Canadiens, Senators flush with players to watch at rookie tournament

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes describes his plan for Juraj Slafkovsky as the NHL season approaches and what his next steps are for the team.

Rookie camps and tournaments mark the beginning of a new season.

It’s an exciting time for NHL franchises this week as all 32 teams welcome their prospects to the beginning of the 2022-23 season.

Setting The Tone

In today’s NHL, turnover happens frequently at the head coaching position. Whenever change occurs it puts the group of players on notice that a new regime will mean new expectations when it comes to preparation.

Recently John Tortorella, the new bench boss in Philadelphia, went on record stating he has massive concerns about the Flyers “room”. He essentially called out the culture and let it be known things will be changing in Philly.

Rookie camps set the tone for the training camp journey. Upper management, NHL coaches, minor league affiliate coaches, and player development staff set goals for training camp.

The prospects who are the most prepared will earn invites to the NHL team's "main camp" with the rest of the pro roster. Others will gain valuable experience and then be returned to their junior, and sometimes European, teams.

The Journey to NHL Camps

Every player has had a different journey to this stage of their career.

Juraj Slafkovsky, for example, was the most recent first overall selection at the draft in Montreal.

A player like Jordan Harris (MTL third-rounder, 2018) completed his college career at Northeastern last spring and immediately jumped to the NHL roster with the Canadiens for a 10-game audition.

The Ottawa Senators' 2021 first round pick Tyler Boucher started last season at Boston University before moving over to the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League. Boucher will be skating in his first official pro camp this season.

It’s not unusual to see a player who has gone through the draft, or not been qualified an offer from the team that originally drafted them, attend a training camp on a tryout. These prospects range in age from 18–24 years and come from all areas of the hockey world (major junior, college, and Europe).  

Buffalo Sabres Rookie Challenge Preview

I will be attending the Rookie Challenge in Buffalo this week, where young guns from the Sabres, Canadiens, Senators, Penguins, Bruins and Devils will face-off against each other starting Thursday, Sept. 15, and concluding Monday, Sept. 19.

Here are some prospects I’m anxious to view at the event:

Juraj Slafkovsky, RW, Montreal Canadiens: First overall pick in 2022

When his name was called at the draft in Montreal, half the building gasped while the other half cheered wildly. Soon enough all Habs fans were embracing the pick and Slafkovsky was paraded around the venue like a rock star. He embraced the moment and by all accounts hit the ground running at the Canadiens development camp.

It’s time to get down to business. All eyes will be on Slafkovsky as he begins his NHL journey. It will be interesting to see how he adapts this week playing on the smaller ice surface. I expect his power game and skill to be on full display.

Jake Sanderson, D, Ottawa Senators: Fifth overall pick in 2021

Sanderson is an elite talent who should push for an NHL roster spot with the Senators immediately. He’s exactly what the NHL is about in its current state: a fantastic skater who transitions pucks with accurate outlets, or by skating up ice on his own.

He’s sneaky physically and has the intelligence to be used in all in-game scenarios. He'll attend his first official NHL training camp, but first will be looking to impress the Senators brass with a strong showing in Buffalo.

Simon Nemec, D, New Jersey Devils: Second overall pick in 2022

It was an exciting day for Slovakia when their country saw two homegrown players selected first and second overall at the draft in Montreal. The Devils have a potential top pairing defenceman in their stable with the addition of Nemec. He’s close to a complete player.

Nemec transitions pucks, defends well and can run the power play. He has proven he can produce playing against men at the pro level in Europe. The NHL is a different level, however, and he will be tested early.

Jiri Kulich, C, Buffalo Sabres: 28th overall pick in 2022

Kulich exploded up the 2022 draft rankings after his MVP performance at the U18 World Championships last spring in Germany. He continued his momentum with an outstanding performance at the recently completed World Junior Championship in Edmonton by scoring two goals and five assists in seven games. All this kid does is produce offence. He shoots the puck a ton and has a deceptive, accurate, release. Sabres fans will get a first hand look at one of their top prospects at this event.

Kevin Mandolese, G, Ottawa Senators: 157th overall pick in 2018


Mads Sogaard, G, Ottawa Senators: 37th overall pick in 2019

Sooner or later one of these two gigantic Senators goalie prospects is going to have to separate himself from the other. Goalies mature at different rates before becoming full time NHL puck stoppers. Neither one of these goalies appear close to NHL ready, but the competition for trust within the Senators organization begins at this tournament.

Jan Mysak, C, Montreal Canadiens: 48th overall pick in 2020

Mysak is an interesting prospect. He has always produced offensively, but his detail and willingness to compete in the small areas was a concern in the past. He’s evolving. I expect to see him and Slafkovsky playing together in Buffalo. They could be a handful for opponents to defend.

James Hardie, LW, Boston Bruins: Free agent invite

Hardie is a player I’m interested to watch this weekend. He has historically scored at a high level every step of his development. Last season he produced 41 goals and 77 points for OHL Mississauga. Teams have shied away from drafting him for a variety of reasons. If his fitness, and pace, has improved he could open some eyes in the Bruins organization.


Jordan Harris, Justin Barron, Kaiden Guhle, Arbur Xhekaj: Montreal Canadiens

Harris and Barron are likely destined for the the Habs' NHL roster this season with Guhle not far behind. Xhekaj is a great story. He basically fell into their lap last season as a free agent invite who went on to earn a contract.

Each of these four is a defenceman, so to say Montreal is flush with Grade “A” prospects on their back end is an understatement.

(Add Jayden Struble to their long-term prospect list as well. He isn’t eligible for rookie camp due to the fact he has returned to Northeastern for another year at the NCAA level.)

Samuel Poulin, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins: 21st overall pick in 2019

Poulin is coming off a decent rookie season in the AHL, where the power forward scored 16 goals and 37 points for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It’s fair to say the Pens are looking for this first-round pick to take another step in his development and it starts in Buffalo.

All player cards and info from The Pro Hockey Group.

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