Canadiens’ Must-Watch Players in Training Camp

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There will be many Montreal Canadiens storylines worth following this season, yet, training camp will lay the foundation for what the season might become. Veterans usually use this time to regain their timing and chemistry with other players; however, this season is an important one for the Canadiens. Coming off of a Stanley Cup Final appearance brings high expectations. As the league returns to its regular division alignment, the Habs are now in arguably the strongest division in the NHL, the Atlantic Division.

A strong preseason could provide the team’s young core with confidence as they enter a long season. The Canadiens will open their preseason schedule versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 25, and fans will be focused on new arrivals and returnees alike. Here are the players to watch during training camp.

Cole Caufield

After an impressive playoff performance last season, Caufield is included here for the excitement. He will begin the season among a handful of players expected to be favourites to compete for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Cole Caufield Montreal Canadiens
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

This will be his first NHL training camp, and fans will be focused on whether he can continue to play at a high level and earn his spot on the team’s top line alongside center Nick Suzuki. The two built impressive chemistry last season, which led to four goals and 12 points in 20 playoff games for Caufield and a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

He was expected to be a pure shooter who relied on a playmaker to generate his offence. However, Caufield quickly became a player who could create offensive opportunities using good positioning and an unexpectedly strong on-ice vision. He will need to continue to build on that since, after a solid 30-game debut, expectations are high for Caufield to become an immediate impact player. He will need to use training camp to build consistency in his game to meet those lofty expectations.

Christian Dvorak

The newest member of the Canadiens entered the scene under dramatic circumstances. He arrived the same day general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin chose not to match the offer sheet extended to Jesperi Kotkaniemi by the Carolina Hurricanes. Dvorak is also the first player that Bergevin used a first-round pick to acquire, which will add to the pressure, especially since the Habs will need him to raise his offensive game to compete in a tough division, which will be necessary if they hope to make the playoffs. 

Arizona Coyotes Christian Dvorak
Newly acquired Montreal Canadiens center, Christian Dvorak (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Training camp will show how Dvorak fits into head coach Dominic Ducharme’s system. Will he be used as a replacement for Phillip Danault as the Canadiens’ shutdown defensive center, or will he be relied on to play a more traditional top-six center role where he is expected to produce offence, or will it be a hybrid of the two roles?

The Canadiens had good luck the last time a center from the Arizona Coyotes joined the team – Max Domi earned a 72-point season. No one expects that level of success from Dvorak; however, a strong camp would go a long way in gaining the confidence of fans who might see that his strong two-way play can generate a solid 50-point season, similar to Danault in his last two full seasons with the club.

Jonathan Drouin

Drouin will be the center of attention when training camp opens. He finished last season on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) and missed the playoffs for personal reasons, and fans want to see if he is fully recovered and ready for a strong 2021-22 campaign.

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The coaching staff will also want to see how he has recovered and if he is ready for the stress of competing. The team that is strong on the wing and Drouin will enter training camp competing against Tyler Toffoli, who scored 28 goals last season, and Mike Hoffman, a 17-goal scorer, among others for a spot in the top-six.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

While he will have to prove he deserves his playing time, he will likely be given several opportunities to line up alongside the team’s expected top-nine centers during training camp. He will also likely be given playing time during exhibition games on a line with Suzuki, Dvorak, and Jake Evans to judge his compete level and where he best fits.

It will be helpful for him to use this time to ease into the season and have the coaching staff keep the pressure off him so that he can produce early and gain momentum heading into the season when he must produce. This also might help mitigate the media attention he is certain to get.

Alexander Romanov

Romanov will want to do everything he can to avoid the sophomore slump heading into his second NHL season, and a strong camp would help. Last season, he hoped to make the roster; this season, he will be expected to work his way onto the team’s second pairing.

The 21-year-old defender brings physicality, which his coaches adore, excellent mobility and solid defensive play. This season, he will be asked to add puck-moving to the list. He won top defenceman honours at the 2018 World Junior Championships, and fans will be looking for that style of play this season. The expectation isn’t for him to generate points but to see if he can make safe but quick decisions with the puck to help the team’s transition-based offence.

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

If he can show that during the limited six-game preseason, he should earn the trust of his coaching staff to play a larger role and prove he has improved on his rookie campaign when he only dressed for four of 22 playoff games. He will be one of the most intriguing players to watch at camp this season.

The Canadiens’ preseason will lay the foundation for an important season for Bergevin, who is entering his 10th season with the club on the last year of his contract. Whether or not he remains with the club after this season, his legacy will be determined by who well his retool plan worked for the club. So far, it has produced a Stanley Cup Final appearance, but in Montreal, that is not enough to call it a success. How his young core of players develops, some of whom are mentioned here, will rest on him. A strong camp could help lead to a successful season, and that is what we will want to see.

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