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A group effort

The Canadiens' assistant coaches shared their thoughts on a variety of topics on Monday afternoon

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - The Canadiens' assistant coaches met with members of the media on Monday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex, sharing their thoughts on a variety of topics heading into a brand new season.

Up first was veteran goaltending coach Stephane Waite, who addressed the return of Carey Price to the Canadiens' lineup after battling a knee injury that sidelined him for nine months before getting back between the pipes and performing brilliantly for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

It goes without saying that the Sherbrooke native and two-time Stanley Cup champion was pleased to see his prized pupil back in fine form following a frustrating 2015-16 campaign - as are Canadiens fans across the globe, of course.

"I knew [Carey was ready] when we went on the ice in July together for three days. At the World Cup, to be honest, we never talked about his knee. We moved on, turned the page, and that was all about regaining his timing and his game shape," shared Waite, who enjoyed a front-row seat as Team Canada's goaltending coach to watch the 29-year-old netminder dominate opponents once again on the international stage. "He got better game by game every day. I think the World Cup was the best thing to happen to him."

Video: Waite on the decision to place Mike Condon on waivers

It certainly gave Price the perfect opportunity to ready himself for his return to the NHL ranks, which will come on Thursday night in the regular-season opener in Buffalo. Waite was quick to confirm that the four-time NHL All-Star is primed to begin his 10th year with the CH, and he hopes to see him make 60 starts between now and early April.

"He's ready. Of course, he missed practice today [with the flu], but he'll be ready for Thursday and everything's good for him. He feels good mentally and physically, and ready to go," mentioned Waite, before going on to praise Price's rehab efforts to get back on track. "He impressed me a lot. He deserves all the credit for everything. He works so hard to get back in game shape. [He did it] in less than two weeks after being out for almost nine months. That's very impressive."

Equally impressive all training camp long has been the play of the Canadiens' most recent first-round selection, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who along with fellow young gun Artturi Lehkonen, was officially given the opportunity to start the year in Montreal on Monday.

Like Sergachev, former rearguard Jean-Jacques Daigneault began his 16-year NHL career at just 18 years of age back in 1984-85 with the Vancouver Canucks, so he has a good idea of what the Russian rearguard is going through right about now. While the Canadiens' No. 22 might be young, Daigneault believes Sergachev is capable of getting the job done at hockey's highest level for years to come.

"It's a tough position. Nowadays, I think it's even more difficult for a young 18-year-old defenseman to break into the NHL and have success. I think there's way more parity in the NHL than there was 30 years ago when I played. That's what makes it tougher," explained Daigneault, who patrolled the blue line for 10 different NHL teams and suited up for 899 games along the way. "But, Sergachev has all the attributes to have success, not just to survive in the NHL, but to have success and keep improving on a daily basis this year. I see him being a big part of our team."

Video: Daigneault on playing in the NHL at 18

Daigneault - who also happens to be the Canadiens' penalty-kill specialist - admits that Sergachev caught his attention in every single one of his four preseason outings, doing a variety of things to demonstrate that he was ready to make the jump just three-and-half months after being selected ninth overall at the NHL Entry Draft.

"He surprised me every game that he played. It's fun to see a young kid like that with the total package because he moves well on the ice, he has very good mobility and he has a good stick," praised Daigneault, calling Sergachev an "easy teach" in the early stages of their working relationship. "There are a lot of things that I taught young defensemen that I worked with over the years, both in the minors and the NHL, that I see him doing. He has a lot of those attributes. He's very talented."

For his part, Dan Lacroix says the addition of talented young guns like Sergachev and Lehkonen - and the unrivaled passion they bring - will undoubtedly serve to give the Canadiens another big boost as the season gets underway for real in just a few days.

"They bring enthusiasm, [and] some of that youthfulness of kids coming in every day to play [is important]. It's hard to replicate that. You need young legs and kids that are coming in and seeing things and teams for the first time," shared Lacroix, a long-time NHL assistant coach with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, before joining the Canadiens in 2014-15. "They come in and they're so eager to learn and to learn the system, but also to play with their new teammates. It brings new energy to a team."

