After every Montreal Canadiens game this pre-season, we will look at a few players whose stock goes up or down. This doesn’t mean that they are favoured to make the opening night roster or not, but simply that their outlook is on the rise, or not.
Jordan Weal / Brett Kulak
Both Weal and Kulak would have been favoured to claim their spot in the Canadiens roster for 2019-20, but after two pre-season games, and their performance against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, I’ve seen enough. They aren’t just favoured anymore. They are locks. Weal’s confidence and ability to make plays make him an absolute luxury on a fourth line. Likewise, Kulak’s ability to play on both ends of the ice make him a luxury on the third pair.
Kulak was so good that he completely overshadowed Josh Brook — and Brook didn’t even play badly. It was really impressive and I wouldn’t have any second thoughts to have them move up in the lineup should injuries hit.
As good as Suzuki was in his first pre-season game, he was even better on Thursday night. He was making plays, he was confident. It was the first time I watched him and really believed he could start the season in the NHL. His pass to Kulak was incredible, his shootout confidence also great.
He was the game’s first star and it may not be the last time he has that honour this season. The battle for the final spots in the lineup will be incredible to watch
I know that Lehkonen is secured a spot on the team. I know that the Panthers didn’t have an NHL-heavy lineup. But the instincts Lehkonen showed in the offensive zone and instant chemistry with Brendan Gallagher is something to watch going forward. The way that Lehkonen’s NHL career has started, most have written off his offensive ability.
What he showed on Thursday shows why people are high on him. His turnaround, no look pass to Gallagher was so good.
Alex Belzille-Lukas Vejdemo-Alexandre Alain
For the first part of the first period, I honestly don’t recall seeing them on the ice. Part of that was special teams, but by the third period they were creating scoring chances and seemingly always in the offensive zone.
It wasn’t just seemingly. I know the following stats are a small sample size. I know it means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But I can use them to illustrate how well this line played.
Alain was on the ice for 19 shot attempts for, and only two against (90.48%). Belzile was 21-3 (87.5%). Vejdemo was 19-3 (86.36%). Now, I understand that Florida didn’t have the strongest lineup but no one is pencilling any of these three guys in the Canadiens lineup either. In fact, they may very well be part of the first wave of cuts announced later today.
Still, their performance was notable. It was a great game, and for Alain and Belzile, they did it at the Bell Centre. That’s a special moment.
Phil Varone/Dale Weise
Listen, I really don’t want to put anyone in this section. No one was bad. Some players were better than others but the Canadiens were dominant most of the night despite the close score.
I put Varone and Weise here for one simple reason: I don’t see a way they make this team. They were always going to be a long shot but with the emergence of Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, Jake Evans and Belzile plus the solid play from Weal, Nick Cousins, and Nate Thompson there’s not really a path for them.
And that’s fine. They are good depth options and should they clear waivers will be instrumental to the success of the Laval Rocket.
I like Josh Brook. I can’t really name one thing that Brook did badly this pre-season except for maybe a couple of lost pucks at the offensive blue line. But in order for him to make this team he needs to not be alright. He needs to be really good. I think he’s behind Cale Fleury at this point in time, and that makes sense. Fleury has a full professional season under his belt. Brook has seven games.
I also don’t see Brook holding a spot over Christian Folin or Mike Reilly. Noah Juulsen’s injury may open a spot but I don’t see Brook taking it. Let him learn in the AHL. There’s nothing wrong with that.