For the second straight year, the Montreal Canadiens sent their prospects to a three game tournament in London, Ontario. A 1-2-0 record was far from ideal, but with 14 goals scored over three games, the offence was certainly going.
Unsurprisingly, the most talented players from the Canadiens were the prospects who stole the show. Led by Michael McCarron, the Habs got significant contributions from Artturi Lehkonen, Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen, Mikhail Sergachev, and Will Bitten.
The full rookie tournament roster is available here.
After allowing the first goal just 21 seconds into the first game, the Canadiens pummelled the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-3 in thrilling display. The top line of Lehkonen - McCarron - Scherbak combined for nine points, while the Habs got big-time offensive contributions from Juulsen (3 points) and Ryan Johnston (2 goals).
Despite allowing a goal of the first shot faced, Charlie Lindgren clamped down and fended off the Penguins, making numerous show-stopping saves in typical Lindgren fashion.
It was Nikita Scherbak who stole the show on Friday night, with his between the legs dangle, followed by a powerful drive to the net for a highlight reel goal.
The Baby Habs took on the Baby Leafs on Saturday night, in what would finish as the most exciting game the Canadiens played. Mitch Marner dazzled for the Leafs, while McCarron shone up front for the Canadiens.
The more talented Leafs squad took a commanding 3-1 lead following a dominant second period, but the top trio of Lehkonen-McCarron-Scherbak answered with two goals of their own. The Leafs ultimately scored a late winner on a shot that Zach Fucale would've certainly liked to have back, but the Canadiens were clearly outclassed for much of the game.
The final game, against the Ottawa Senators was one that the Montreal squad could've controlled, but instead were beaten handily 6-3. The Sens started a goalie who played just one game all of last season, and had a roster that had just three extra players to sub-in following the three-in-three schedule. Although Montreal scratched Michael McCarron, it was still a game they should have won.
Early on, Sergachev stole the show. The supremely skilled Sergachev showed all facets of his game, good and bad--The high-end skating, fantastic vision, booming shot, and physicality, but took two undisciplined penalties (both of which led to goals). Unfortunately, Sergachev did not return to the game following a disgusting hit from Vincent Dunn, but appears no worse for the wear.
Here's Dunn's hit on Sergachev. Not even remotely close to the play. pic.twitter.com/ZitpRHATEB— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 18, 2016
Artturi Lehkonen - Michael McCarron - Nikita Scherbak
The Canadiens' top line was unarguably their best. Artturi Lehkonen made a great debut with four points and numerous scoring chances. He faded as the third game wore on, as expected. His exploitative, darting into tight spaces game, appears to be a perfect match for the smaller ice surface. His pass reception, strength, and shooting all looked above what most players--opponents and teammates--showed. Lehkonen looks to be a strong contender to make the team out of camp.
The centre, the captain, and the most impressive of the trio was Michael McCarron. The talented 6'6" centre created chances across the offensive zone, showcasing his heavy shot, soft touch, and improving passing ability. This tournament was an early reminder that McCarron is far from a just a physical grinder, but rather a legitimately skilled player. Although the numbers game hampers his chances of making the big club, McCarron should be a scoring leader with the IceCaps.
The third, and most divisive of the trio was Nikita Scherbak. A slow start in game one turned into a dominant finish, featuring all of his tricks, including the dangles, speed, and playmaking. Two blatant turnovers against the Leafs otherwise masked a solid performance as he was the focal point of the Canadiens late push. Yet another late start hampered Scherbak, as it took him until the third period to really get going. His timing and decision-making appeared off at times. However, with a team-leading six points in three games it's hard to criticize Scherbak.
It's not often that first-timer fresh from the draft shines at these tournaments, especially outside the top-30, but that's exactly what Will Bitten did.
Will Bitten with a great shift. Gets into HD zone, then draws penalty. Showcasing speed, hands & smarts. pic.twitter.com/VizVR0yAOU— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 18, 2016
Bitten's explosive skating and deft saucer passes earned him two beautiful assists, he endeared himself to fans with a gritty performance versus the Leafs, and he created chances no matter the situation. Bitten is still waiting for a trade in the OHL, so his future is still in the air, but he looks poised for a big season.
The 2015 seventh-round pick performed admirably in a secondary scoring role through three games. As per the usual, Addison hustled across the ice and won battles, but it was an uncharacteristic soft touch on pucks that grabbed him three points. He made some gorgeous plays on the puck, and combined it with his relentless puck pursuit.
