BROSSARD - One last preseason game means one last chance for the youngsters to prove they belong in Montreal.
That's the plan when it comes to Cale Fleury, Nick Suzuki, and Ryan Poehling, says head coach Claude Julien.
The Canadiens held an optional skate on Saturday morning ahead of their final exhibition contest against the Ottawa Senators. Julien noted that the skaters who took part - Jonathan Drouin, Charles Hudon, Nate Thompson, Mike Reilly, and Christian Folin - would be the extras, meaning those three aforementioned 20-year-olds would be given one last look by Canadiens brass before the final training camp cuts are made.
"Those guys are in the lineup because we need to continue to evaluate them and we need to make as best an educated decision as we can. Those guys need to be looked at. There are veterans tonight - Thompson, Drouin, Hudon - we've seen for five games," outlined the Habs bench boss. "We have a good read on those guys, so now it's about trying to get an even better read on some of those younger guys that have come in and really made a case for themselves."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference vs. OTT
That might seem like a lot of pressure for a player trying to crack an NHL roster for the first time, but Fleury isn't too fazed by the challenge ahead.
"It's just another game they want to evaluate me," explained Fleury, the Habs' third-round pick (87th overall) in 2017. "I'm kind of in a different situation from some of the other guys who are playing tonight but I think every game I can play is a positive for me.
"I just have to use it as one of my last chances to try to earn a spot on the team."
Video: Cale Fleury on his final preseason audition
Fellow defenseman Ben Chiarot, a hulking 6-foot-3, 225-pound presence on the backend, has appreciated the versatility the former Regina Pats and Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice blue-liner brings to the table.
"I like him. He brings some jam and physicality to the D. I've found over the years more and more defensemen coming up have a similar look, they all skate well and move the puck well. Every once in awhile, you find one with a little bit of jam to his game, a little physicality, and Cale brings that," Chiarot said of Fleury, who at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds is no slouch in the size department himself. "It's getting harder to find in young defensemen. He brings it and that's perfect for him; he's a good player."
Video: Ben Chiarot on what Cale Fleury brings to the table
In Fleury's case, Julien noted that although he's already seen plenty of preseason action - this will be his fifth exhibition game - it's important to evaluate him one last time as rosters and pace of play start to more closely resemble what they will be come the regular season.
"I want to see if he can play. You're going to say he's [already] shown a lot, but again, we're getting closer to playing against NHL teams, whereas since the beginning of camp - including ourselves - they've been basically split squads," shared Julien. "The closest we came to that was in Toronto the other night. That was the first time we really played a team that was close to its full roster."
Julien also announced that goaltender Carey Price would get the start in net after missing time with a bruised hand. Poehling, for his part, will be playing his first game since suffering a concussion in the Kraft Hockeyville game back on September 18, while Paul Byron will be making his return after sitting out with an upper-body injury.
Puck drop for the Senators-Canadiens game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets, click here.