Mark Streit is looking to reach new heights in 2006-07.
MONTREAL - A year after making the rare leap from the Swiss Elite League to the NHL, Mark Streit has a new challenge in mind for 2006-07, to prove once and for all that he belongs with the big boys.
Sitting in his dressing room stall after scoring a goal, adding a pair of assists and logging a team-high 25:57 of ice-time against the Maple Leafs Saturday night, there's something different about Streit and it's not just the extra muscle mass he added over the summer.
"I feel much better and a lot more confident than last year," said Streit who admits to having pumped a little iron over the summer. "I feel far more comfortable now, but I know that I still have a lot to learn at this level."
The late-blooming Streit caught the eye of Montreal's scouting staff as a 27-year-old with his play on the international stage on his way to becoming the Canadiens' ninth pick, 262nd overall, at the 2004 NHL Draft. The Swiss captain and power-play quarterback got to flash some of his offensive flair against the Leafs, thanks to the Canadiens enjoying a preseason-high 11 power-plays.
"My style is to carry the puck and try to control the pace of the game," said Streit, who now co-leads the team along with captain Saku Koivu with three preseason points. "It's what I try to do when I play internationally and it's what I did here tonight against the Leafs-play a key role in a game."
With no concrete deadline being set for defenseman Francis Bouillon's return to action following offseason surgery to his left knee, Streit may not only find himself in the lineup on a nightly basis in 2006-07, but perhaps even logging substantial minutes.
"He definitely looks more confident with a season now under his belt," admitted head coach Guy Carbonneau. "With Francis being sidelined well before training camp, Mark knew that we had room for him. He arrived at camp this year much better prepared and ready to take on more ice-time."
The Swiss blue liner's transition to the NHL was bumpy one that saw Streit suit up for 42 games, while being a healthy scratch on 31 different occasions, including 15 straight games from Jan. 28 through March 11. General Manager Bob Gainey, who himself often opted not to dress Streit after taking over as head coach in January, still saw enough of an upside in Streit to re-sign him to a new two-year contract this summer. Such a commitment from the Canadiens did not go unnoticed by Streit.
"Signing a two-year NHL contract is nothing like having the two-way deal I had last season," said Streit. "It feels good to know that the team has that kind of confidence in me. Now all I want to do is prove that I have what it takes to play here."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com