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Youth assessment

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – With the pressure off and only six games remaining on the 2011-12 calendar, the Habs will use what’s left of the season to focus on the younger end of their roster and see what’s in store for the team’s future.

After a season filled with injuries and call-ups, a handful of young players in the Canadiens’ organization had the chance to get their first real taste of NHL action. With two weeks worth of games still on tap and seven players on the current roster with less than 100 NHL games under their belt, it’s clear that there’s still time to squeeze in a few more lessons.

Lars Eller will return to center when the Canadiens face the Panthers Tuesday night.

“We saw a lot of our younger players make big strides in the right direction this year. Developing when you’re playing at the NHL level can be a long process,” explained head coach Randy Cunneyworth of the progress made by Ryan White, Louis Leblanc, Mike Blunden and Frederic St-Denis, among others. “They’re playing against guys that are sometimes 10 years older than them and have a lot more experience. But it’s those situations that let you improve and get better. We hope that the things they’ve learned this season will help them to become better NHL players in the future.”

While the Canadiens’ latest campaign obviously didn’t yield the results Cunneyworth had hoped for, the Habs coach will be making sure to use the remaining games as a jump-start in preparing for next season. A few tweaks and changes are expected to be made to the lineup, beginning with Lars Eller being moved back to his natural position.

“For me, Lars Eller is a center. That’s where he played for the better part of the season. We had him as a winger for a few stints, but I think with the kind of player he is, you’re limiting his creativity and his talent on the ice by putting him there,” explained Cunneyworth of the young Dane who’s posted a goal and an assist in his last two games. “Allowing him to grow at center gives him more opportunity to be creative within our system. We of course want him to play a certain way, but in the offensive zone, he moves well, sees the ice well and has the talent to set up an finish plays.”

Sidelined by a sports hernia that caused him to miss most of the season, Ryan White has used his 19 games played in 2011-12 to pick up right where he left off last year. Physical, tough and proving he can play on either wing or at center, White made it clear Tuesday morning that he plans to use the Canadiens’ disappointing season as fuel for the future.

“It’s obviously tough. You want to be in the playoffs, be in the mix. Unfortunately we’re not in that situation right now,” said White. “That’s why it’s important to remember these feelings; remember what it’s like to play these last six games where you’re forced to play for pride instead of a chance to continue on. We need to remember how this feels, move forward, and use that next year.”

Justin Fragapane is a writer for

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