Video: Lacroix on sharing the coaching responsibilities

One man who definitely isn't short on energy, according to Lacroix, is head coach Michel Therrien. Both he and the rest of the Canadiens' assistants have a great deal of respect and admiration for the 52-year-old Montreal native, who is headed into his fifth straight year behind the bench on home turf.

"I've worked with a few coaches in the league, and I've told Mike [Michel] that he's as sharp as they come behind the bench. He sees the game extremely well. He's got tremendous communication with his players," explained Lacroix, whom Therrien has tasked with scouting the Canadiens' opponents and sharing game preparation duties alongside Clement Jodoin, in addition to being an important presence at practice. "You see one Mike behind the camera, but we see him every day. He trusts his staff to do a job for him, for the team. We're just a continuation of his coaching and we know where we're going. We're as prepared as any staff in the league. I truly feel that."

Jodoin, meanwhile, lauded Therrien's incredible work ethic all year long - along with his relentless desire to win, too.

"I'm with him every day. His passion is unbelievable. He has one thing - he wants to win. Every game, he's expecting the best from everybody. His purpose, every time he steps behind the bench, is to win 81 games. We're over there to win. We're not over there to get close. He's a guy who's pushing everybody," said Jodoin, four full years into his second stint with the Canadiens following QMJHL head coaching stays in Lewiston and Rimouski, and one season at the helm of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. "For the last few years, there's no question that I've been learning a lot from him about the details. Like he says, "my little mouse is working 24 hours a day." He's always thinking about details, details, details. The way he's sharing the workload, everyone's involved."

Video: Jodoin on the roles of the assistant coaches

This season, that includes Kirk Muller, who signed on as an associate coach in early June following a two-year stint as an assistant coach in St. Louis under Ken Hitchcock. 

The former Canadiens captain - and former assistant coach in Montreal between 2006 and 2011 - was all smiles on Monday when talking about just how much he's enjoyed being back in town.

"It's actually been great. From the staff down, Mike's [Michel Therrien's] been awesome with all of us. It's been awesome seeing how he delegates. He's a confident coach to give us all an opportunity, to view our opinions and share our ideas. We all come from different areas," praised Muller, who also has two-plus seasons of head coaching experience with the Carolina Hurricanes on his resume. "That's been great and the players have been great so far on the ice. The work ethic's been there. The energy has been awesome. The players are excited. It's been a good camp since day one. I think the boys look like they're ready for game one."

Time spent in St. Louis and Raleigh, says Muller, has him well-equipped to handle his bevy of tasks in Montreal, which include turning a Canadiens power play around that simply wasn't clicking in 2015-16 when it ranked 25th in the League while operating at a 16.2 percent clip.

"You can't beat experience, and having the couple of years in Carolina was great for me - seeing the day-to-day responsibilities of being a head coach and all of the scenarios. When you're in that position, you've got to really take everything in detail of every little situation and be ready for it," explained Muller, who has been running his fair share of practice drills on the South Shore, in addition to being behind the bench alongside Therrien and Daigneault during games. "When you deal with that every day for two years, you really get challenged and challenge all of your players in terms of all of the scenarios that are needed today."

Video: Muller on his return to Montreal

While many players have come and gone since Muller's last tenure with the Canadiens, several familiar faces remain. The only difference is that they're a little older and have taken on far more significant roles as the years have passed by.

"They have beards now. They're not kids," cracked Muller, before expanding upon some of the Canadiens' veterans who remain since his departure following the 2010-11 season. "It's actually amazing seeing the maturity level of guys like Pleky [Tomas Plekanec], Patch [Max Pacioretty], Pricer [Carey Price] and David Desharnais. These guys were coming in, trying to get their feet wet, Carey coming in his first couple of years and the challenges that he had. I'm coming in now saying these guys are established veterans. They're the leaders of this organization and team. They're doing a great job. It's been fun seeing them come full-circle and seeing where they're at."

And, succeeding together in Canadiens colors going forward would surely be the ultimate reward. 

"Even though I left, I still follow those guys, believe it or not. To see them succeed and get better has been fun," concluded Muller. "Now, working with them again, I'd love for the team to do well just to see guys like that have the fun success that we all want to have here."

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