Having gone to the Habs rookie camp for the past three years, I have been able to see those who are lined up to play for Les Glorieux for many years to come. Last year it was Guillame Latendresse, Kyle Chipchura, Sergei Kostitsyn, and of course Carey Price who stood out from the hoi poloi. The focus of most of our prospects over the past few years has obviously been offense, with the only notable exception being Price. This year, the camp had a totally different feel. Out of the 24 players at Camp, 11 were defensemen.
All 9 picks from this years draft were present at the 2007 camp. From that crop of players, Ryan McDonaugh was by far the most impressive. Despite playing against prospects as much as 2 or three years older than he, McDonaugh displayed poise and skill on the ice. An excellent skater, he was unbeatable 1-on-1 and only gave up one goal on all the 2-on-1 drills I saw him perform. He's also physically imposing at 6'1" 210lbs as a 17-year-old. He was the most dominant defensive player on the ice, outshining David Fisher and Pavel Valentenko, both of which are older players. That being said, both Fisher and Valentenko were the other noticeable
defensemen, and both looked great on the ice. My only negative comment would be that Fisher looked lackadaisical through the second half of the drills, but many of these kids had not skated since the end of the season. Aside from the Big 3, Mathieu Carle and P.K. Subban were also interesting to watch. Carle had easily the best shot for any defenseman at the camp. He releases wrist and slap shots with ease, almost effortlessly, which makes sense since he has been the premier offensive defenceman in the Q for the past two years. However, He looks like he might be a power play quarterback who can play some defense, not the other way round. Subban is pure, raw athletic ability. He skates extremely well (4-corner drill on Youtube - Unreal) and has a great shot, but has a tendency to get ahead of himself and fumble with the puck. He's a project to be sure. The one thing that really sets P.K. apart is his attitude. Not once during the 2 days I was at camp did he start a drill further back than first. He was literally first in line for every drill that was done. This shows that he is ready and willing to absorb any information fed to him by the coaching staff, which could turn his incredible athletic ability into a real hockey player. Honorable mention to Joe Stejskal and Phillippe Paquet, who look both big and promising.
As for the forwards, no one stood out more than Ben Maxwell. If you're a Habs fan, you have to be excited about this kid. Last year he was leading the WHL in scoring (followed by fellow prospect Ryan White) until his season was cut short by injury. He is projected to rip up the Dub next year, and if his showing at Camp was any indication, he certainly will. His hands were outstanding, and his skating, shot and passing vision were all top notch (check out a video on YouTube of him in a puck control drill). He's the real deal and will definitely pay for the Habs at some point, hopefully in the 2008-2009 season. Olivier Fortier looked like he had some skill as well. After Maxwell, he had the best puck control and has excellent speed. Max Pacioretty was a bit lackluster but flashiness has never been a part of his game. He has an excellent shot and has really good foot speed for a big guy. The rest of the forwards didn't set themselves apart, but Andrew Conboy has NHL size at 17 years old. Not sure if he has the raw talent to match.
The prospects I saw this past week were all years away from the NHL, but already many were showing the development I'm sure Trevor Timmins wants to see. When you think about the fact that most of our blue chip prospects were not at this camp (as many have already signed with Hamilton), it really demonstrates the depth the Canadiens have in their pipeline. It is no coincidence that we are ranked #2 in prospects by HockeysFuture.com, and that talent showed itself this week.