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Habs hold combine for prospects, Quebec hopefuls

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Que. – It didn't take very long for some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft to get a taste of what playing hockey in Montreal is like.

The Canadiens held their own mini-draft combine Tuesday for 43 prospects, with the bulk of them players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who did not get invited to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto last month who Montreal wanted to get a better look at.


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The list of top prospects in attendance Tuesday was headed by forwards Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting, Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts, Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts, Stefan Matteau of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Mark Jankowski of nearby Stanstead College and defensemen Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels, Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Slater Koekkoek of the Peterborough Petes.  

As the prospects left the building following a day of off- and on-ice testing, they were met by a group of reporters – a small group by Montreal standards, but significant nonetheless under the circumstances.

Rielly was walking away when a reporter called him over for a chat, and suddenly the promising young defenseman was conducting a full-blown media scrum.Reinhart, having just concluded a scrum of his own, decided to poke his phone into the Rielly scrum and ask a question.

"So, did you get any weird questions?" Reinhart asked.

"Shut up!" Rielly answered, before the two Western Hockey League defensemen walked away laughing.

Aside from a crash course in Montreal Media Training 101, the prospects ran through various tests administered by the Canadiens under the watchful eye of general manager Marc Bergevin, director of procurement and player development Trevor Timmins and his team of scouts.

For many, getting a glimpse at the Canadiens' state-of-the-art training facility in the Montreal suburbs was the most impressive thing they saw.

"It's awesome -- the history, the passion that goes into the organization," Dumba, No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, said. "It's such a world-class facility and organization. I'm glad to be here."

Rielly happened to catch a glimpse of Canadiens captain Brian Gionta while he was going through his tests.

"It was pretty cool to see him walking around," the No. 5-ranked North American skater said.

With the Canadiens holding the No. 3 pick in the draft, which begins June 22 in Pittsburgh, the two players that were of the most interest were Grigorenko and Galchenyuk, ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, among North American skaters. Top-ranked forward Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting is home in Russia, while No. 2-ranked defenseman Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips met privately with the Canadiens over the weekend.

Grigorenko did not participate in any of the physical testing as he still has not officially been cleared from his bout with mononucleosis that hit him during the QMJHL playoffs, but he says he is on the road to recovery and that he has begun riding the stationary bike and skating in recent days. He still is waiting to take a blood test to confirm he is healthy.

"I'm getting better," he said. "I feel good."

He previously had met with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders, and will fly to Moscow on Wednesday for a quick trip home before returning to attend next week's draft.

Grigorenko said after meeting with those three teams and numerous others at the Scouting Combine, he has no idea what fate awaits him in Pittsburgh.

"All the teams are just nice to me," he said. "It feels like all of them will draft me."

That's the kind of uncertainty all the draft prospects are living with in these final days leading up to what looks like a very unpredictable draft.

"It is tough dealing with all the excitement," Dumba, who also met with the Islanders, Maple Leafs and Sabres, among a handful of other teams, said. "You lay down at night and your head starts to race."

The uncertainty especially is high among the defensemen, with the draft particularly stacked in promising players at that position. Someone like Rielly, Dumba or Reinhart could be taken anywhere in the top 10, or drop as low as 15 -- or further.

"I'm getting pretty anxious. It's hard to believe I'll be on a plane heading to the draft in eight days," Rielly, who also met with Maple Leafs and Sabres, said . "It's creeping up. It's been a long journey to this point, so it's pretty nerve-racking that it's around the corner.

"But, it's fun. It's been a good ride."
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