3 Takeaways From Canadiens’ 2022-23 Training Camp

The preseason drags on as the Montreal Canadiens made nine more cuts from training camp, leaving 31 players at camp with three more on the injured reserve squad. Even though camp has not been completed yet, there are lessons to be learned and applied to this season and beyond for the players and also for the front office headed by the general manager (GM) Kent Hughes. While game outcomes in the preseason mean nothing in the standings, a team getting blown out or consistently edged out will never reassure a fanbase. 

The Canadiens will be closing out their preseason with three games against the Ottawa Senators. The final two games are in neutral sites to be part of the Kraft Hockeyville contests of 2020 and 2021. With the first game to take place in Twillingate, NL and the final game to be in Elsipogtog First Nation, NB. 

Canadiens Can’t Buy a Preseason Win 

No one, not even the most ardent of Habs fans, would have expected this season’s edition to lead the league, especially in the preseason. However, going 0-5-1 in the first six pre-season games, with two more remaining, isn’t something anyone would have wanted either, even the most vocal demanding a full “rebuild.” Yet, winning preseason games isn’t the focus or even a full picture of what’s in store for the year. 

Related: Canadiens Prospect Pyramid Start of Season 2022-23 

The team has been slow to put together a full NHL roster, choosing instead to play mostly prospects and NHL hopefuls with bottom-six forwards such as Rem Pitlick. Even though that is the case, scoring only 13 goals and allowing 21 in those first six games played is a bit of a concern. With that said, once a roster full of NHL-caliber players is dressed, it is likely that a flawed Habs team will provide fans with a team that can average three goals per game but allow four goals per game on average.

Rem Pitlick Montreal Canadiens
Rem Pitlick, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If that trend continues into the regular season, fans will have to hope that the team provides some levels of excitement as the losses pile up. The lesson to be learned here is for the fanbase, that is the lesson of “learn to be patient.” As last season was an unexpected fall to the bottom, this season, fans go in with eyes wide open knowing that the best they can hope for is to see individual players’ growth as the success for the season.

Development Is the Goal 

Personal growth for each player is the lesson learned by management. That is, to focus on development with the knowledge that it will take a few seasons before any plan reaches fruition to make the team a contender. To get there, Canadiens management will need to ensure personalized development plans for those young core players they see as the key to their future success. 

Team captain Nick Suzuki has played only one game in the preseason due to a minor lower-body injury. However, he looked to be in mid-season form, generating offence and generally outplaying his opponents in his limited ice time. More importantly, the chemistry between him and Cole Caufield looks to be at an all-time high as they consistently were able to find each other through traffic; one of those plays led to what looks to be the first of many power-play (PP) goals by Caufield.  

Cole Caufield Montreal Canadiens
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A successful season will have to be judged based on the improvements made by players on their individual skills or statistics. That includes not only the young core but also the “elder statesmen” of the roster, such as Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher. It will also mean progression in team areas such as special teams. The Caufield/Suzuki duo being used for a full season on the PP will be helpful to improve that aspect of the game, but others will need to step up and help too. Head coach Martin St. Louis will need to find new personnel matchups and a new penalty-killing (PK) system to improve upon the woeful 75.6 percent that saw their PK finish 26th in the NHL. 

Canadiens’ Tiered Approach   

For the prospects, there will need to be a focus on placing them at levels that can progress their development. This may seem obvious, but until this season this wasn’t an approach the Canadiens focused on. Perhaps because they had a different philosophy or their prospect depth wasn’t deep enough to take that approach. 

Starting with Juraj Slafkovsky, he has shown a steady progression in camp, but not enough to remove doubts as to his NHL readiness. Yet, after an impressive showing versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was given top billing on the first line with Suzuki and Caufield. While he did have some good moments, it is clear that he still needs more time to adjust to the size of North American rinks, but mostly to the style and speed of the NHL. Yet, he will likely get to start the season on the Canadiens roster. 

Filip Mesar is the next example. He was recently cut from the main camp, yet instead of going to join the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), who own his junior hockey rights, he was sent to the Laval Rocket’s camp to prepare for the American Hockey League (AHL) season. Coming to North America after playing professionally in Europe will be a challenge for the young center. He’s shown what made him a first-round pick throughout camp, with his excellent playmaking, slick skating and elite hand-eye coordination. While he will face challenges in Laval, they are ones that he is prepared to take on. 

Finally, another recent cut from the main camp, Owen Beck. As camp progressed, so did the play of the young center, making him a standout at the camp, which led to him signing his entry-level contract (ELC) before being returned to the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. He joins a team readying itself to compete for a championship, and his performance this fall should provide him with the confidence to know he can lead them there.  

Training camp may be seen as simply a way to prepare a team for the first game of the season, but it is a process that management needs to go through if it were to assess the team’s depth and identify the short-, medium- and long-term needs. This camp saw a few players jump up the depth chart, and some showed they were closer to being NHL capable. Despite knowing that the NHL season will likely not see the Canadiens earn a playoff spot, the young players provide hope for the future. This camp proves that the Habs will be focused on the bigger picture, that of the rebuild, working on player development above all else. While the team and the fans will need to exercise patience as the rebuilding process continues into its second season.


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