LAVAL - Claude Julien is bullish on the 2017-18 edition of his team.
The Canadiens' head coach, who began his second stint with the team in February, was feeling fresh and relaxed when he arrived at the Captain's Tournament to lend his support to Max Pacioretty's golf fundraiser on August 29, and is looking forward to starting with a clean slate once training camp begins in September.
"When you arrive mid-season, you can only make a few adjustments. You don't want to disrupt the team and mix things up more than you have to. You make adjustments when necessary; that's what we did, and we succeeded with it," explained Julien, who manned the bench for 838 regular season games with the Devils and Bruins in between his two tours of duty with the Canadiens. "Now, I can start from scratch and build the team the way we want to this year."
Julien acknowledged that the summer marked the departure of some significant elements from the Montreal roster, namely, 16-season Habs veteran Andrei Markov and high-flying forward Alexander Radulov, who scored 18 goals and 54 points in 2016-17. But the Habs bench boss also pointed out that the youth movement, in concert with some new additions brought into the fold, have the Canadiens headed in the right direction.
"I like our team. When you look at the age of our group and the potential of those young players and how they will get better as the season and the years go on, I like what we have. I also like our depth, and I think we have a lot of it at every position," outlined the 57-year-old coach. "There will be some good battles during training camp. We can build on that. At the end of the day, I think the biggest key will be how good we're going to be as a group, not so much as individuals. If it's done the right way, we'll be successful."
Up front, Julien will be counting on some flash and finish from a pair of newcomers - one a seasoned veteran and the other a young star entering his prime - to spark an already high-flying offense.
Video: Claude Julien is optimistic about 2017-18
"We have some speed, we're going to be exciting to watch. Jonathan Drouin is one [new addition]," he mentioned. "We also added [Ales] Hemsky, a good playmaker who adds quickness and offense to our game."
On the back end, the Montreal skipper is pleased with the plethora of options available to him and his staff, and he expects battles for the top six spots to be hotly-contested.
"We have a lot of depth on D. There's going to be a lot of competition. Everybody back there can pass the puck," praised Julien, who boasts 554 career wins behind the bench, 88 of them with the Canadiens. "There are things you can do as a team to make you a good transition team."
A veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Julien is a man on a mission to get the most out of the players at his disposal. And the Blind River, ON native plans on doing just that to help his club build on a 103-point season and Atlantic division crown.
"We'd like to be able to add some more consistent offense, and you hope those young guys - with another year under their belt - can improve in that area," he noted. "We're going to work on all aspects of our game, because I have a chance to start from scratch and put things in place the way I'd like to as a coach. Hopefully, that will give us the success we're looking for."
With the dog days of summer in his rearview mirror and his 15th campaign behind the bench around the corner, the Stanley Cup- and Jack Adams-winning coach is ready to get down to business.
"I'm going into training camp with an open mind," Julien concluded. "And I'm positive it's going to work out."