Brossard, QUEBEC — For the 43 players attending the Montreal Canadiens’ development camp this week, running through the battery of off-ice conditioning tests, grueling skating drills and scrimmages isn’t about perfecting their training regimens — it’s primarily about impressing the organization’s brass.
More than half the players participating were drafted, including first-round selections Noah Juulsen, Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron, who will naturally steal away a fair portion of management’s attention.
19 others hope to emerge from obscurity as tryouts and free agents attempting to prove that money was well-invested in the contracts the Canadiens awarded them.
Daniel Carr falls into the latter category. As one of two free agent signees at the camp, he’s done nothing but impress since signing a two-year deal with Montreal in 2014 after winning a National Collegiate Athletic Association title with Union College.
The NCAA Championship win in Philadelphia capped a remarkable four-year tenure with Union for the six-foot, 195-pound native of Sherwood Park, Alberta. Carr broke a single-season scoring record for the school’s Division I program by notching 50 points in his senior year, and is Union’s all-time leading scorer with 157 points in 160 games.
“All [Carr] does is score,” former Union linemate Michael Pontarelli told Sportsnet. “I’ve played with and against the best players in the NCAA for the last couple of years, and he was among the best goal-scorers I’ve seen. Watch out for him.”
If Canadiens fans weren’t paying attention, the 23-year-old Carr turned a lot of heads in 2014-15, leading the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs with 24 goals in his first season as a pro. His progress was notable as the season wore on, scoring 10 goals in March as his ice-time and responsibilities grew. His success on the whole was largely the product of a speedy stride, magnificent hands and a deceptive shot.
“I was passing [Carr] the puck and he was just shooting, and every time he was shooting, it was in the net,” said Bulldogs linemate Charles Hudon, who — with Carr’s help — earned a selection to the AHL’s all-rookie team in 2015.
In addition to Carr’s natural scoring ability, the consensus among his coaches is that his attitude, his character, and his willingness to take punishment to score are traits likely to get him into the NHL in the near future.
“He is very driven to be the best player he can be through sheer work ethic,” said Union head coach Rick Bennett via email. “He has many of the intangibles that have allowed him to become successful at every level, and his drive to make it to the National Hockey League is what I feel will get him there one day. If Daniel Carr is given an opportunity to play in the NHL, it will have been earned the right way; hard work!”
It’s clear that Carr left the same impression on Bulldogs coach Sylvain Lefebvre, who in March compared Carr’s tenacity to that of a “dog with a bone.”
“[Carr] does the job, no matter the circumstances,” he said.
These are the characteristics Carr hopes will define his prospect report card. They are the characteristics his NHL hero, Ryan Smyth — who played with the Edmonton Oilers for the majority of his career — displayed on a nightly basis. They are the same characteristics that had him compared by many over the last year to Canadiens sparkplug Brendan Gallagher; a comparison he blushes at and considers a high honour.
Carr admits his focus as a pro is on paying more attention to defensive details, citing a mantra Bennett offered him in his time at Union College: “Take care of little things, and that’s when the big things happen.”
He’s hoping that by becoming a more complete player and dedicating his time to developing a more explosive skating stride, it will lead to the biggest possible thing: a chance to fill a scoring role with a Canadiens team short on just that.
NHL dreams are neither born nor realized at development camp, but they become that much more tangible here. Each player participating this week has been given a personalized Canadiens t-shirt, the back of which serves to remind them that their future isn’t just in management’s hands: “Daily decisions determine destiny.”
The slogan has seemingly governed Carr’s way of life all along. Surely, the undrafted player has made the right decisions to make it this far. And if he continues to impress with his skill and determination, he might just jump ahead of some notable Canadiens prospects competing for a job in Montreal next season.