Canadiens camp notebook: Smooth transition impeded by injury for Hoffman

Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki doesn't envision his role changing much this season, says he'll continue to lead by example on the ice and pick his spots to speak off the ice and in the locker room.

BROSSARD, Que. — I’d pay more than a penny for Mike Hoffman’s thoughts right now.

The talented winger, who signed a three-year deal worth $4.5 million per season back on July 28, missed the first day of training camp with the Montreal Canadiens.

Hoffman is going to miss the remaining days of it, too. He’s been diagnosed with an undisclosed lower-body injury, and coach Dominique Ducharme said his availability to play when the regular season starts on Oct. 13 is in doubt.

Safe to assume this isn’t how the 31-year-old was hoping to open this new chapter of his life. This first day on the ice was supposed to offer him the opportunity to display his skill and get acquainted with new linemates, but he likely spent it getting to know the team’s training staff better.

Ducharme said Hoffman reached out immediately to the Canadiens’ athletic therapists upon injuring himself during his last on-ice session back home.

“When he got here, he got treated right away,” the coach continued. “He took some time before getting back on the ice. There were different ways to treat him as well, so he did all of that. Then he got on the ice, and he was fine.

“But the next day it was much worse, and he went to take an MRI. For the start of the season, he could be doubtful.”

How long Hoffman will remain “doubtful” is unclear at this point, with Ducharme saying he needed to speak with the medical staff for further clarity on a timeline.

The one bit of good news Ducharme shared was that Hoffman won’t require surgery.

Still, Hoffman is missing precious time out of the gate. The five-time 25-goal scorer won’t have the opportunity to practise the system before games of consequence begin, he won’t have time to build chemistry with new linemates and cohesion with cohorts on the power play, and he’ll be under pressure to prove his worth immediately while trying to get up to speed once he finally does return.

It's not great news for the Canadiens, either, though they have to be happy Carey Price’s rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn meniscus is going to plan.

Ducharme clarified that Price, who was listed alongside Hoffman, Paul Byron (hip), Joel Teasdale (knee) and Josh Brook (knee) as a player who failed his physical and was likely to miss the entirety of training camp, was actually progressing as expected.

“We knew he wouldn’t be here this morning,” Ducharme said. “A couple of weeks ago we knew that, and we built a program for him to get back in shape. And he’s on the ice right now. He’s skating. He’s going to be on the ice next week with the goalie coach and therapist to make sure. And then, after that, we’re going to pick it up and even go harder or put him in different situations. And then he’s going to join the team, practise with us and be getting ready to play the game.

“But we expect him to be ready to play on opening night.”

Ducharme added there’s a chance the 34-year-old, who carried the Canadiens to within three wins of the 2021 Stanley Cup with a .924 save percentage over 22 games, will appear in one of the team’s six exhibition games before the season begins in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

“As of today, we think he’ll be able to,” said Ducharme. “In the way we’re doing things, we’re taking precautions so that we can be sure things go well and to plan.”

If things go according to plan, defenceman Joel Edmundson will also be prepared to join practice in short order.

The six-foot-four, 227-pounder has a minor injury that didn’t prevent him from skating on his own on Thursday, and Ducharme said it won’t be long before he recovers.

Ducharme added that Brendan Gallagher, who missed practice due to “family reasons,” was expected back on the ice by Sunday at the latest, and as early as Saturday.

In an ideal world, Gallagher, Edmundson and Price would all be kicking off from the same starting point as their teammates. But none of them had more to gain from doing so than Hoffman, who had 17 goals and 36 points in 56 games with the St. Louis Blues last season.

He’d have been among the first people we’d be hearing from at this camp, but now we’ll have to wait to get his thoughts on his situation and his new life in Montreal.

Ryan-Poehling Montreal Canadiens' Ryan Poehling celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/CP)



A spot up for grabs for Ryan Poehling

The 25th overall pick in 2017 knows he’s staring down the best opportunity he’s had with the Canadiens since he arrived at camp two seasons ago appearing like he had a lock on a spot.

It’s easy to forget that Poehling opened camp in 2019 as a more likely candidate to start with the team than Nick Suzuki. And judging by how some people have talked about Poehling since then, it appears many have forgotten the main reason he didn’t end up seizing that spot.

The Lakeville, Minn., native followed up a dream debut in the NHL — he scored a hat trick and the shootout winner in the final game of the 2018-19 season—with a remarkable run through the first week of 2019 camp. Then, during an exhibition game in Bathurst, N.B., he was pasted into the boards and concussed by Florida Panthers prospect Dryden Hunt.

