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Bergevin: 'The next three weeks will be very interesting'

The Canadiens' brass shared their expectations ahead of the new season on Monday, speaking during the club's annual golf tournament

by Pierre-Antoine Mercier. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski. @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

LAVAL-SUR-LE-LAC - On Monday, general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien met the media at the annual Canadiens Golf Tournament to discuss a variety of topics ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

First up, Bergevin reflected upon the offer sheet presented to sniper Sebastian Aho, along with the signing of forwards Nick Cousins, Phil Varone and Riley Barber, and defenseman Ben Chiarot.

On the whole, Bergevin was pleased with his offseason work.

"Prior to the July 1 window, you're allowed to talk to players, so we put some feelers out there. At the end of the day, we made the offer on [Sebastian] Aho, which was big for us. It didn't pan out, but we did add some pieces we feel we needed," explained Bergevin, who is beginning his eighth season at the helm of the Habs. "So overall we're happy. You always try to get the perfect team, but it's not going to happen. But overall we're pretty happy with our summer."

The Canadiens will be looking to return to the playoffs this season. Having failed to earn a postseason berth in three of the last four years, Bergevin is feeling a measure of pressure.

But, that's nothing new for the 54-year-old Montreal native.

"For me, the pressure is a daily thing. It's making our team better. I'm not worried about that, to be honest. I know our fans want us to make the playoffs, and we feel the same way. That's going to be our first goal, but at the end of the day, as our general manager, I look at our training camp," mentioned Bergevin. "There's phases. I will look at our first 10 games, 25 games, and see where our team's at."

Video: Marc Bergevin on his offseason moves

For his part, Julien looks at the pressure his group is under as a good thing. After missing the playoffs by just two points in 2018-19, the coaching staff and players alike are eager to get back to work.

"I don't see any negative pressure. I see a group of coaches and players excited to begin a new season. We saw our potential and we recognize the chance we have to improve. Everything is positive for us this year. We're looking forward to getting started," said Julien, ahead of his third season as the Canadiens' bench boss since being hired on February 14, 2017. "A lot of guys showed up even earlier this year. They're excited to get playing again. The summer was good, but it was too long. We want to shorten our summer for the right reasons. That's what we're going to try and do this season."

The present or the future?

It will also be interesting to see how prospects Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling fare once training camp officially opens on Thursday.

Both Suzuki and Poehling will be making the jump to the pros this season.

And it remains to be seen whether they'll be plying their trade in Montreal or Laval.

"We have guys that are pushing. We have guys that are turning pro. We have guys like [Ryan] Poehling, for example, who played one game last year. Overall we have a lot of guys coming in trying to prove themselves and earn a job," stressed Bergevin. "There's nothing better for an organization than to have a young player make a hockey club. The next three weeks will be very interesting as far as who's going to make our 23-man roster."

If Suzuki and Poehling are looking for advice on how to earn a roster spot with the big club, Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a perfect resource.

The 19-year-old Finn was among the final 23 players still standing when the Canadiens wrapped up main camp last fall.

Julien believes Kotkaniemi can serve as a prime example for both 20-year-old hopefuls in their bid to stick with the Habs.

"They'll have to do the same thing that Kotkaniemi did last year. He had an excellent training camp and he really forced our hand. We had to keep him because he deserved to be there. If those two guys deserve to be in Montreal, we'll always make room for them," explained Julien. "But the decision still rests on the same things. If we think they can benefit from some time in the AHL, the coaching staff and management is going to talk about it. One thing's for sure, I never saw a player take a step back when he went to play in the AHL. The majority of the time, it's productive. But if a player is ready to play in the NHL, we have to give him the chance and make room for him."

Video: Claude Julien on prospects cracking the roster

Fixing the power play

If the Canadiens are hoping to participate in the NHL's second season, the power play certainly needs improvement.

Admittedly, the man advantage was a real topic of conversation among Bergevin and the Habs' coaching staff at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

"After the season, we had meetings about the power play. At the end, we addressed it. The coaching staff really worked hard at it. They addressed some of the key issues. I feel confident. Sometimes learning from what happened last year - and that's the same thing, too - why I feel we're going to be in good shape this year, we learned a lot last year," said Bergevin. "That's what I want from our players, to move forward with the positives. We missed the playoffs by two points, so those points you could get in November and December, they have the same value as in April. Overall, I think our team is excited and engaged, and we learned a lot from last year. I see a lot of positives moving forward."

Montreal ranked 30th in the League last year while up a man, lighting the lamp just 13.2% of time.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens did improve in that department down the stretch. Beginning on March 15 through the end of the regular season, Julien's contingent boasted a power play efficiency rate of 25%, which ranked them eighth.

That switch didn't go unnoticed, and Julien is hoping they can keep on going in that direction.

"We know just how important the power play is. It's one of the facets of our game that we really need to improve. It's a lot like our penalty-kill from two years ago. We were at the bottom of the League in that department and we managed to climb back up to the middle of the pack. We want to do the same thing with the power play," mentioned Julien. "If we can do that in the first half of the season, it already gives you a better chance to pick up more points. We didn't miss the playoffs by much. I like the direction we're headed in. We have good young players who'll have even more confidence this year."

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