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After three games, a look back at some final impressions from the Prospects Challenge

Beck, Simoneau, and others highlight a strong showing from the Canadiens in Buffalo.

NHL: JUL 11 Montreal Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Owen Beck

I had written about Owen Beck after the first night of the showcase in Buffalo, but after watching him play in the second and third games I couldn’t bring myself to not continue writing about his play.

Watching Beck play is a treat in all three zones, even when he isn’t directly involved in the play. He is constantly scanning his surroundings, identifying everything in his immediate vicinity before choosing to make a move. As he backchecks you see him reading the driving forwards, and then sliding his stick into a lane, while taking away his target as a shooting option. He does so without drawing penalties, and allows his linemates to collect the loose pucks to cycle the play up ice.

Going the other way, his defensive acumen for scanning the ice applies to exploiting lanes through the neutral zone and making himself an available option. He reads the gaps the defence gives him, and once he has the open space he does so impressively. Every time he touches the puck, good things happen for himself and for his teammates. His strong play earned him a day with Juraj Slafkovsky and Riley Kidney and they made possession hockey look simple by the end of the game.

I am trying to not be hyperbolic, but by the end of the weekend Owen Beck was clearly the Montreal Canadiens’ best player overall. His ability to always make the right play, mixed with his incredible hockey IQ was a delight to see in person and I cannot wait to see the next steps he takes in the OHL

Xavier Simoneau

With all eyes on players like Juraj Slafkovsky, Owen Beck and Kaiden Guhle at the Prospect Showcase, a handful of players having strong showings flew under the radar. One of those players is 2021 sixth-round pick Xavier Simoneau, who will be joining the AHL ranks this year after signing a one-year AHL contract in the summer.

Coming off a dominant overage season in the QMJHL, Simoneau will look to follow in the steps of Rafaël Harvey-Pinard who was drafted an overage player, and then played on a one-year AHL deal as well. Those who have closely followed the Laval Rocket have seen how quickly the Canadiens faith in the undersized, always feisty forward paid off over the last two years.

Since he hit the scene for Drummondville in 2017, all Simoneau has done is produce points and dominate games with relative ease. Even as an overage player in his final year with Charlottetown he was able to produce a nearly two points per game despite missing a chunk of time with an injury. The biggest knock on Simoneau has never been about his on-ice play, he skates well, forechecks well and can score in bunches. The knock on him as he advances into the professional ranks is that he’s small, standing just 5’7”.

After watching him play over the course of the weekend in Buffalo, size isn’t going to hold the Quebec native back in the slightest.

When Simoneau steps on the ice, he is often the smallest man, but he plays with arguably the biggest chip on his shoulder during each shift. He forechecks relentlessly, taking on defenders who are much larger than he is, and more often than not he is the one coming away from the battle with the puck on his stick. He operates efficiently along the boards, leveraging his stature to open up space for himself to pivot into dangerous areas.

Even when he can’t power past people, he doesn’t allow himself to be hit when carrying the puck either. His anticipation is off the charts, he can see plays three steps ahead and can shift his direction on a dime to keep the play moving. Throughout this tournament I’ve noticed him working along the boards, sensing a hit and pivoting away with the puck still on his stick and creating more chances after. It’s like he plays with eyes in the back of his head, and he has to because there is not a single scrum he won’t find himself in the middle of.

A strong tournament ended with a pair of goals for Simoneau, a just reward for his yeoman's work over the course of three games. While Rafaël Harvey-Pinard has drawn the comparisons to Brendan Gallagher, before long it will likely be Xavier Simoneau earning them.

Arber Xhekaj

We’ll keep this one short, and sweet.

Wherever Arber Xhekaj goes, destruction is not far behind him in most cases. In his first game against the Buffalo Sabres, I thought he was trying too hard to utilize his physicality and was taking himself out of position. Against the Senators, he did have a pair of questionable moments, a brutal KO in a fight, but overall his play seemed much more composed on and off the puck.

If he can continue to work on that composure, Xhekaj himself is going to be a very fun throwback kind of player to watch.

The best of the rest

An almost polar opposite to Xhekaj, every shift you might not notice William Trudeau at all. However, when watching a little closer there was a lot to really like about Trudeau’s game at the end of the weekend. He doesn’t have the sizzle and flash like a Lane Hutson, or the physicality of Kaiden Guhle, yet Trudeau just gets things done when he’s on the ice.

I am not overly sure of what Trudeau’s ceiling is as a prospect, but he brought a level of calmness to the ice with his play throughout the weekend. Good sense in the defensive zone, good reads offensively, and is most definitely someone that has likely slipped out of people’s radar in recent months.

Emil Heineman still continues to perplex me to the point whereI’m wondering if he’s read my earlier criticisms. His shot comes as advertised, it’s heavy, it finds the back of the net, and Heineman is always willing to use it. I noticed in Sunday’s game he was using his body more often to protect the puck he tried to drive the net for chances, a stark contrast to his play on Thursday.

The efforts outside the offensive zone are still a work in progress, but the overall effort was far better by the end of the tournament and it will be interesting to see how he gets on back in Sweden, assuming that’s where he will end up.

Don’t have much to say overall on Pierrick Dubé, but his hustle and intensity should make him a staple in the Lions lineup in the ECHL this year, and may likely earn him a few games in Laval as well. Dubé, who spent last year with the Lions, has yet to sign a contract for the 2022-23 season but clearly the organization still has their eyes on him with an invite to both development and rookie camps to get a closer look.

It’s not hard to feel good for John Parker-Jones. The 6’7” giant scored a breakaway goal on Sunday after having to fight on Friday night after hitting second overall pick Simon Nemec. I don’t think there’s any sort of contract coming for him, but his goal was a nice feel-good moment.