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Subban, Fortier return to junior as Canadiens cut 18 from camp

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MONTREAL - The happiest player at the Bell Centre on Monday was 20-year-old defenceman Yannick Weber.

The Swiss blueliner with the bullet shot from the right point learned he had survived the first major cuts in training camp and would be with the Montreal Canadiens for at least a few more days.

"I'm surprised I'm still here, but it shows I did something right," said Weber, a 20-goal scorer last season for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. "I worked hard all summer and now I'm getting something back - that they believe in me and that I'll get a chance to play another couple of games."

Weber had two goals in his first four pre-season games for the Canadiens and drew praise for his ability to move the puck and for his point shot. Star winger Alex Kovalev was impressed, saying Weber looked ready to play in the NHL now.

Coach Guy Carbonneau isn't about to hand him an NHL job just yet, but doesn't rule out seeing the stocky five-foot-10 defenceman called up during the season.

It is coincidence that Weber is vying for the power-play position held last season by another Swiss player, Mark Streit, who priced himself out of Montreal's budget with a 62-point season and signed a US$20.5-million, five-year deal as a free agent with the New York Islanders.

In 2006-07, the right point was manned by Sheldon Souray, who had 26 goals and 64 points and turned that into a $27-million, five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

So if Weber can get the job of hammering Andrei Markov's clever passes at the net, who knows, maybe he will be a wealthy man one day.

Weber and Streit are both from near the Swiss capital Bern and they skated together during the summer. Weber considers him a mentor.

"Coming from a country like Switzerland, you don't really think about playing in the NHL," said Weber. "To see Mark Streit last year have a great season, well that's one of how many?

"It's just good to see I'm close to him and I'll try to make it, just like him."

Carbonneau likes that Weber is a right-hand shot and has good vision of the ice.

"We're always trying to find ways to get the power play going, and we like him at that position," the third-year coach said. "I'm not saying he's starting, but if down the line our power play is struggling, we know he's there."

'There' in this case is the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, who start their camp Tuesday in St. John's, N.L.

On Monday, the Canadiens sent 16 players to the Bulldogs while another two, defenceman P.K. Subban and forward Olivier Fortier, were returned to their junior clubs as Montreal trimmed its camp to 32 players.

Subban will return to the Belleville Bulls of the OHL and Fortier will resume his duties as captain of the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. Both were impressive in camp.

"I learned that I can play at this level," said Subban, a strong puck-moving defenceman who could play for Canada at the world junior championship. "The NHL is so fast, but I learned that it's a lot easier playing at this level.

"Everyone's in the right position. You just have to move the puck, especially as a defenceman. So I'm looking forward to my opportunity next year."

Those who eluded the cuts included Weber, goaltender Marc Denis, big defencemen Alex Henry, and forwards Max Pacioretty, Ben Maxwell, Kyle Chipchura, Gregory Stewart and Matt d'Agostini. Defenceman Mathieu Carle, who is recovering from a concussion, also was not cut.

They will see action in pre-season games Tuesday night against Detroit and Wednesday night against Boston, after which all are expected to be shipped to Hamilton.

Pacioretty, a budding power forward on left wing who was a first-round draft pick in 2007, has had a strong camp, as did d'Agostini, a sniper on the right side. They will likely play together in Hamilton, perhaps with centre Maxwell.

"That would be a good scenario," said the 20-year-old Maxwell, a promising centre graduating from the junior Kootenay Ice.

Carbonneau hopes to have his full 23-man roster in place for the final pre-season game Saturday against Minnesota, when he also wants to have his lines decided for the start of the regular season.

He has already said that he will keep intact his top line from last season of Tomas Plekanec at centre between right-winger Kovalev and left-winger Andrei Kostitsyn.

Second and third lines will be built from centres Saku Koivu and Robert Lang and wingers Sergei Kostitsyn, Christopher Higgins, Alex Tanguay and perhaps Guillaume Latendresse.

Those assigned to Hamilton were goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins and Loic Lacasse; defencemen Pavel Valentenko, Shawn Belle and Chad Anderson; and forwards Brock Trotter, Ryan White, James Wyman, Mike Glumac, Olivier Latendresse, Yanick Lehoux, Ryan Flinn, Mathieu Aubin, Ryan Russell, David Desharnais and Thomas Beauregard.

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