MONTREAL - There's no denying the excitement that comes with the start of the Canadiens' rookie camp every September.
It's a good indication that the summer is officially over and it's time for the organization's young guns to get back to the business of showcasing the progress they've made since development camp wrapped up in early July.
Twenty-seven players will be strutting their stuff between Thursday and September 21st in hopes of making a significant impression on the Habs' brass leading into main camp at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
For a second straight year, rookie camp will get off to a relatively quick start as players travel to London, ON on Thursday afternoon to participate in the 2016 Rookie Tournament at Budweiser Gardens. They'll be playing three games in three days beginning on Friday, going up against fellow young guns from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For 20-year-old right-winger Nikita Scherbak, there's really no better way to get back in the swing of things after spending the last two-plus months working out on the South Shore in preparation for his second full season in the pros.
"I can't wait. It's going to be exciting to see all of the young guys around and play in that tournament again - Big Mac [Michael McCarron], [Markus] Eisenschmid, [Jeremy] Gregoire, Fuchs [Zachary Fucale], and it will good to see the guys who just got drafted, too. It's a good arena in London. It's a good crowd with good matchups. I think it's going to be awesome," said Scherbak, who is embarking on his third rookie camp experience since being drafted 26th overall in 2014.
"Honestly, I just think I need that tournament to get started and get that feeling of playing games again with referees. It's a good start before main camp so you go there in game shape. I really want to show my best during those games. I think all the guys do. It's going to be good to get all of the boys together again," added Scherbak, who put up seven goals and 23 points in 48 games with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps last season.
There's a lot more to rookie camp for Scherbak than just factoring in on the scoresheet, though. This time around, the former WHL sniper would like to be someone newcomers can turn to for advice as they begin their young careers themselves.
"I feel very comfortable at rookie camp. I feel like I have to take a leadership role, show the young guys things and help them," shared Scherbak, who clearly feels a sense of duty to help out wherever and whenever he possibly can over the next six days. "They're going to ask questions and I've been in their situations before. Huddy [Charles Hudon] helped me last year, so I'm going to be the same way."
One of those players who Scherbak could certainly lend an ear to, if need be, is goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who will be making his debut at the annual gathering after signing with the Canadiens on March 30th following the conclusion of his third NCAA season with St. Cloud State University.
Like Scherbak, the 22-year-old netminder is finding it hard to contain his excitement with the chance to suit up and play again in front of a good-sized crowd on the horizon.
"It's going to be three very good games against some very talented teams, so it's all about getting yourself ready to play. I feel very good. I worked hard this summer. This is a new experience, so it's something I've really been looking forward to," said Lindgren, who spent his offseason back on home turf training in Minneapolis. "I want to have a really good weekend and a very good camp overall. I think we all want to go there and get three wins and get back to winning hockey games."
Fellow goaltender and 2013 draftee Zachary Fucale will also be a good resource for Lindgren as the rookie camp process begins. The pair - who both enjoyed their first career NHL stints in 2015-16 - was actually roommates at development camp, and their friendship has grown ever since.
"After camp, I really got to know Zach very well. He's turned into a very good friend. It's been good getting to know him and getting on the ice with him. I think we're both pushing each other," said Lindgren, before sharing some more kind words about another fellow rookie camp attendee, goaltender Michael McNiven. "When Zach and I would play NHL in our room, Nivs would come over and play with us, too. Us three, we have a very good relationship. We all want to see each other succeed."
Those are the types of vibes the Canadiens' staff are hoping to foster as rookie camp rolls on in the hopes of making it a good experience for all involved.