Let the (pre-season) Games Begin

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and see what we’ve got here when it comes to the 2010-2011 edition of the Montreal Canadiens as the Habs get set to drop the puck on pre-season play Wednesday night with the Boston Bruins in town.

First and foremost, it’s time to start assessing some of the talent that came to the team during the off-season, starting with the key player who joined the Canadiens from St. Louis in the trade that sent the immensely popular Jaroslav Halak to the Blues.  I’m talking about Lars Eller, a native of Rodovre, Denmark, who saw most of his action last season with the Blues’ American Hockey League farm team in Peoria, where he scored 18 goals and added 39 assists in in 70 games.  In seven games with the Blues last season, he chipped in two goals.

Head coach Jacques Martin has liked what he’s seen of Eller so far in training camp, which has essentially been a series of practices and intra-squad games.  At 6-2, 192 pounds Eller has some size. And clearly he’s not afraid to use it. The trouble is, he picked an odd time to use the body in a drill PRIOR to the start of an intra-squad game at the team’s practice facility at Brossard, when he cross-checked Andrew Conboy face-first into the boards, forcing Conboy to leave the action while the medical staff worked on a nasty cut above his eye.  Conboy returned for the intra-squad game and showed some reasonable spunk out there.  But clearly the Canadiens aren’t counting on someone like Andrew Conboy to make this team.

As for Eller, look for him to see some pre-season playing time on a line with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, if line combinations at practice mean anything.  If this line combo DOES mean anything, that could put a damper on things for Benoit Pouliot, who hopes to rebound from a terrible playoff and prove himself worthy of top-six forward status.  Pouliot came to camp with more meat on those slender legs of his, gaining about 12 pounds during the off season. Habs need to hope he’s beefed up on his work ethic, as well.  Nose to the grindstone — that kind of thing.  This season could mark a turning point in Pouliot’s career.  During the summer, when he became a restricted free agent, the Canadiens “rewarded” him (I use that word very loosely) with a one-year contract.  Pouliot says he’s okay with that.  That’s good, because that’s all the rope the Canadiens would give him.

Another player who has caught the eye of coach Martin is forward Alex Avtsin, ex of the Moscow Dynamo of the Kontinental Hockey League.  He’s also liked what he he’s seen of forward Gabriel Dumont, a 51-goal scorer with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Hockey League last season. Neither will be here when the puck drops on the regular season.

Neither will journeyman defenceman Alex Henry.  You know you’re watching an intra-squad game when Alex Henry pinches in front the point, blows by an opposing forward (in this instance, Louis Leblanc) and puts he puck in the net.  If Alex Henry had the talent to match his heart and desire, he’d be playing in the National Hockey League.  But, alas, he doesn’t.  And he won’t.

With 53 players now in camp, there are plenty of bodies still out there. And they’ll finally start to see some game action, beginning Wednesday night, at the Bell Centre. We’ve seen some before in Bleu, Blanc, Rouge: guys like Max Pacioretty, Ryan White, Tom Pyatt and Yannick Weber.  And we may yet see them again.  Only time will tell. And the clock starts ticking when they drop the puck at the Bell Centre Wednesday night.


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