BROSSARD - With a large number of regulars currently missing from Michel Therrien’s lineup, a youth movement has begun to step up and help carry the torch in Montreal.
As the likes of Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu, Jeff Petry, David Desharnais, Tom Gilbert, Brian Flynn and Daniel Carr are presently nursing injuries, the door has opened for the younger and less experienced Habs to take advantage of the opportunity.
Moreover, you can temporarily add Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller’s names to the list of the walking wounded, as the pair of forwards are both questionable to suit up for Tuesday night’s contest against the Stars.
Luckily, the emergence of rookie center Michael McCarron should help soften the blow.
“I feel a bit more comfortable, and I’ve been getting more accustomed to the guys in the room and the speed of the game. I think anybody would say that the difference between the NHL and the AHL is the speed. Everybody also makes perfect passes; every play is crisp and perfect,” said the birthday boy, who celebrated his 21st birthday with an intense hour-long practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “My goal is to stay here as long as I can. I just need to continue to improve and progress and stick to my style of play.”
Standing at 6’6”, the now 21-year-old can do more than just handle himself when it comes to dropping the gloves. However, the Habs former first-round draft pick also has the skill set required be a productive scorer in the NHL.
“I don’t go out there thinking about fighting. I’m not just a fighter; I can produce offensively as well. Everybody on this team is capable of chipping in offensively. I think I’ve had some good chances but I haven’t managed to bury them. I just need to keep going because if you get enough chances you are going to produce,” noted the former 2015 Memorial Cup winner with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. “I think the guys in the NHL might be a bit stronger but it is more or less the same physically. Guys in the AHL are always fighting to get a shot in the NHL. It is almost easier to play in the NHL because your teammates are so good and rarely make mistakes.”
While the seemingly endless amount of injuries have made it difficult for coach Therrien’s line formations to build chemistry, the Habs bench boss has been impressed with the contributions of his youth core, including McCarron, and his new line-mate Stefan Matteau.
“McCarron has been playing at a faster pace than what we saw in his first call up and during training camp. He’s a smart player that is good at protecting the puck down low and is a physical presence in front of the net. This is why we have given him time on the power play.
He can be tough to deal with in the blue paint. He has progressed very well since he was drafted. He’s been great for us at center, especially on face-offs and is a physical guy that defends his teammates if necessary,” encouraged Therrien, who also had high praises for 22-year-old Stefan Matteau. “There is a lot to like. I see Matteau as a power-ford who finishes his checks hard. I liked the chemistry he generated when paired with McCarron last game. We have the chance to truly evaluate the play of our young players. With all of the injuries at the moment, kids like Stefan have a great chance to prove themselves.”
In addition, Greg Pateryn - one of the blue-liners tasked with stepping up in the face of adversity - looked very comfortable in his new top-4 role, skating a season-high 21:45 alongside defense partner Alexei Emelin in Saturday night’s game against the Jets.
“I think I’ve taken a stride forward every game. With the opportunity I have been given, I think that’s what everyone is looking for. When you get a chance to get out there and play, I think you need to take full advantage of that opportunity. I feel like I’ve done a good job. The more you play the better you get. The same goes for everyone. The more you play the more engaged you are,” noted Pateryn, who has also gone on to post new career highs in games played, assists, points, penalty minutes and shots on goal. “Emi [Alexei Emelin] plays a very simple game and so do I. So I think we do a good job of communicating and we are both able to read off of each other. I enjoy playing with him, we keep it pretty simple and I think it’s effective,” concluded Pateryn.
With the Habs entering the final stretch of the regular season, the development of the team’s youth movement will continue to be under the microscope, especially considering over half of the Canadiens’ active roster is 25-years-old or younger.
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com
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