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Rookie Camp Notebook - September 16

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – In today’s rookie camp notebook, Michael McCarron talks about improving his skating, Zachary Fucale looks to continue his strong work between the pipes, and Ryan Johnston expands upon trying to make his NHL dreams a reality.

Seeing results: Michael McCarron’s game has come a long way since the Canadiens made him their first-round selection – 25th overall – at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in New Jersey. This past summer, the 20-year-old Grosse Pointe, MI native paid particular attention to improving his skating ability while training at Total Package Hockey in London, ON under the watchful eye of renowned power skating and skills coach, Dwayne Blais.

“He did wonders for me in making me stronger on my feet and using my edges a lot more. That’s just my offseason. I think I’ve put a lot of work into it, and I think it’s paid off,” offered McCarron, who claimed the Memorial Cup last season as a member of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, putting up 28 goals and 68 points in 56 regular season games between Oshawa and his former club, the London Knights. “I’ve been continuing to grow into my body over the past five years, so skating has always been a huge thing for me. It will continue to be huge throughout my career. I’m going to always have to work on it. I’ve always known that.”

Even though McCarron demonstrated noticeable improvement in the skating and balance departments at the 2015 Rookie Tournament in London, he’s well aware that hitting the ice alongside more seasoned veterans at main camp will provide a much stiffer challenge. Experience, however, has taught him to embrace that test with open arms.

“I’m happy [about my progress], but then again, I’m not in the NHL yet. They haven’t seen me skate with the NHL guys. It’s easy to compare me against guys in the OHL who are two years younger than me. I should be better than them, right? We’ll see what happens,” shared McCarron, who checked into rookie camp on September 10 at 6-foot-6 and 231 pounds. “We’ll see how my speed handles with these NHLers. But, I’m very confident with my skating and I’m super excited to see what this main camp has in store for me.”

Quietly confident: Coming off a strong showing in London, Zachary Fucale has every intention of keeping things rolling come Friday morning when he’ll suit up alongside the likes of Carey Price and Dustin Tokarski at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

“It was a good start to camp up until now. We had a chance to go up against other teams, and I think it was beneficial for everyone to start camp off like that,” explained Fucale, who started two of the three games the Canadiens contested in Southwestern Ontario over the weekend. “My goal heading into main camp is the same [as it always was]. I want to win the most battles possible with every puck during practice. Whether you’re playing against NHL pros, Junior players or AHL pros, it’s a challenge every time. I want to perform well in practices, in scrimmages and in games, and just keep the progress going like that.”

Like McCarron, Fucale says he made the most of the last 12 months to ready himself for camp this time around, taking something away from every experience in order to grow both on and off the ice.

“Every aspect of my game has improved, both mentally and physically. I really learned a lot over the last year. I think it really helped me to come to camp ready after all the work I put in over the summer, so I feel very prepared for training camp. I’m excited for it to continue,” offered Fucale, who backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in early January. “My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, regardless of what’s in front of me. Every team in the NHL has a good starter. It’s competitive, and you have to earn your spot.”

Reason to smile: Defenseman Ryan Johnston opened plenty of eyes in the Forest City, capitalizing on the opportunity to strut his stuff in front of the Canadiens’ brass at Budweiser Gardens against stiff competition. Johnston, who signed a two-year, two-way contract with the CH back in July after standing out at development camp, is eagerly anticipating the chance to showcase his talents again, this time with Habs regulars everywhere he looks.

“This is where any hockey player wants to be. You always strive to make it to the best league in the world. Ever since I was three, I wanted to make the NHL. Getting this call and getting this opportunity has meant the world to me, and I’ve just tried to make it count at every opportunity – at practice, at games, at workouts. I’ve always tried to show my best, and show that I can compete here,” mentioned Johnston, who patrolled the blue-line for the Colgate University Raiders over the last three seasons. “Skating with some of the pros over the last week, I realized that I have to use my speed as much as I can. The second game in London, I was a little bit more explosive. I used my feet a little more, and I thought I had a better game because of it. I think I just have to make sure I use my speed whenever possible because I think that’s my best asset.”

The 23-year-old Sudbury, ON native, who lists Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith as his primary hockey role models, has been absorbing everything he possibly can since joining the Canadiens fold, and he insists its paid dividends already.

“You try to take any experience in stride and use it as positive feedback. There are a lot of skill players out there. There are some people that are probably going to be playing in the NHL next year, so I just try to use that opportunity to learn how they play the game. If they’re offensive, I’ll try to prevent what they’re doing. If they’re defensive, I’ll try to see how I can beat them,” explained Johnston, who believes he has the tools to play the NHL game. “I’ve always come in with a mindset that I can play at any level. Obviously, I have things to work on, but whenever I go into anything, I try to just do what I can do. I think if I do that, stay relaxed, and not try to get away from my game, I think I can play at this level. Hopefully, I can show that over the next couple of weeks.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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