The 2005-2006 NHL season has come and gone for the Montreal Canadiens, in what has been a successful graduation of several former prospects who made the jump from the AHL to the NHL. Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Perezhogin, and Garth Murray all joined the graduated list which included additions Mike Komisarek, and Micheal Ryder who were the last prospects to make the jump. What they have in common is that every single player out of the group earned their stripes with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Aside from Murray the rest were all draft picks of the Canadiens with Michael Ryder being the only drafted player not selected by former GM Andre Savard. Also of note most of them played in Hamilton at the same time, with Higgins and Plekanec forming an impressive duo over two seasons with Komisarek playing parts of both seasons and Perezhogin joining the fun for one season. Plekanec, Komisarek and Ryder were all apart of the highly successful debut season of the Habs in Hamilton.
This season had its share of ups and downs for the rookie Canadiens, but all of them battled through it and came out with some great experience especially getting a taste of the NHL playoffs. Higgins had a slow start but then caught fire in the second half as one of the hottest scorers in the NHL. Plekanec suffered a knee injury that cost him a chunk of time after a very solid start to the year. Perezhogin looked like a future scoring star with his early debut to the NHL but then some confidence problems set in and his game struggled a great deal. Give him and Coach/GM Bob Gainey credit for sticking it out and turning things around. Perezhogin did start to pick up his play later in the season and got even better in the playoffs. Murray started the year with Hamilton after being acquired by the Canadiens right before the start of the season. Things did not go so well for Murray in Hamilton, as points were hard to come by, but he continued to work hard and when he got the call, he never looked back and became an effective fourth line player bringing energy and a physical presence that was certainly lacking.
The future does indeed look bright for the Habs if their young players build off this past season and the team repeats the success they have had with their rookies when the next batch makes their debut. So far we have seen a brief view of what we may expect to see from the next class of rookies when the Canadiens called up the highly touted Andrei Kostitsyn, rugged forwards Maxim Lapierre and Jonathan Ferland, a stay at home defensemen in J-P Cote and the co-MVP of the AHL All Stars in goalie Yann Danis. In addition the team got quite the debut in the preseason from their top two picks from last years NHL Draft when Guillaume Latendresse and Carey Price made people take notice of their skills despite being only 18 years old at the time. While itís impossible to say who will be able to make the jump next season, there clearly is a lot of hope for what these young players will be able to contribute to the team.
The Canadiens first round pick of the 2003 draft Andrei Kostitsyn is likely one of the front runners at getting a spot with the team next year but heíll have to earn a spot just like everyone else. The skilled but at times enigma can bring fans out of their seats with some flashy plays but he still needs to improve on his basic fundamental skills. Kostitsyn was able to impress fans during his call ups this year picking up two goals in his short stay.
One big question mark will be in nets with Bob Gainey having two goalies that want the number one spot and another up and coming goalie in Yann Danis who is about to turn 25 next month. Danis would be a cheaper backup to have around and he has shown he can stop the puck in his short stint with the Habs this year, plus it would give fellow goalie prospect Jaroslav Halak a chance to see a lot of ice time in Hamilton.
Maxim Lapierre will make it hard for Gainey to send him back to Hamilton with his intense style of play and hard working attitude. What hurts Lapierre is the lack of experience but the soon to be fan favorite will most likely see some time with the Habs next year, the question is more how much time will he see.
With the new CBA they did away with the waiver draft but added a new rule that you have to clear waivers going down and to come back up. This could affect Jonathan Ferland who will be looking to earn a spot with the team after getting a brief taste of the NHL life and even got to score his first NHL goal. The problem is if he canít crack the roster out of camp and has to be sent down, if he clears waivers then Gainey may not risk losing another player on waivers with a mid season call up as was the case with Ron Hainsey.
J-P Cote is another player that got his feet wet in the NHL this past season and will likely arrive at camp ready to grab a full time roster spot. The safe steady stay at home blueliner made up a solid pairing with former Hamilton Bulldog teammate Mike Komisarek. Cote will have an idea of what heís up against at camp this summer when the Habs decide on what to do with unsigned defensemen Francis Bouillon, Mark Streit and Todd Simpson.
While many wonít be expecting the top goalie prospect Carey Price to earn a spot out of camp after just being draft one year ago, but the same canít be said for the second pick of the Canadiens that draft in Guillaume Latendresse. At last years camp and preseason Latendresse cause a huge buzz among the fans with his impressive style of play. The young winger plays a power game mixed with very good hands, a combination not seen in Montreal in many years.
Then thereís always some surprises at camp and one of them could come from the smallish Belarussian center/winger in Mikhail Grabovsky who is making a big splash currently at the World Championship tournament in Latvia. Grabovsky is one of the tournaments leading scorers and is also one of the main reasons why his country has placed in the Quarterfinals for the first time in their history at the WCís.
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