Montreal Canadiens prospects took to the ice on the weekend for the annual development camp. This is one of the few times where we can see Montreal’s future compete all in the same place, and an occasion to see some new faces for the first time.
The scrimmages done at the camp are not meant to be anything close to a real game, even if the competition remains reasonably high as they still serve as tryouts for some. Nevertheless, some prospects still manage to stand out from the rest and make an impression, both on fans and management closely watching.
Of the invitees, Riley Hughes showed that he possesses some pretty good hands and that he can come off the wall in the offensive zone to attack the slot with his handling ability, or feed his teammates in the same way. Brandon Hagel can hold onto and protect the puck under pressure quite well. T.J. Melancon and Cameron Lee also showed that they could make some plays in possession and evade the forecheck in the defensive zone.
But looking strictly at the Habs’ future, there were some great moments for the organization’s prospects that might be promises of great things to come.
Jarret Tyszka - #74
Jarret Tyszka looked to be a cut above the other defenders with possession. The plays he tried didn’t always work out — the same as what was happening this season in the WHL — but his poise with the puck is always impressive.
Jordan Harris - #56
Unexpectedly, there was another defenceman who stood out from the pack for his offensive abilities, and it was the newcomer Jordan Harris. He was just drafted out of Kimball Union Academy A where he played High School Hockey, but it didn’t look like it in the pace at which he played.
He has some tendencies to jump up from his position, forcing some of the more veteran centres to cover for him, but he displayed the skills necessary to contribute to the offence when he attempts to act like a fourth forward. He has good handling abilities, but his feet are the main asset responsible for creating those opportunities for him.
On Saturday, as Jesse Ylönen was collapsing on the Red’s defence, Harris asked for a pass from his partner and received it while accelerating forward, giving him enough space to carry the puck in the neutral zone and feed it to Jacob Olofsson along the far boards.
The Swedish forward then attacked the offensive blue line, attracting almost all the defensive pressure, and, in another display of great vision and skill, found the trailing Harris who joined his centre on the offence.
Harris separated from Jesperi Kotkaniemi with another few quick strides and managed a backhand shot on net.
Harris once again showcased his offensive flair on Sunday. Skating across the offensive blue line, he received a pass from Ryan Poehling, who stood along the boards and advanced in the zone before releasing in stride, beating White’s goalie with his ability to fire quickly between steps.
Ryan Poehling - #44
The St. Cloud State centre was at the top of his game for the last scrimmage, and was, from start to finish, the most dominant player. No matter the setting, Poehling rarely got caught cheating on the play away from the puck. He was forechecking, backchecking, and creating smooth transitions for Red.
There were memorable displays of skill coming from Poehling, too, including the feed to Harris, which was a play that would not have been identified so quickly by many.
He also showed his ability to overpower others and beat defenders one-on-one with his puck-handling, turning David Sklenička inside out before getting robbed by Cayden Primeau’s glove.
There were a few reminders of just how good Poehling is at creating space for others when he has a chance, dragging defenders with him only to drop a pass in an empty shooting lane for a teammate.
Hands down, Poehling looked like the most NHL-ready prospect on the ice, poised to accomplish great things with the Huskies next season.
Jesse Ylönen - #51
Ylönen was another standout in the game, not only due to his mobility, but also to his very good hands and ability to anticipate and locate his teammates’ positions.
Even from the first few looks, his high skill level was undeniable as he flew past opponents with his head up, shuffling the puck or bursting in any direction to separate from defenders. He was seen protecting the puck quite effectively on a few shifts, prolonging offensive possessions for his team.
The setting favoured his play style, but it is clear there is not much Ylönen lacks in terms of tools.
The best thing about him might be just how easy he makes playing at high speed seem. He incorporates stick-lifts with his puck-handling, and his precise and quick control of the puck makes defenders bait on any move he exaggerates, giving him the space to accelerate past them.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi - #47
Ylönen also found some chemistry with the Habs’ new top prospect in Sunday’s game, which contributed to make Kotkaniemi shine after a quiet first two games.
On Sunday, the pair created a turnover in the neutral zone and rushed up to the net on a two-on-one. Kotkaniemi faked the shot and waited until the last second to get the puck across to Ylönen, who deflected it in the empty net. It was another testament to the centre’s ability to manipulate opponents to open up easy plays for teammates.
Kotkaniemi was definitely putting in the work to wow the crowd in this last game, especially with his stickhandling, trying a few moves that showed the extent to what he can do if you leave him space. We could even say that, in a subtle way, he was inviting defenders to try to strip possession away from him.
William Bitten tasted his own medicine when he went for a pokecheck against Kotkaniemi, only to miss completely as the Finnish forward slid the puck in between Bitten’s stick and his skates. Kotkaniemi didn’t stop there. He then attempted to make a pass across to Cam Hillis by going in between his legs after challenging two other Red players as he was attacking the slot.
Sunday’s scrimmage was an introduction to just how quick-thinking Kotkaniemi can be on the ice. This quality, added to his great hands, is what makes him the big threat that he can be. He also seems to like playing close to the boards using his size and physical game, which is not the case of every young European player, and good news for his transition to North America, whenever that may be.
Allan McShane - #56
McShane, as was often the case watching him in the OHL, wasn’t standing out from the pack constantly during the scrimmages, but had some very impressive flashes that suggest he has a more to give.
Most notable were two great sequences where he showcased his playmaking ability. The first one was a behind-the-back feed to Bitten after getting the puck in the offensive zone and dragging defensive pressure away. A second one, again with Bitten, as well as Cole Fonstad, resulted in a beautiful passing play.
Fonstad found McShane after the zone entry with a precise drop. McShane then, without ever looking at his pass target, and with a very quick motion, lifted the puck above the defender’s stick to Bitten, who gave it back to him to start an exchange between the two OHL forwards that ultimately ended up in a goal.
The scrimmages were exciting this weekend, which is not something that could always have been said about a lot of those early summer games in the past. And, even more promising, that excitement was provided in great part by the newest draftees.
The 2018 draft class is making some very early marks, which is a hopeful sight considering the direction the organization is now heading in.