Seeing is believing: Lars Eller was back at practice alongside his teammates on Saturday morning at the Bell Sports Complex. Feeling healthy and ready to return to active duty after being sidelined for about a week due to injury, the 25-year-old Dane centered a line that also featured veteran forward Rene Bourque and young gun Jiri Sekac.
After observing Sekac from afar, it was the first opportunity Eller had to see what the smooth-skating Czech forward had to offer up as a potential playing partner. As expected, the former KHL standout quickly impressed the Canadiens pivot, who praised the manner in which Sekac has come into training camp ready to impress.
“He’s a good fit. Absolutely. He’s got a very high skill level. He seems to be able to make plays that can break the typical pattern a little bit. He’s an intense player with a good touch. I’m sure he’s going to be very valuable to us going forward,” offered Eller, who could make his preseason debut against the Washington Capitals on Sunday evening at the Bell Centre. “Hopefully, we can start building some chemistry over the next couple of exhibition games.”
Sekac is just one of many young players who’ve caught Eller’s eye since training camp started up 10 days ago. The four-year NHL veteran is adamant that boasting plenty of talented prospects eager to crack the Canadiens’ lineup is a good problem to have and bodes well for the future.
“There are a lot of good young players at this camp. It’s hard to single out one or two guys. There are a lot of guys that have played their hearts out and turned some heads for sure. It makes for hard decisions for management. That’s the situation we want to be in,” confided Eller, who registered 12 goals and 26 points in 77 regular season games in 2013-14, before finishing second on the team in playoff scoring with 13 points in 17 postseason tilts. “Competition within the team is always healthy, so it’s a good thing. It’s been great to see all of these young guys play their hearts out. They’ve certainly delivered.”
The Chucky Shuffle: While Alex Galchenyuk has played center since training camp began, the Canadiens’ first-round pick in 2012 was back playing wing on Saturday on a line with Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec. The talented forward wasn’t reading anything into the move after practice, however, pointing to the fact that lineup changes are simply out of his control.
“I’m not the coach. It’s tough for me to evaluate it. To be honest, I try not to think about it at all,” stressed Galchenyuk. “Wherever they put me, I’ll try to be comfortable and adjust to it, whether it’s at center or wing. I was at center at the start of camp and I felt comfortable, but I also feel good on the wing. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
During the three games Galchenyuk played at center thus far this preseason, including the intra-squad scrimmage at the Bell Centre last Monday night, the Milwaukee, WI native was clearly at ease, lighting the lamp and creating one good scoring opportunity after another.
“I want to see how things play out for me at center,” offered Galchenyuk, who scored the overtime-winner in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche last Thursday night at the Bell Centre. “I’ve been happy with the way I’ve moved out there. Now, I’m back at wing and I’m good with that. I’m going to continue contributing wherever I play, and I’m going to keep working hard.”
Taking a closer look: With only four games remaining on the preseason schedule, the competition to secure the last couple of spots on the Canadiens’ blue line is heating up. While Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are the likely front-runners among an impressive group of young guns eager to earn full-time gigs, Greg Pateryn and veteran Francis Bouillon are still very much in the mix as training camp continues.
“Well, it’s training camp. I think there are a lot of guys fighting for spots,” offered Tinordi, who played 22 games with the Canadiens last season. “You try not to think about making mistakes and playing nervous, but I think the biggest thing for me is not to worry about those decisions. Who they pick is all left up to them. The best thing I can do is play my game and play hard.”
On the 10th day of training camp, the 22-year-old rearguard indicated that he’s been pleased with the progress he’s made over the last week-and-a-half, but there’s still room for improvement in various aspects of his game.
“I think the biggest thing for me is to work on my transitions. I think that’s probably the thing I need to work on most, moving the puck quickly,” confided Tinordi. “I think that’s going to come with time as you get used to the players around you. It’s something I’ve been working on every day at practice.”
For his part, Bouillon isn’t at all worried about the fact that he’s only suited up for one of the Canadiens’ three preseason games already in the books. If there’s anyone that understands that exhibition games are all about giving the coaching staff and management an opportunity to evaluate youngsters, it’s him.
“I think there were a lot more exhibition games in the past, and now there are a lot less of them,” recalled the 38-year-old defenseman, who will celebrate his 39th birthday on October 17th. “I definitely want to play the most hockey possible to feel good about myself. I know that training camp is coming to an end soon, but there are still preseason games to play and a lot of players that have things to prove. It’s going to be a good battle right up until the end.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.