For the start of the 2007-08 season, the Montreal Canadiens opted to pull out of the annual rookie tournament they have been taking part against teams such as the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, and decided to run more of a traditional instructional camp instead for their prospects.
The team felt that the prospects would receive a better foundation in a learning environment rather be thrown straight into a competitive one.
The tournament had appeared to have run its course in 2006. The Ottawa Senators pulled out at the last minute, to be replaced by the York University Lions, who were not at the level needed for the tournament. They were defeated by the Canadiens 15-1, adding very little competition.
27 players were invited to the 2007 rookie camp and the mood was changing in the organization when it came to the prospect pipeline which had been pretty barren for a few years after disastrous drafts under Pierre Dorion and Martin Madden.
By 2005, Trevor Timmins was firmly in place as head of amateur drafting and the Canadiens had their highest draft pick since 1984, selecting Carey Price at fifth overall. Their second-round pick that year, Guillaume Latendresse, graduated to the NHL by 2006 and had plenty of hype himself.
Several first round picks had already started their seasons in the NCAA and couldn’t attend, including David Fischer (2006), Max Pacioretty (2007), and Ryan McDonagh (2007), but the coffers were now deep with prospects and another group of hopefuls took to the ice in early September 2007.
Here is the full list of attendees:
- Aubin, Mathieu, C, 5R-2005
- Beauregard, Thomas, RW, tryout
- Carle, Mathieu, D, 2R-2006
- Cepek, Cameron, D, 7R-2006
- Chipchura, Kyle, C, 1R-2004
- Conboy, Andrew, LW, 5R-2007
- D’Agostini, Matt, RW, 6R-2005
- Desharnais, David, C, tryout
- Desjardins, Cedrick, G, tryout
- Fortier, Olivier, C, 3R-2007,
- Gleed, Jon, D, 7R-2004
- Kishel, Scott, D, 7R-2007
- Kostitsyn, Sergei, LW, 7R-2007
- Labrie, Mathieu, D, tryout
- Lacasse, Loic, G, 6R-2004
- Lahti, Janne, LW
- Loverock, Andrew, G, tryout
- Maxwell, Benjamin, C, 2R-2006,
- O’Byrne, Ryan, D
- Piche, Sebastien, D, tryout
- Price, Carey, G, 1R-2005
- Russell, Ryan, C
- Stewart, Gregory, LW, 8R-2004
- Subban, P.K., D, 2R-2007
- Valentenko, Pavel, D, 5R-2006
- Weber, Yannick, D, 3R-2007
- White, Ryan, RW, 3R-2006
The paths to stardom of Carey Price and P.K. Subban are well known and they represent the cream of the class of 2007 by a wide margin. The careers of some other players who carved out fairly lengthy NHL careers such as Ryan White, Yannick Weber, Kyle Chipchura, and Ryan O’Byrne are also well documented. But one player in particular is noteworthy for beating all the odds as a rookie camp tryout: David Desharnais.
Beating the Odds
There were six tryouts invited to the Canadiens rookie camp in 2007. One of them was the diminutive captain of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens who had just completed his overage season in the QMJHL, and signed an ATO with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, to finish off the previous season. He went undrafted despite racking up three consecutive seasons of 100 points in the QMJHL, and was out to prove himself.
Desharnais did well enough during the rookie camp, notably scoring on Price in the final intra-squad scrimmage, to earn an invite to the main Canadiens training camp where he continued to surprise in scrimmages. He went on to the Hamilton Bulldogs training camp afterwards and finally was sent to the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones to start the season. A day before the ECHL season got underway, the Bulldogs came knocking and offered him an AHL deal.
"David Desharnais made a favourable impression on Montreal during their training camp," Cyclones head coach Chuck Weber said. "That hard work has paid off.”
Failed to Live Up to the Hype
There are numerous players who could fill this spot: Pavel Valentenko was compared to Anton Volchenkov when he was drafted, but his effort level was not there and he faded away. Mathieu Carle was another defenceman who showed a lot of early promise, but couldn’t translate his game to the NHL.
However based on early hype, it was Janne Lahti, an unknown 24-year old Finnish forward who signed with the Canadiens over the summer, who could perhaps be viewed the biggest disappointment that season. He had just completed his best season to date with HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish Liiga, scoring 20 goals and adding another 14 assists, doubling his previous season’s output and best on his team. At 6’2”, the left winger was expected to find his place on the third line for the Canadiens who were short on offensively capable forwards. La Presse even went as far as to say that “[b]arring any major deficiencies, you should expect to see him in Montreal at the start of the season.”
Not only did Lahti not start the season in Montreal, he was never even called up from Hamilton in the American Hockey League where he spent the entire season with the Bulldogs, failing to show any sort of consistent breakout talent. He was swiftly passed in the pecking order by Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre. He only played a single season in North America before leaving back to Finland where he is still active. Last year, he returned to HPK.
He is perhaps a fine example of a cautionary tale when it comes to over hyping European free agent signings. There is no certainty that, despite overseas success, they will be able to translate their success to North America.
Peaking at NHL Game One
Gregory Stewart was, what the French media describe, ‘un plombier’ for the Hamilton Bulldogs; a plugger who energized his team and was the designated knuckle-thrower for the team. During the 2007-08 AHL season, the Bulldogs had a league-low 40 fighting majors, and Stewart had 12 of them. The call-up was perhaps more of a reward as the Canadiens had already qualified for the playoffs and were resting a few veterans with two games left in the season.
Stewart stepped onto the NHL ice for the first time in the final game of the 2007-08 season; a traditional emotion-filled bout against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Stewart got the Canadiens going with three great scoring chances, hassled the Leafs all night in 11 minutes of play alongside Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandenault, and finished off the night by not backing down from Bryan McCabe.
“I played the best game of my life! But I’ll have to play more here like that if I want to win a spot on the team,” he said afterwards. Unfortunately for him this would be the most memorable game with the Habs. He would linger in the Habs organization for another two seasons, playing 25 games, but never recaptured the energy of that first game.
A Successful Crop, Generally Speaking
Expectations were high for this rookie class, and it delivered in spades with almost half of them playing for the Canadiens at some point, with varying degrees of success. But the success stories far outweighed the disappointments, which showed the quality and quantity of a rejuvenated prospect pool.
A healthy organization has a pipeline of prospects who are able to be promoted at a moment’s notice to the big club. Time will tell how many of the 23 prospects invited to this year’s Rookie Tournament will become full-fledged members of the Montreal Canadiens in the near future, but early indications once again point to an exciting crop.
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