Ten years ago, 23 players took part in the Montreal Canadiens’ rookie training camp.
Between 2007 and 2015, the team did not take part in any NHL Rookie Tournaments, simply starting their team’s training camp early with just the rookies prior to the veterans hitting the ice. “We called it a rookie camp, but it’s more like a pre-training camp,” said Trevor Timmins, then the director of player development to La Presse in 2008. “The goal is to get them used to the system they will be playing in the next few days in order to be ready to play alongside the veteran players.”
The rookie training camp was often a chance to get a first glimpse at a recent draft pick or a promising rookie who was on the verge of challenging for a roster spot on the main team.
That year, there were players with heightened expectations, such as Brock Trotter and Danny Kristo, who drew a lot of hype, but ultimately failed to live up it. There were those who would eventually exceed expectation such as Yannick Weber and David Desharnais because of their size and relatively low expectations.
Then there was Max Pacioretty.
In the 19-year old freshman at the University of Michigan, Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey saw enough to offer Pacioretty a three-year contract after only a single season in university. “Max Pacioretty is a prospect with real good qualities and the potential to play in the National Hockey League,” said Gainey. “We are confident that he is ready to make the jump into the pros, and we will get him the best resources possible to facilitate his long-term development.”
“He looks like a pro right now,” said head coach Guy Carbonneau. “We can’t always say that about a 20-year-old.”
Pacioretty was the star attraction at the rookie camp, mainly due to his status as a first-round pick. Two other first-rounders in the organization, Ryan McDonagh and David Fischer, were still in college, and therefore didn’t attend, while Carey Price and Kyle Chipchura had already ‘graduated’ beyond a rookie camp.
A lot of things were being said about Pacioretty, but he didn’t let it go to his head. “I haven’t heard everything. Those are just words,” wisely proclaimed Pacioretty. “I have to prove myself every single time I am on the ice. When I tie my laces I only think about what I have to do on the ice, not that other stuff.”
Now captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Pacioretty is the only player from this group of 23 players to remain in the organization. Looking at the list of those who attended, you start to see a lot of players who failed to meet their potential: Pavel Valentenko, Ben Maxwell, Mathieu Carle. Very few even had much of an NHL career.
A 10-year tenure with a single organization is rare, but it goes to show just the kind of turnover that the organization underwent over the past decade when very few recognizable names remain, even from the crop of rookies.
A young Max Pacioretty at his first rookie training camp with the Montreal Canadiens in 2008. (photo: La Presse) pic.twitter.com/xVkz6hqHyf— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) August 29, 2018
Another interesting group of players attending rookie camp in 2008 was “The Flying Frenchmen” of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, comprised of Desharnais, Cedrick Desjardins, Olivier Latendresse, and Thomas Beauregard. They were undrafted prospects out of the QMJHL who signed minor-league contracts with the Canadiens organization and proceeded to guide the Cyclones to a Kelly Cup conquest, along with other rookie camp participants Ryan Russell and tryout Conrad Martin. This crop of players, along with a couple of Habs draft picks Mathieu Aubin and Jon Gleed, who were not at the rookie camp, was by far the most successful contingent to ever represent the Canadiens in the ECHL, and something that the Canadiens have not even come close to reproducing since.
If history tells us anything, it’s that the Canadiens thought very little of this group, and decided to banish them to the ECHL just to meet their player quota with their affiliate. The group clearly exceeded expectations, and they all earned themselves a season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League for the 2008-09 season.
Out of that group, Desharnais continued to shine as he built a solid chemistry with Pacioretty. The pair took the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup semi-finals in two consecutive years: 2010 and 2011. Their combined success in the AHL frequently gave rise to call-ups to the NHL, and after three seasons of traveling back and forth, both eventually landed full-time roles with the Canadiens for the 2011-12 season.
2008 ROOKIE CAMP ROSTER
- Cedrick Desjardins, undrafted free agent signing, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
- Jason Missiaen, 2008 fourth round pick, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
- Nicola Riopel, tryout, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
- Robert Mayer, tryout, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
- Chad Anderson, undrafted free agent signing, Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL)
- Conrad Martin, undrafted EHL free agent signing, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
- Joe Stejskal, 2007 fifth round pick, Dartmouth College (NCAA)
- P.K. Subban, 2007 second round pick, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
- Yannick Weber, 2007 third round pick, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
- Mathieu Carle, 2006 second round pick, Acadie-Bathurst Titans (QMJHL)
- Pavel Valentenko, 2006 fifth round pick, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
- Max Pacioretty, 2007 first round pick, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Brock Trotter, undrafted free agent signing, University of Denver (NCAA)
- Danny Kristo, 2008 second round pick, U.S. National U18 Team
- Thomas Beauregard, undrafted ECHL free agent signing, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
- David Desharnais, undrafted AHL free agent signing, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
- Olivier Fortier, 2007 third round pick, Rimouski Oceanique (QMJHL)
- Olivier Latendresse, undrafted AHL free agent signing, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
- Ben Maxwell, 2006 second round pick, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
- Alexandre Monahan, tryout, Val D’Or Foreur (QMJHL)
- Ryan Russell, obtained via trade from Rangers, Cincinnatti Cyclones (ECHL)
- Ryan White, 2006 third round pick, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
- James Wyman, 2004 fourth round pick, Dartmouth College (NCAA)
At the conclusion of rookie camp five players were cut, while the remaining 18 continued on to the proper training camp. The players cut included goaltenders Jason Missiaen and Nicola Riopel, defenceman Joe Stajskal, and forwards Danny Kristo and Alexander Monahan. None of the invited players made the Canadiens roster to start the season.