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Prospects vying to fill scoring role on Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens entered this offseason with a need for scoring, and barring any drastic moves from general manager Marc Bergevin it looks like that need will be filled from within.

Bergevin has not signed an unrestricted free agent forward since the market opened July 1 but acquired forward Zack Kassian from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade for Brandon Prust, which could be considered an upgrade offensively.

Assuming the status quo is maintained, it looks as though the scoring boost might need to come from one or perhaps two of the players who completed Canadiens development camp Thursday.

Bergevin said as much July 2 when asked how he plans on addressing an offense that finished 20th in the NHL last season, last among teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Why draft players if you're never going to give them a chance?" Bergevin asked.

Five forwards in particular have been mentioned by Bergevin as potential frontrunners in the race to earn a spot with the Canadiens in October. Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr played  last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron will be making the jump to the professional level this season.

The players can be split along those lines, because though the three with AHL experience have proven they can perform at the professional level, Scherbak (2014) and McCarron (2013) were first-round picks at NHL Draft and probably have the highest ceiling.

It's possible a wild card will emerge when the Canadiens hold training camp in September, or Bergevin will make a move to add an established scoring threat this summer, but in all likelihood if a rookie forward is going to make the Canadiens in the fall it will come from that group of five.

"[Bergevin] is a straight-up guy. He tells it how it is and he doesn't sugar coat it," Carr said Thursday on the final day of camp. "He talked to a group of us, and for us it's about sticking with it. Just getting better every day, and that's how you’re going to make that step.

"For me, they gave me some stuff to work on this week and to go home and work on that. Hopefully it pans out in September and I come ready to play."

Carr, an undrafted college free agent who helped Union College win the 2014 NCAA championship, led the Bulldogs in goals with 24 as a rookie last season playing alongside Hudon, another rookie who finished second on the team in scoring with 57 points in 75 games.

The two grew close as rookie linemates but know they are in competition to reach the NHL.

"We play together but when we get on the ice [at camp], we're still teammates but also enemies, you could say," Hudon said in French on Thursday. "We're fighting for a spot, fighting for our lives in a way to see what we'll be doing next season. So for us, we work hard and we play well together, but we have to bring that to camp in September."

Andrighetto had 43 points in 60 games in Hamilton. He had two goals and an assist in 12 games with the Canadiens, the only player in this group who has played in the NHL.

"I have two years now in the AHL and some experience at the NHL level with Montreal is for sure good for my confidence," Andrighetto said earlier in camp. "I'm confident in my abilities. I can use that to my advantage, the experience I had last year."

Scherbak, the No 26 pick at the 2014 draft, led the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League with 82 points in 65 games and weighed in for development camp at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, or 32 pounds heavier than he was listed prior to his draft.

He turns 20 in December, but Scherbak has the skills and now the size to perhaps have the best shot at filling the Canadiens' needs in spite of his age. Bergevin has not rejected the idea Scherbak is a candidate to fill that role.

"Everyone was young, right?" Scherbak said this week. "[Sidney] Crosby was young too when he [began] playing."

The most unique case is McCarron, a 6-6, 235-pound forward selected No. 25 in the 2013 draft who shifted from wing to center in his final season of junior hockey, one that began with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League but finished with the Oshawa Generals and a Memorial Cup title. McCarron had 68 points in 56 regular-season games with London and Oshawa, 18 points in 21 OHL playoff games for the Generals, and three points in four games at the Memorial Cup.

McCarron's ability to play center and wing, something Hudon can do, is an advantage for him, but the most tantalizing aspect of his tool kit is his size, outweighing the heaviest forward on the Canadiens roster, Devante Smith-Pelly, by 15 pounds. Something else McCarron does not lack is confidence.

"The way I look at it is, nobody can stop me when I'm going full speed and nobody can take the puck off me. That's the way I think," he said Thursday. "I don't know if that's being cocky or not, but I just want to hold the puck as long as I can and take pucks to the net and be strong on pucks.

"Everybody's battling for those 50-50 pucks, you want to win it and you've got to tell yourself you're going to win it, or else you're not going to win it. So I always think I'm going to win 50-50 pucks."

That is the type of confidence the Canadiens will be looking for from each of these rookie hopefuls at training camp in September, when one of the five could very well find himself with a job among coach Michel Therrien's top-nine forwards. It is also when all the camaraderie and team-building they experienced this week will shift to something more intense: competition.

"Juniors was a lot of fun, but now [hockey] is my job," McCarron said. "Everyone's competing for the same spot. As much as you love all of these guys in here, you want to take that spot and play in the NHL."

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