For director of player development Rob Ramage, it was an opportunity to take stock of the talent flowing through the organization's system, and the two-time Stanley Cup winner was unsurprisingly upbeat about what's in store for the future.
(For quick hits from Ramage on a handful of Habs prospects, click here or see below.)
"We've had 10 picks [in each of] the last two years. We're starting to fill up [the cupboard] with these prospects - and guys that will play. I'm not going to go into specific names, but you see what's out there," outlined Ramage, who rejoined the Canadiens in a player development role in July 2014. "And there's potential to them. We've got to make that potential reality. But that's really encouraging for Frankie [player development coach Francis Bouillon] and me."
Video: Francis Bouillon sums up development camp
Camps such as the one that took place this week in Brossard can be stressful for young hopefuls trying to make a mark and further their careers, but Ramage tried to use his time with them to help manage their expectations and see the journey for what it is.
"We realize it's a process, and we can be a little bit more patient than they themselves can be. In the exit meetings with some of the young guys last night I looked at them and said, 'Meditate, just somehow chill, get your mind away from the game for awhile'. That's a hard thing for today's players," described Ramage, a veteran of 1,044 NHL games with eight teams - the Canadiens included. "We're inundated with information, and they're very savvy with all that. But sometimes you have to leave the rink, leave the game, and just shut down."
For those players who are at the point of making the jump from amateur to pro, Ramage once again recognized that they'll need some time to adjust to a new reality, both on and off the ice.
"It's hard. For all these young guys, whether it's the few who get to make the jump right to the NHL or to Laval, it's just lifestyle. It's not Junior hockey anymore: you're collecting a cheque, you're playing against pros, you're playing against men, and you're playing for keeps. And it's a heavier game. Without a doubt, they're going to lean on you and there's not as much time and space, so you have to contend with that," he elaborated. "The trips are a lot tougher. The bus rides at three and threes. You're living on your own now: you're paying your own bills, you've got to figure out how to feed yourself properly. So we don't set expectations too high at the beginning. Obviously, we want them to do well. We also realize there's an acclimation process they all have to go through."
It's an adjustment the players will have to make rather deftly if they'll want to succeed playing hockey in a market like Montreal. Fans lined up daily for seats in the Bell Sports Complex stands to watch the next generation of Habs take part in scrimmages at camp, giving the club's prospects just a small taste of the hunger for hockey that exists in the region.
"Just the whole culture. We have some kids from Quebec and they're very aware and very proud. But the American kids, they're coming from places where baseball or football, college sports are number one. This hits them between the eyes, it really does, the passion of the people and just the whole organization," described Ramage, who got to experience the pinnacle of hockey in Montreal as a member of the 1993 Stanley Cup-winning team. "That's important: we want to instill that in them now. You sit in that locker room, and there are 47 Hall of Famers up there with another one coming, another teammate of mine, Guy [Carbonneau]. And they're made aware of that. It's special, without a doubt."
Bits and bites
It would've taken Ramage all day to give his assessments of each one of the prospects and invitees who took part in this year's development camp, but he did offer up his thoughts on a select few players when he met the media on Friday. Here's what he said:
"I remember watching his draft year as a freshman in college. He was a kid, he was right out of high school, he was a skinny kid and he came to our first camp with the same impression. You look at his frame now and he's a man. Holy smokes, I think he'd say he put on 40 pounds, which is amazing. And just his whole demeanor: he's a mature young man. I'm really excited about his next step."
On Poehling's NHL debut:
"It was Bob Cole's night, and our guy had a night. I sat in my hotel room by myself, I was just like a little kid again, bouncing up and down. I was off the bed more than I was on it. Bob Cole is an icon and then for Ryan on that stage to have that type of debut... What a great night. Is this fun."
"He's just a great, dynamic kid. It wasn't going in for him [at camp], but it wasn't for lack of effort; we had good goaltending. This kid has a smile on his face all the time, he loves the game, he's a rink rat.
"[His release] is quick. The elite scorers... he has that. You can name all the guys who have scored 50-plus goals. He has that type of release."
"He anticipates the game. He's one of those guys who knows what's going to happen before the rest of us mere mortals do. That's a special trait that he has. He has the play in his mind before it ever happens. And in today's game, which is so quick and there's not a lot of time and space, he's able to figure that out very quickly."
"This guy is built like a linebacker, so the strength is there. He's raw, without a doubt. He's going into college, he's going to Northeastern. He's going to be with Jordan Harris there, so that's fun for us to have two guys on the same team. We have time with him. He's got a great attitude. He's a workhorse."
"It was a tale of two seasons for him. Prior to the World Juniors he struggled; it was a jump to the men's league for him. And I was over there when he was struggling. He had good games, he had a goal and an assist when I was there. His dad played the game; he has a good pedigree there. But he puts a lot of pressure on himself, and as a young guy breaking into that league, I think he wanted to make a real first impression. It didn't happen right off the hop. And that's okay, you have to go through those tough times. But he came over for the World Juniors, had a really good tournament, and then his season took off from there. It's the old confidence thing."
"I saw him in a back-to-back weekend with Boston College, which is a big rival there. His first game, he played a young game; he tried to do too much. And the next game he settled down, and he looked like a senior, he looked like a veteran back there. And that's what he looked like this week. It looked like he could embrace the experience he had from last season and last year's camp. And he's going to the World Junior summer tune-up, as is Struble. We have seven seven guys going, which is pretty impressive for the organization."