Poehling rushed back 10 days later but struggled to find the same cadence and rhythm to his game. While he was out, Suzuki passed him on the depth chart and blocked an immediate path to the Canadiens, and Poehling was left flummoxed by the sudden loss of opportunity.

He struggled immensely to find his game with the Laval Rocket, and people began to wonder — as he floundered there and showed little evidence he was prepared for the NHL over a 27-game stint as a replacement player with the Canadiens — if he would ever regain the footing he appeared to have through his first year with the organization. This was a first-rounder who was named MVP of the 2019 World Junior Championship, the author of an unfathomably successful debut in the NHL, and doubt was creeping in he’d ever make it.

Now, after a strong campaign with the Rocket saw him produce 11 goals and 25 points in 28 games, Poehling is in a position to erase it. He’s come to camp feeling strong and prepared, armed with newfound confidence and fresh perspective on his experience to date, and he’s made an impression out of the gate.

“He’s in good shape, and you can see it in the way he moves,” said Ducharme. “It’s important that he moves well.

“He matured, too. Physically he’s more mature. And there’s more detail in his game. Even in today’s drills where he was one-on-one with or without the puck, he was more efficient, stronger on the puck, better at protecting it.

“He had success in the AHL last year and finished strong, but we’ll wait to have more answers on him when the games start.”

Montreal Canadiens' Ryan Poehling (25) celebrates with teammates Brett Kulak (17), Andrew Shaw (65) and Jeff Petry (26) after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 6, 2019. Montreal Canadiens' Ryan Poehling (25) celebrates with teammates Brett Kulak (17), Andrew Shaw (65) and Jeff Petry (26) after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, April 6, 2019.



What Poehling hopes to prove is that he can be relied on both offensively and defensively, and that he can be a player Ducharme trusts.

Poehling said he made gains in the gym working out his lower body while rehabbing from off-season wrist surgery for nine weeks, that he was completely healthy after 13 weeks and had another five to fully prepare for camp, and that he learned over the last year to really focus on the steps that would get him back on the road he thought he was destined for two years ago.

“I think everyone is on their own path, and you can’t get frustrated with someone else’s path being different than yours and yours being different than someone else’s,” Poehling said. “For me, I’ve kind of realized that and just said, ‘Hey, continue on the path, continue on the path, trust it,’ and I think it’s all going to work out in the end and wherever you should be you should be. And I think that I’ve done that so far. Last year was a great start for me and now I can just trust that and continue doing that and hopefully this year it works out for me.”

Poehling said it took him a long time to adopt that outlook, that frustration had clouded his mind and hindered his progress.

“I was on the highest peak,” he said, “and then all of a sudden you drop down and you lose everything... The expectations from your family, from your friends, everything like that—it took me a while to realize just focus on yourself and make yourself happy, and I think that was the biggest thing.”

The whole process has brought Poehling full circle. Now he’s in a battle with Cedrik Paquette — and Jake Evans to a much lesser degree — to win a spot up the middle on the opening-night roster.

“I always think so highly of myself, and I think that I put in the work and the preparation to hopefully make the team this year,” the 22-year-old said. “That’s where I see myself and I want to be there, so it just comes down to doing what I did this off-season to show this staff that they can trust me and put me in that spot.”

QUICK HITS

• Tough to decipher how the rest of the lines will look once Gallagher returns and Hoffman is ready, but Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield being reunited on Day 1 is likely a sign of things to come.

“We put them together because they have a certain chemistry together,” said Ducharme.

He didn’t guarantee they’d stay together, but he’s hoping they carry their strong performance in the playoffs over to the start of this season.

• Great to see Jonathan Drouin back in action after he last appeared in a Canadiens uniform on Apr. 23, when he left warmup in Calgary unable to play against the Flames and took indefinite personal leave for what was only recently revealed to be problems with anxiety and insomnia.

His coupling with Dvorak is something I think Ducharme is committed to testing, though I wonder if Josh Anderson will remain there upon Gallagher’s return.

• Rafael Harvey-Pinard skated with Evans and Joel Armia. That’s a nice reward for a 2019 seventh-rounder who has worked so hard for every single opportunity. It won’t be where he sticks throughout camp, but the idea that he plays a game at some point this season—perhaps with those two players as linemates—isn’t as farfetched as it would’ve seemed on the day he was chosen 201st overall.

“I wouldn’t be against him,” said director of development Rob Ramage at the start of rookie camp last week.

I’ve spoken to at least three other members of the team’s brass who have said the same thing verbatim.

Oh, and I wouldn’t bet against Harvey-Pinard either.

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