With Sunday's scrimmage ending in a victory for Team Red, the Montreal Canadiens' training camp essentially comes to a close. There will be practices and the Red vs White game at the Bell Centre, but there will be cuts made soon as we move on to preseason.
We'll skip how the veterans did, with one exception, because we know who they are and, for the most part, where they fit. The one veteran I do want to talk about is Alex Galchenyuk. Moved to center with Brendan Gallagher and mostly Travis Moen on his wings, Galchenyuk looked like a natural. Though he generated a ton of scoring chances, his line couldn't find the back of the net. Sometimes those are the breaks.
Will Galchenyuk start the regular season at center? I think it's a tough go for him unless the Canadiens try Desharnais on the wing, and they seem to continue to have Desharnais automatically anointed as the number one center, so don't count on it. Galchenyuk would have to have a preseason for the ages to stay at center, I think.
The open spots on defense
There has been a ton of focus on the open spots on defense. There's a top-six spot on the left side open between Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Bouillon, and a seventh D spot open between Pateryn and Nygren. You could say that spot is a top-six spot too, if you believe those two could shove Mike Weaver into the seventh slot, but that would require huge performances.
Nathan Beaulieu has looked particularly fantastic. Max Pacioretty mentioned that he had heard whispers of how impressed management and the coaching staff was with him during physicals, and you could see in every scrimmage that his game has progressed significantly. Paired with Mike Weaver, Beaulieu made smart decisions consistently, skating or passing the puck out of danger on defense, and leading many a breakout up the ice. You can tell that once Beaulieu is fully comfortable in the NHL, he's going to be very special.
Jarred Tinordi was also impressive. This style of scrimmage helps evaluate Tinordi better than preseason games, I find, because he doesn't feel the need to be overly physical against his own teammates. He still stepped up on players at the blueline, but he didn't go out of his way to crush guys, and as a result he played a much more responsible game, held on to the puck more, and made some excellent plays. Tinordi's ability to skate the puck up the ice continues to be an underrated part of his game, and it's that kind of talent, not hitting, that will help him become more than a bottom pairing defenseman.
Francis Bouillon looked like himself. He was clearly trying much harder than the average player since he's on a professional tryout contract and desperately wants to make the team, but he's still himself, a very limited player about to turn 39.
Greg Pateryn was fine, but he didn't really stand out either way. He was solid in his own end and not too guilty of turnovers or anything, but he deferred to Tinordi with the puck a ton, which kind of makes it look like he doesn't have a lot of confidence. Pateryn will need to do a lot more to make the team.
Similar to Pateryn, Magnus Nygren was solid but unspectacular. He stood up opponents physically more often than Pateryn, but he didn't do anything special with the puck, which is what everyone is looking for. There's a possibility that Nygren was asked to show his defensive chops and play it safe, but I want to see him make plays.
Battling on the wings
Everyone's eyes are on Jiri Sekac, who showed some significant chemistry with Tomas Plekanec during the scrimmages. Dany Dubé mentioned that Sekac plays too much on the perimeter, but that doesn't seem true. He was in the slot a fair amount during the scrimmages, and as usual in Montreal, perimeter player seems to mean "Not Tomas Holmstrom". Sekac is a skilled player who excels at carrying the puck up the ice, though he will need to adjust to the NHL's speed of decision making, which is to be expected.
Jacob de la Rose was probably the biggest improvement from the first scrimmage to the last, not to say he was bad initially, but he started to show some creativity on Sunday. The biggest standout skill for de la Rose continues to be his skating, which backs defenders off and creates space for his linemates. He might not be fully ready for the NHL this year, but he should do really well in the AHL.
Sven Andrighetto also spent most of the three scrimmages with Tomas Plekanec, and looked at home with him and Sekac. Andrighetto's skating speed and release make him a very dangerous offensive player, and though he's small, he's build like an engine block on skates, so he's tough to get off the puck. His goal scoring ability could easily win him a spot on the Habs, because he has consistently stood out better in that regard than Sekac has.
I said it in the summer, and I'll say it again here; watch out for Charles Hudon. Switched back to center Sunday, Hudon had yet another fantastic game. And don't forget that on Saturday, he did this. Hudon probably has the highest level of skill of any AHL-level Canadiens prospect, and by far the highest level of creativity. He's consistently underestimated, so don't be surprised if he gets a shot at the NHL this year.
The biggest longshot for that open wing spot is the most recent Habs first round pick, Nikita Scherbak. Scherbak was phenomenally impressive in his two scrimmages, and while his creativity and puck control in the offensive zone is what will stand out for most, what I noticed was how often he was involved defensively, and how successful he was at getting the puck out of the zone, and with his team remaining in possession. Scherbak seemed much more at home with the increased speed of these scrimmages, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Habs try him out for nine games if he impresses during preseason.