As hinted by New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald last week, the Montreal Canadiens will join five other teams in Buffalo for the annual rookie tournament from September 14-20. They will join the Sabres, the Ottawa Senators, the New Jersey Devils, the Boston Bruins, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This is a slight departure from past events which were typically held in Quebec or Ontario, and will also feature more teams and more games for the Canadiens to match prospects against. The unconfirmed format is that teams will play three games each, so it’s not a real tournament, but rather an opportunity to lock horns with various prospects at the same stage of development.
The event is typically reserved for prospects 20 years old or younger. A quick rundown of the Canadiens depth chart creates the following potential line-up for the event:
- Joe Vrbetic, R7-2021
- Justin Barron, R1-2020 (25, COL), acquired in Lehkonen trade
- Kaiden Guhle, R1- 2020
- Logan Mailloux, R1-2021
- Daniil Sobolev, R5-2021
- Miguel Tourigny, R7-2022
- William Trudeau, R4-2021
- Arber Xhekaj, undrafted free agent, 21-years old
- Owen Beck, R2-2022
- Jared Davidson, R5-2022
- Cedrick Guindon, R4-2022
- Emil Heineman, R2-2020 (43, FLA), acquired in Toffoli trade
- Riley Kidney, R2-2021
- Filip Mesar, R1-2022
- Jan Mysak, R2-2020
- Vinzenz Rohrer, R3-2022
- Joshua Roy, R5-2021
- Xavier Simoneau, R6-2021
- Juraj Slafkovsky, R1-2022
Prospects on NCAA teams cannot take part in the event. While Europeans may in fact crossover and then return back to their team afterwards, that is typically for prospects who have entry-level contracts and will be attending the team’s main camp, like Mattias Norlinder last year.
Adam Engstrom, Oliver Kapanen, Frederik Dichow, and Petteri Nurmi could therefore, in theory, participate in the tournament but it’s unlikely. It’s also unlikely Russian prospects Dmitri Kostenko and Alexander Gordin will take part since the season in Russia would have started.
The camp roster is then typically filled out with undrafted free agents who are invited.
The rookie tournament has become a staple annual event for fans of the Canadiens who enjoy watching the youngest prospects in the organization compete against similar talent under the Canadiens crest before returning to their respective junior teams. Teams use this tournament to see how players respond to a structured competitive environment, and build individual training plans for prospects before letting them go.
The first organized rookie tournament for the Montreal Canadiens was held in 1998, and included the Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Under general manager Bob Gainey, Montreal pulled out of rookie tournaments in 2007, two years after Guillaume Latendresse and Carey Price made names for themselves at the event in 2005 with standout performances. Montreal preferred to shift to a more traditional training camp for their prospects for the next eight seasons, believing that thrusting players straight into a competitive environment out of the gate was actually detrimental to their development and would lead to injury. Marc Bergevin returned the team to the tournament format in 2015.
The pandemic affected these events in recent years, but last year’s camp ended with games against the Ottawa Senators’ camp roster.
Ironically, current Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle, who will likely be coaching the team, was part of the organization’s first rookie tournament team in 1998.