
Berger knows that his skating speed is critical in getting to the next level, and after attending the Habs Rookie Development Camp in July, he was given a detailed summer workout program to focus on that. "I have to become faster, " he said in an interview following the camp.
Despite bagging most of his goals in front of the net, Berger has been noted to have a decent wrist shot. Hickey's observations were that his shot should be stronger for a player of his size. Guest voting panelist Robert Rice also felt that despite a 30 goal season, Berger's numbers weren't overly dominant for an overaged player. "He'll need to prove he can adapt to the pro level, where goals are far more difficult to come by.
Analysis: One thing that keeps Berger going is his determination. he states in the aforementioned interview that his goal was to get to the NHL. He now has an excellent opportunity to do just that. His patience and willingness to learn will be a tremendous asset as his career progresses.
Idealistically he could be a strong power forward within the organization. While a top-six spot in Montreal seems rather unlikely any time soon, he could get power play time while getting 3rd line ice-time a couple years down the road. In the meantime he'll get some time to focus and develop on his dream in Hamilton.
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