The top players to watch at the upcoming Rookie Tournament
With some of the Canadiens’ top prospects convening in Toronto in a week’s time, there are a few performances that should stand out.
The Montreal Canadiens have released the list of 23 players that will repesent the club at the annual Rookie Tournament. The team will consist of a mix of tryouts and several top prospects — at least those not preparing for their season in Europe or the NCAA — and is scheduled to go up against some of the best young players in the systems of the Ottawa Senators and host Toronto Maple Leafs.
There are a few players among the group who are looking to take their first steps toward a professional career. There’s is also one player who has already seen some success in the professional game across several countries and leagues, and is hoping to now work his way to an NHL position.
Réway had hoped to begin that North American journey last season, but was sidelined by a serious heart condition that threatened to end not only his hockey career but his life. After a year away from the game, a doctor-monitored training regimen to get back into shape, and a few weeks of tune-up on the ice at home in Slovakia, he will finally get to don the Canadiens sweater in a competitive environment.
Just the fact that he’s been cleared to participate is a victory for him, so it’s hard to set any expectations. Were his health at 100%, there’s little question that he’d be the most creative Habs player on the ice (though he probably wouldn’t be in the event at all in that case). With his current situation, he will have to find a balance between showing off his talents and slowly easing into the pace of play.
His vision should still be there, but the execution on the passing plays he made his name on may be slightly off. The Canadiens also have few finishers on the tournament roster, so even if he is able to connect on his passes, his efforts may not get turned into offence.
For that reason, it may be more important to watch him play and see how he’s faring in the offensive zone rather than expecting a large number of points.
Juulsen hasn’t been without his own health concerns, with multiple concussions early in his amateur career. He missed a lengthy stretch from January to February this year with an injury sustained in the World Junior Championship, and this after being forced out of the 2015-16 season early with a broken jaw.
Fortunately, those concussion issues haven’t shown up in recent seasons, but there will always be some concern whenever his head is involved in a bodycheck in the future.
Physical play is one of the hallmarks of his game, being aggressive in his defensive zone and having the ability to land an open-ice hit on a player expecting to gain the blue line with ease. He will surely be looking to make such an impact on some of the players he may be facing on a regular basis in the NHL in the near future.
While the Habs aren’t taking many flashy forwards to Toronto, the team will have a large number of the organization’s best young defenders. Juulsen will be joined by Simon Bourque and Victor Mete as players close to making an impact in the pros, as well as the four blue-liners taken in this year’s entry draft.
Juulsen should stand out as the best of that strong group, and should be very effective in keeping the talented forwards from the Ontarian teams at bay.
If anyone does slip through the defences, he’ll have to beat the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year to get his name on the scoresheet.
With two of the organization’s young goaltenders playing in the NCAA, McNiven is the only official Canadiens netminder at the tournament. The team did give a tryout to QMJHL goalie Antoine Samuel to get two goalies on the roster, but expect McNiven to receive the bulk of the work in the tournament.
His athleticism will allow him to contest shots that not many goaltenders could, and his quick glove should have a few Leafs and Senators staring at the rafters of Ricoh Coliseum in disbelief. It will be a good test for McNiven as he prepares to begin his professional career.
Should he show he still needs more development, the decision could very well be to send him to the ECHL, where he can accumulate big minutes in a starter’s role. That’s probably the best move for his future success, as Charlie Lindgren has a firm grasp on the number-one role for the AHL team.
Should McNiven prove that his puck-stopping ability is too much of an asset not to deploy against AHL competition, he may force the Laval Rocket into a two-goalie rotation for their inaugural season.