Brossard, Quebec — As the Montreal Canadiens are currently constructed, they’ve got an opening at forward.
Sven Andrighetto has every reason to believe that this is his chance. The Swiss-born winger has all the tools — the speed, the hands and the right attitude — to suggest his selection in the third round in 2013 was a steal for the Canadiens, and he’s doing his best to prove all of that at development camp this week.
“He’s knocking on the door,” said longtime NHLer Martin Lapointe, who currently works as Montreal’s director of player development.
Andrighetto has already shown glimpses of what kind of NHL player he can be.
The Canadiens were in Dallas for the second half of a back-to-back in early December 2014. Down 3-0 in the third period, Andrighetto picked off a pass from Stars defenceman Alex Goligoski and cycled it down to Tomas Plekanec, who returned the puck to him in front of goaltender Kari Lehtonen. With a quick forehand-backhand move, Andrighetto scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in his first NHL game.
The last player to accomplish the feat for Montreal was Max Pacioretty. You know… the guy who just completed his third 30+ goal season; the guy who will likely become the 29th captain in Canadiens history when the 2015-16 season kicks off.
“It’s pretty nice to be in [Pacioretty’s] company for something, obviously,” Andrighetto said after a battery of on-ice drills. “At one point, I want to get to where Max is right now. He went through Hamilton as well, and if you look now, he’s one of the best performers in the league. He’s a great example for me, for sure.”
Three nights after his coming out party in Dallas, Andrighetto got his first taste of NHL hockey at the Bell Centre. The five-foot-eight winger didn’t disappoint, setting Plekanec up for the winning goal to help the Canadiens halt a three-game losing streak.
A game later, in a 6-2 blowout over the Los Angeles Kings, Andrighetto was on the ice for two of the first four goals the Canadiens scored before popping their fifth by goaltender Martin Jones; a one-timer off a beautiful pass from Michael Bournival.
But on the precipice of Andrighetto’s NHL launch, things fizzled quickly.
The next nine games were a struggle for ice time as injured players made their way back into the lineup. Andrighetto couldn’t breach the 10-minute mark in seven of the contests and — just like that — his audition wasn’t quite strong enough to land him a permanent role. He was sent back to the farm on Jan. 10.
Not so long ago, the retrogression would have injured Andrighetto’s ego.
“Maybe because of his edge, he was too hard on himself sometimes,” said Lapointe. “He’d get carried away during games. Now he can focus better and park distractions when things are not going well better than he did a few years ago.”
It’s maturity that Lapointe identified as the main difference between Andrighetto now and Andrighetto over the last couple of years. The 22-year-old’s maturity shows in how he reflected on his shorter-than-desired 12-game stint in Montreal.
“I learned a lot just about how the game is played,” said Andrighetto. “It’s so much faster. You gotta know where you gotta go with the puck before you even have the puck. The passes are on the tape and they’re hard. Just learning the structure; you really have to know where you have to be on the ice at all times.”
When asked about his success with Hamilton after the Canadiens sent him back, Andrighetto couldn’t cite a single statistic. He admitted his numbers were far from his focus, but it’s worth noting that his 26 points in those final 43 games helped make him the second-most productive player on the Bulldogs last season with .71 points per game.
He’s worked out a blueprint to follow in order to parlay his AHL success into a job in Montreal, understanding that consistency isn’t just a cliché players throw around — it’s a doctrine to be abided by on every practice drill, on every shift of every game.
Andrighetto and Lapointe believe the key to his success lies not only in being an explosive skater, but in being an elusive one, too.
“I’m heavy enough to play against guys in the NHL, but my goal isn’t to hit a six-foot-five guy into the boards — my goal is to be fast,” said Andrighetto. Lapointe added that there’s no point in putting on the weight if carrying it is going to slow him down.
For a player that idolized Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk without modeling himself after either superstar, Andrighetto has their kind of confidence.
“You gotta force management to keep you,” said Andrighetto. “I know what I can do; it’s up to me to show them that I’m ready. I want to make the team.”
Andrighetto won’t be able to prove his worth in scrimmages this week, as he’s being kept out as a precaution after suffering a shoulder injury late in the season. But when training camp rolls around, he’s the top candidate to watch in the race for that open position in Montreal’s forward group.