Sabres vs Canadiens: Admiring Habs Prospects, Realistically


PRE-SEASON Game 2: Montreal 1 Buffalo 3 (Bell Centre)

Written by Rick Stephens,

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

MONTREAL, QC. — On Tuesday night, 18-year-old Mark Scheifele made his pro debut at the MTS Center in Winnipeg. Before the first period was over, Scheifele had his first goal at the NHL-level being set-up by former Canadiens center Ben Maxwell. Scheifele went on to be the game’s first star scoring two goals and two assists.

Immediately, the Winnipeg media began drumming up support to create a spot on the roster for the Jets 2011 first round pick (seventh overall) likening Scheifele to franchise legend Dale Hawerchuk. The former Jets star just happens to be Scheifele’s junior coach with the Barrie Colts. There is also a precedent with the last three first round picks of the Atlanta-Winnipeg franchise stepping from the draft stage to a NHL line-up.

But the Thrashers rushed their prospects in an attempt to fill seats, and there’s no reason to expect that the Jets will follow suit. Comparison to the days of Hawerchuk are not relevant, as times are much different from the NHL of 30 years ago. Expect cooler heads to prevail, and for Scheifele to be returned to the Colts for more seasoning even with a few holes in the Jets roster.

“It will be based on performance and that will be the key. How he plays in the games. You have to look to see not only how he’s going to be in October, but also in January and February. You have to look at more than the moment.” — Claude Noel, head coach Winnipeg Jets

Well perhaps we can understand the hyperbole of our friends in Winnipeg who have been without NHL hockey for 15 years — they are just excited to have a team back. In Montreal, we understand the dangers of rushing a young player to appease fans and media, with the memories of the failed Guillaume Latendresse experiment still fresh in our minds. We’ve learned our lesson and would never suggest anything similar with our prospects.

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Nathan Beaulieu was selected ten places after Schiefele in June’s draft. In the Canadiens rookie camp and training camp Beaulieu hasn’t really been knocking people’s socks off. Rather, he has been exactly what one might expect displaying exceptional talent of a first-round draft choice that still needs about three years development to hone and bring consistency to his game in junior and the AHL.

In Wednesday night’s contest against the Sabres, it was the tale of two games for Beaulieu. In the first period there were two agregious turnovers and he was a spectator on the opening goal by Jason Pominville — he seemed mesmerized not being able to adjust to the pace of the game. It prompted my friend, Kyle Roussel to say “He’s clearly overmatched by the speed of this level of hockey.”

Beaulieu’s play early in the game was far too casual, stemming from a player who is used to being the best in his sandbox. But at the NHL-level, there’s lots of really talented “kids,” with a need to process decisions and react much quicker. To his credit, Beaulieu became far more engaged in the second period and ramped-up his intensity.

But it was in the third period that the young Montreal defenseman really shone, embracing the ice-time provided by the coaching staff — finishing the game with a team high 27:15. With the Canadiens playing catch-up most of the period, Beaulieu flourished. He made a perfect pass to set up a power-play goal for P.K. Subban to get on the scoreboard.

Beaulieu left a positive impression on the Bell Centre faithful with his offensive talents, ending the night with an assist and two shots on goal. But typical of a junior age player there were some blemishes too, with a minus-2 rating from a suspect defensive game. All-in-all, it was a promising debut for a young defenseman who has the potential to be a star several years down the road for the Canadiens.

Now, that realistic outlook is a giant leap away from some of the proposterous statements that were being made after tonight’s game. Suggesting that Beaulieu is ready to be the 7th defenseman on the Montreal Canadiens is absurd. To be fair to M. Bigras, he wasn’t the only one in the blogging community and the media suffering a disconnect from reality.

So while we are applauding Beaulieu, let’s display our hockey maturity and patience knowing that to fully develop his talents as a complete player will require several years learning all aspects of the game. Otherwise we are creating unrealistic expectations and not doing any favours for the young player.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

A player in a similar situation is Brendan Gallagher. He has captured the spotlight at every opportunity in the pre-season, and is further along in his hockey development than Beaulieu. But you can still expect Gallagher to return to his junior team at the end of training camp.

Gallagher was an effective force again on Wednesday night, notching an assist on three shots playing on a line with Andreas Engqvist and Travis Moen. Engqvist and Alexander Avstin played similar games, each creating a few scoring chances but not doing enough to distinguish themselves from the pack. That said, they were both significantly better than Aaron Palushaj who was invisible, and continues to see his stock plummet as he vies for the last roster spot on the Canadiens.

Let’s give credit to Max Pacioretty. He is still getting his legs back and working on his timing, but his approach to the game is anything but timid — he led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. The line of Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brian Gionta were the most dangerous Habs line in the Sabres zone, but each player finished the game with a minus-3 rating.

Another player making a return to the line-up from injury was Josh Gorges. With almost 23 minutes of ice-time Gorges played well, seemingly more mobile than before his surgery. The Canadiens best defenseman was P.K. Subban who looked impressive in his first pre-season action scoring the only Montreal goal — we’ll forgive him for his playoff-like celebration.

The Canadiens will practise on Thursday morning to get ready for four games in four days starting in Ottawa on Friday night.

All Habs game stars
1. P.K. Subban
2. Brendan Gallagher
3. Nathan Beaulieu

Roster notes
For tonight’s lines, see All Habs GameDay.

All Habs Out Loud

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  1. Sounds like young Beaulieu, along with displaying talent and a need to develop further, also has the ability to learn and adjust even at the highest level.

    He developed consistently in junior and will be an asset on the Habs’ blue line for sure; at some point.


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