BELLEVILLE - Hockey is finally back! The Canadiens' prospects will be trying to make their mark against the Ottawa Senators' young guns on Saturday night.
Montreal's hopefuls, coached by Laval Rocket bench boss Joel Bouchard, will begin the 2019 Rookie Showcase with a tough test. The Senators' prospects are coming off an 8-1 thrashing of the Winnipeg Jets' youngsters at CAA Arena on Friday.
In addition to being a confident bunch, the Senators' squad also boasts its fair share of players with NHL experience. Ottawa's top line of Drake Batherson (20 games), Logan Brown (6 games), and Alex Formenton (10 games) has a combined 36 contests under its belt at hockey's highest level. Ryan Poehling, meanwhile, is the lone player on the Canadiens' contingent who has played at the NHL level, having debuted for one game in April.
Nevertheless, Bouchard is still confident in his group's capabilities and he's hoping that his players will simply feel good on the ice.
"It's important for our players to feel comfortable. The challenge I'm presenting them with is to play up to their potential," mentioned Bouchard. "They were drafted and invited for a reason, because there are things they do well. They have an identity and the important thing is to feel comfortable tonight."
For their part, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling will be doing their very best ahead of main camp to impress the Habs' brass in hopes of earning a roster spot with the big club down the road.
But, Bouchard continues to emphasize that gaining some experience at the AHL level is always a good option. It's very rare, of course, for a player to simply skip the AHL ranks altogether and head directly to the NHL.
"In life, there are two kinds of players. There are exceptional players and then there's everyone else. In the latter, the first one to get his head above water will end up surviving. We don't talk about the exceptional ones. For them, the bar is very high. We can talk about Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews. These are guys with high aptitudes and an incredible understanding of the game," mentioned Bouchard. "The rest, if they want to play hockey, there's a way to improve themselves and it's definitely in the AHL."
With respect to his lineup, Bouchard wasn't about to confirm anything following the morning skate, including which players would be watching from the press box.
But, Quebecer Rafael Harvey-Pinard could begin the game alongside Poehling and Suzuki.
"We'll end up playing everybody with everybody. My goal is put players in positions where they can perform. Harvey-Pinard can play on the left side or the right side, on the power play or on the penalty kill. In English, we call that a "Swiss Army knife," said Bouchard. "He has many assets. But, lines and defense pairings in a tournament like this aren't really science-based. You try to find good combinations, but they can definitely change during a game."
A young veteran
Forward Jake Evans is taking part in his second Rookie Showcase. The 23-year-old centerman closed out his rookie season in the pros with 13 goals and 45 points in 67 games with the Rocket.
A seventh-round selection of the Canadiens, 207th overall in 2014, Evans has really impressed his bench boss.
"In my mind, Jake was a great story last year because he's a hockey player. The future will reveal what'll happen in his case because I don't have a crystal ball. But, he's another player who's going through the natural path of a hockey player. He has to find a way to stand out," emphasized Bouchard. "He's another one of my players who did his homework this summer and he has always listened to what we've had to say to him."
Evans is one of the more experienced players on Montreal's roster for the event.
And he's planning on proving his worth this weekend.
"My goal is to be one of the best player in the Rookie Showcase," said Evans. "Ottawa has a lot of good prospects on their squad. The first game will be a good challenge."
Tonight's contest will be streamed on canadiens.com beginning at 7:00 p.m.