Jeremiah Addison lowering the boom as the Sens run away with the score. pic.twitter.com/KtnzDW2YCF— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 18, 2016
Daniel Audette co-lead the team in goals with three, two of which demonstrated a powerful shot--an area he has worked on throughout his QMJHL career. Audette didn't create chances at the rate the top line or Bitten did, but demonstrated solid finishing ability. Between a solid stint with the IceCaps last season and this tournament, perhaps Audette has finally turned the corner that has caused him three years of slow development.
Daniel Audette makes it 1-0! Will Bitten grabs the primary assist. pic.twitter.com/4Cj6EEemTW— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 17, 2016
Perhaps Matt Bradley wasn't as noticeable as the others, nor does his stat line (one goal in three games) deserve the same consideration as the others', but he had a sneaky good tournament. Whether in a depth role or on the second line, Bradley played his intelligent, methodical approach and it showed. Perhaps he was a bit unlucky at times, but continued to make a positive impact while on the ice.
Jeremiah Addison with a creative faceoff win and sets up Matt Bradley for a tap-in. 4-3 Sens. pic.twitter.com/jyLN6URFRk— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 18, 2016
Apart from a few mishaps with slot coverage early on, Sergachev had a stellar rookie tournament. In game one, it Sergachev's poise, smart decision-making, and skating that stared. Scratched in game two, Sergachev returned for the third game, where he made his presence felt. Two gorgeous primary assists, a bone-crushing hit, and dominance of the puck showcased Sergachev's flashier side. His tournament was cut short following a late hit, but make no mistake, he has the skill set to challenge for a roster spot.
Johnston scored a pair of goals in the first game, both of which demonstrated his offensive awareness. Johnston looked noticeably faster than last season, beating players across the ice with his arsenal of elusive moves. Although he ran into some problems with the puck in his own zone, his knack for disrupting chances at the last second limited his own zone time.
Playing in front of the home crowd, it's no surprise that Mete looked right at home. Mete's high-end skating allowed him to jump into the rush and generate chances, as well as aggressively close the gap on forwards. He did a good job getting shots through traffic, which hopefully keeps up throughout the regular season with London.
Partnered with Sergachev in both games, Juulsen really impressed. He was the better of the two in game one, grabbing three points, including a bar-down rocket for his goal. In the final game, Juulsen's continued his strong play even after Sergachev left. In both games, Juulsen brought a physical edge.
As expected it was an up-and-down performance from Henrikson is his two games in the tournament. He was thrown to the wolves against Toronto, often facing Mitch Marner, but bounced back with a solid performance against Ottawa. His above-average agility stood out in his own zone, while he flashed glimpses of offensive smarts.
Lernout was as physically punishing and gracefully skating as always. He made one poor read that lead to a goal against, but for the most part was fairly solid in his own zone. Against Ottawa he rang a howitzer off the post.
Lindgren started the first game of the tournament, and was the best of the Canadiens's three goaltenders. After allowing a goal 21 seconds into the game, Lindgren bounced back with an solid performance. Numerous beautiful saves helped mask spotty defensive zone coverage.
Fucale was thrust into the spotlight, playing against Toronto in the only game most of Habs land was able to watch. Fucale's showstopping blocker save on Colin Smith might've been the best of the tournament, but it was followed by at least two goals that Fucale should've stopped. It was unfortunate circumstances as the Canadiens were without Sergachev, Juulsen, and Lernout, and faced a better squad, but he needed to be better.
Although McNiven has historically played some of his best hockey in Budweiser Gardens, it didn't matter against the Senators. The Canadiens gave the Senators a large number of high danger scoring chances, but it was from long-range that he was beat. The explosive lateral movement got him caught away from the puck more often than not, while his glove hand lacked the flash it normally has.
The "Finn-isher" as he's called by Owen Sound Attack fans had a solid camp. Despite his short stature, his wins battles through his shot-out-of-a-cannon approach. His quick hands and heavy shot were on display on numerous occasions, but also made a few unforced turnovers.
As expected for a 24 year old, the former linemate of Charles Hudon had a solid tournament. Asselin's slick hands and sneaky positioning in the offensive zone got him a fair number of chances. His lack of conversion makes his stat line nothing but zeros, but overall he did fairly well.
It's important to keep in mind that this tournament shouldn't be used for full player evaluations. It's a fun piece of preseason hockey that gets the prospects a chance to play with one another and/or tune them up for the rigors of NHL training camp.
The prospects will head back to Montreal for two more days of rookie camp before the main training camp opens up on the 22nd.
Preseason action kicks off against the New Jersey Devils on September 26th.