The Montreal Canadiens start their Rookie Camp on Thursday in Brossard prior to heading to London, Ontario for the Rookie Tournament that will pit the Habs’ young prospects against their counterparts in the systems of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Travelling with the team will be all the highly-touted prospects, such as Mikhail Sergachev, Artturi Lehkonen, and Nikita Scherbak. But there are also six players who are invited to the camp as tryouts. Technically speaking, the full nomenclature would be Amateur Tryout contracts, or ATO, which is a temporary American Hockey League contract.
Last season several such tryouts signed deals with the Canadiens, so we can expect at least one or two of these players to ink AHL deals, especially the few that the Canadiens have invited back to camp.
Scott Eansor (LW/C, 20, Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)
Eansor didn’t look out of place playing the best Habs prospects at Development Camp earlier this summer. He is entering his overage junior season with the Thunderbirds where he centres one of the top offensive lines.
He won the award for CHL Player of the Week during the playoffs in April, scoring two game-winning goals for the Thunderbirds, and three out of the team’s five goals. The list of players who claimed that title in post-season play includes Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, and Timo Meier.
He was also part of the American bronze-medal team at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2015, playing in all seven tournament games, scoring a goal and going +2.
He brings to camp a play-making touch and a high compete level that have helped him stand out in Seattle.
Giovanni Fiore (RW, 20, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL)
Fiore knows all about battling for a roster position, as he is currently in the midst of a battle for an overage spot with Cape Breton. He will be coming to the Canadiens’ Rookie Camp in a competitive mindset, which should be to his advantage. He risks not having a spot anywhere come the start of the season, so he is sure to be at the top of his game.
Fiore joined the Screaming Eagles at the CHL trade deadline, and helped Cape Breton get to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs, scoring at over a point-per-game pace after arriving.
Canadiens scouts got to see plenty of Fiore recently when they were checking in on potential first-round draft selection Pierre-Luc Dubois. Fiore is a talented forward who has the build that the organization covets (i.e. north of six feet tall), and is also a native of Laval, which wouldn’t hurt in the marketing department when it comes time to promote Le Rocket de Laval next season.
Hayden McCool (LW, 19, Windsor Spitfires, OHL)
The large 6’3” forward made a tremendous leap this past season, going from a -28 to a +23 goal differential. Although that stat line in isolation is a dubious way to recognize development, the improvement is too striking to ignore. On top of a major defensive improvement, McCool also put up 15 goals last season, so it appears like he is putting the pieces together to become a complete power forward.
After going undrafted in 2015, McCool attending the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp on a tryout basis, but didn’t end up getting signed. Passed over a second time at the draft in 2016, he’s back for a second look from the Canadiens after an appearance in development camp, so obviously the team is keeping a close eye on this potential physical force.
McCool is entering his third year of OHL action and will be playing in the 2017 Memorial Cup hot, the Windsor Spitfires. That will increases his visibility, so the Habs will need to take an early gamble on him .if they see some potential.
Petrus Palmu (LW, 19, Owen Sound Attack, OHL)
The diminutive forward impressed during intra-squad scrimmages in July. A lot is made of how tall a hockey player needs to be, but the 5’6” Finnish-born Palmu continues to defy sceptics.
He was a key player for Owen Sound this past season, displaying great speed and puck smarts. Coming over from Finland at 17, Palmu scored over 20 goals and racked up over 40 points in both of his OHL seasons. Palmu has exploded out of the gates in pre-season action, with four goals in four games for the Attack.
The Canadiens probably kept a close eye on Palmu this past season while going to watch goaltending prospect Michael McNiven in action for the Attack, so they are familiar with him, and obviously see the potential in his offensive game.
Michael Zipp (D, 19, Calgary Hitmen, WHL)
The lone defenseman to be part of the tryout group, Zipp will spend his 20th birthday at rookie camp.
Zipp is a large defenceman, known more for his defensive game than his scoring touch. He is strong on the puck and known to be very physical when defending. Racking up close to 100 penalty minutes two seasons in a row, Zipp is a tough player to play against, and would add some salt to the IceCaps line-up for certain, though he still has some growing to do in his offensive game.
Entering his fifth and final season in the junior ranks, the ‘stay-at-home’ defenceman was an alternate captain with the Hitmen the past two seasons.
Guillaume Asselin (RW, 24, Patriotes de l’UQTR, CIS)
A last-minute replacement for the ailing Martin Réway, Asselin was the highest-scoring player in the CIS last season — both in goals and total points — and helped lead his school to the top of the league during the regular season, and to the Queen’s Cup: the trophy awarded to the champion of the Ontario University Athletics Conference.
He provided a couple of assists in the third period to help tie the championship game before ultimately winning it in overtime against Western. As a result of his season performance, he was named the CIS Men’s Hockey Player of the Year. He will be the second-oldest player at the rookie camp, just turning 24 this past Friday. According to La Presse he received the invitation on that day; an unexpected birthday surprise.
Asselin went unselected in the NHL Draft, and spent five years in the QMJHL, starting with the Montréal Juniors and finishing with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in 2013, where he was an alternate captain.
After failing to impress with the Philadelphia Flyers‘ AHL affiliate as a tryout, he signed with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL to launch his professional career. That only lasted 11 games, including nine consecutive healthy scratches, before he ultimately decided to leave and go to university in Trois-Rivières, where he has been ever since, to get his university degree.
In an interview with Le Journal de Montréal last February, he expressed his interest in giving pro hockey another go when he completes his degree, and identified Mathieu Darche as a role model to follow of an undrafted player who returned to university before finding success in the NHL.
All of these players (except for Asselin) are eligible to return to their CHL Junior team as overage players if they get released from their ATO contracts after camp. Asselin, too old to play in Junior, would likely return to the CIS.
Here are the contract options and governing rules for these tryouts:
- Sign an NHL Entry-Level Contract, which is a standard three-year deal. As the Habs are at 50 contracts of the 50 contract limit (with three expected to slide), any NHL ELC signed by a tryout is likely to slide by a year when the player returns to their Junior team for the season, similar to Michael McNiven last year.
- An AHL Standard Player Contract. This would allow the player to play for the St. John IceCaps this season, and potentially be loaned to the Brampton Beast of the ECHL, as well.
- Until they agree to either option above, the tryout deal is equivalent to an AHL Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO), meaning they can participate in an NHL training camp and can also start the season with the AHL IceCaps, playing up to a maximum of 25 games before the team can choose to release them, sign them to an AHL SPC, or sign them to a second ATO.
- While under an ATO, the player cannot sign with another AHL team, but can sign with another NHL team.