So the Canadiens rookie camp is just around the corner (see habsinsideout.com). The invitations have been sent. And seeing as how everyone is intent on arguing that we are a better team thanks to all our young talent, I thought it would be worth a look.
There are three basic classes of rookie: drafted players, free agents and try-out players. Of the three, the drafted players get the longer looks, since they have been touted for some time, so even a slip in form could be seen as just that, a slip.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the try-outs have this one shot to make the team. Not all of them will, and it is surprising when even a single try-out player makes it. Free agents (like Janne Lahti) fall somewhere in the middle, but make the team with high enough frequency (e.g., Mark Streit, Pierre Dagenais, Oleg Petrov (second time)).
The way I see it, no more than 10 of these guys will see a game this year. And no more than 15 will probably ever see a game. This is simply because we already have some young players who will be very hard to budge for the next ten years (Andrei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Tomas Plekanec among others). However, there are a couple of permanent roster spots that may be up for grabs, so a lucky few may be plying their trade in the NHL full-time in 2007/2008.
The 5 candidates that stand-out for me as players that could make the team outright this year are:
1) Kyle Chipchura (stats)
By all accounts, Chipchura sounds like a third-line forward. What I like about him is that he has been a captain of his teams and even his country. What's more in that final of the WJCs he really stood out for me – something big game players tend to be able to do. He may fit nicely on the third or fourth line while he learns, but could probably be called upon for scoring line duties if asked. A player to watch for.
2) Janne Lahti (stats)
For one thing, he's 25 – so he wouldn't be invited if there weren't a real chance for him. For another, he scored 20 goals in the Finnish league, which is quite good in only 56 games. And he caught fire a bit in the playoffs. However, the main reason I think he might make the team is because while not huge, he's not little. He was also targeted by a few other NHL teams, which is a good sign.
3) Carey Price (stats)
What needs to be said here? A great WJC and a great Calder Cup run have put him into the spotlight. I think a season in the minors would be better, but he has a realistic chance if for no other reason than Gainey having said so. Plus we only have 2 other legitimate goalie candidates, so the competition isn't really thick.
4) Ryan White (stats)
“He’s not a great physical specimen he’s not necessarily in great physical condition, but when we put him on the ice, he does nothing but win battles,” said Hitmen GM and head coach Kelly Kisio. He just sounds like the type of player who will go to camp and win himself a spot. If he plays his cards right, he could wave Garth Murray goodbye on his way into the dressing room.
5) Ryan O'Byrne (stats)
Because defensemen get injured, he will get himself high enough in the line to see some games. From his Calder Cup play, he has the quality to stick if he gets in the door.
Those with a realistic chance (in my opinion) of a game or two this year, and full NHL seasons on their horizons include:
1) Sergei Kostitsyn (stats) – not quite his time yet.
2) Mathieu Aubin (stats) – big enough to make the team for size alone, he'll have to show he can play.
3) Mathieu Carle (stats) – maybe San Jose will get confused and trade us their Matt Carle?
4) Pavel Valentenko (stats) – again, not quite time for him.
5) Matt D'Agostini (stats) – could break through, but probably needs another season to impress.
6) Ben Maxwell (stats) – will be in Hamilton.
7) PK Subban (stats) – despite his attitude, he's probably not quite star enough to make thee league straight from Junior.
and to a lesser extent Thomas Beauregard (who may turn out to be a goalscorer in the big leagues after all), Yannick Weber and Cedrick Desjardins.
As for the rest, they need to unseat some of the guys ahead of them to even have a shot at being on the teamsheet one day. But that is what this camp is for – to see what everyone can do. I for one am looking forward to it and hoping we have a few guys coming through to the big camp with intentions of making the team...