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As the pre-season begins, Canadiens players have everything to play for

Exhibition games will be used to make key decisions.

NHL: SEP 23 Canadiens Training Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After the first day of training camp, Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme was already looking ahead to seeing his young players in game action.

It was a whirlwind off-season, that also happened to be shorter than any other team’s. Ducharme said that he isn’t going to ease players into camp because of the shorter off-season. In fact, he says it will be the opposite.

Because players didn’t have a chance to have their normal off-season training, Ducharme says that players will need to do be pushed a little harder.

There are a lot of spots up for grabs, and even those who can be considered to have a roster spot are playing for roles.

Nobody expects Jake Evans to start the season in Laval, but his role can be third or fourth-line centre. The defence situation is hard to get a read on because Joel Edmundson is day-to-day with a minor injury, but there is a potential battle for everything from Ben Chiarot’s partner to the entire third pairing.

While the Canadiens’ coach was eager to get on the ice, he knows games will provide him with what he needs to see.

“I’ve seen some players who are great in practice but when the puck drops in a game, they disappear and others it’s the opposite,” said Ducharme. “It’s the games that count. We prepare them for that and we’ll see starting on Saturday how the guys react.”

“You always get more answers in a game than you do in practice.”

He even said that everything, even down to line combinations will come from the players — even the line of Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield, who were great in the playoff run.

“The players give us the answers based on what they do on the ice. For the lines, for the decisions we have to make, everything.”

The main group of Saturday’s lineup will be the White Group in practice, which included the aforementioned top line, along with Ryan Poehling, Mathieu Perreault, Cedric Paquette, Alexander Romanov, and Jeff Petry.

Kaiden Guhle and Mattias Norlinder will likely have to wait until Monday, but Ducharme says that the young players might have an easier time in pre-season action than they did in rookie camp.

Rookie camp, he says, has players come from everywhere and in pre-season games, the Canadiens have a lot of players who are coming back so there’s a bit more of a structure so for them to deal with so it may be easier for them despite the increase in competition.

The Canadiens are going to use all of their depth early in the pre-season. Ducharme says that after the fourth game they will expect to be closer to the real team. That will give them two games to really gear up for the season and have players settle into their roles and have the final battles for spots.