Reinbacher one of five players to keep an eye on at Canadiens rookie camp

Montreal Canadiens go over practice drills as they work out on the first day of rookie camp. (Christinne Muschi/CP)

BROSSARD, Que.— None of the players at the opening skate of Montreal Canadiens rookie camp wear nameplates or numbers on the backs of their jerseys, but no elaborate search is required to identify David Reinbacher.

The Austrian, who was chosen fifth overall by the Canadiens in the 2023 Draft, stands out immediately. He has a towering presence, a smooth-as-silk skating stride that cuts deep and efficiently no matter which direction he’s moving, and he exhibits a level of poise that makes you forget he’s one of the youngest players here.

In all of those ways, Reinbacher comes as advertised.

Somewhat surprisingly, he arrived 15 pounds heavier than he was when he weighed in for Canadiens development camp back in July.

At six-foot-three, and now tipping the scale at 209 pounds, the 18-year-old says after Thursday’s skate he feels better equipped to win battles in the corners.

Whether or not Reinbacher is armed to win the fight for a spot on the Canadiens’ blue line this season doesn’t appear to be front of mind for him.

“For sure as a young kid, you want to try to make the team right away,” he says before adding, “It’s about the experience now. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Reinbacher’s just taking his first steps on that journey, staring at his first chance to play some meaningful hockey on North American ice as he attempts to make the transition from the big rinks in Europe, where he stood out with Kloten HC in Germany and with the Austrian national team at both the 2023 world junior championship and 2023 world championship.

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Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton made it clear earlier this week that this player is under no pressure to do anything but learn from that process.

“Nothing’s definite, but the plan here so far is let’s let David play in North America here a little bit with rookie camp, let’s get him adjusted, let’s see where it goes from there and then maybe the NHL camp a little bit, if there’s a game, maybe,” Gorton said ahead of the team’s annual golf tournament. “We’re going to take that day-to-day and make the best decision for him. I wouldn’t want to say he’s doing this, he’s doing that, but if I was handicapping, I would say more than likely he’s heading back to Europe to play another year.

“But let’s see what he does, we’ll give him an open forum to do as well as he can.”

Every player in attendance has the same opportunity, especially with Canadiens management signaling it’s more than willing to inject young, emerging talent into the opening-night roster come October.

Of all the players set to compete against prospects from the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators this weekend, we believe there are four—in addition to Reinbacher—who stand out as ones who really might be able to take advantage of that opportunity.

Owen Beck, 19, C, OHL, ‘22-23 stats: GP 60, G 24, A 42, P 66

The six-foot, 197-pound centre, who was drafted 33rd overall by the Canadiens in 2022, was the talk of last year’s training camp, earning high praise from management and coach Martin St. Louis—as well as the opportunity to sign his entry-level contract.

Beck took that confidence back to the OHL and ran with it like Usain Bolt out of the gate of a 100-metre sprint, notching 14 goals and 23 points in his first 16 games with the Mississauga Steelheads.

He was a late add to Team Canada, but an essential cog in their gold-medal bid at the world junior championship. And then, following a trade from Mississauga, he was a key player for his hometown Peterborough Petes through the back half of what turned out to be a championship season.

Through 22 playoff games (OHL and Memorial Cup), Beck put up eight goals and 16 points and continued to show the type of offensive upside other NHL teams questioned he had in his draft year.

He’s got an NHL shot, and an NHL skating stride. But what gives Beck a real inside to potentially making the Canadiens are his NHL habits.

“I’ve always been known as a two-way player who can play on both sides of the puck,” the 19-year-old said on Thursday.

Beck then referred to himself as “that Swiss-Army-Knife-style player that coaches love.”

It’s an accurate self-assessment from a player who excels in the faceoff circle, can play both special teams, play effectively at both ends of the ice and be a threat at centre or wing all while processing the game at NHL speed.

Beck showed it last pre-season, and showed flashes of it once again in his one regular-season game, against the Senators, in Ottawa, back on Jan. 28.

What did he take from that experience?

“It was just realizing the pace, seeing how strong guys are, how physical and fast they are and how little time you have on the ice,” Beck said on Thursday. “You’ve got to be able to implement that into your training and really be able to learn to play at that higher level consistently every night. You can’t have off-days in the NHL. That’s the takeaway that I got from that game.”

It might be a stretch to think his next one in this league could come as soon as Oct. 11 in Toronto, when the Canadiens open their season against the Maple Leafs. Considering the Canadiens have several established centres attending main camp, and that Beck is still eligible to return to junior, you could even call it a long shot.

But Beck’s progress should manifest itself at rookie camp, and it would be no surprise to see that propel him to another strong showing in pre-season.

Whether or not Beck steals a chair with the Canadiens, he’ll justifiably garner a lot of attention.

Logan Mailloux, 20, RD, OHL, ‘22-23 stats: GP 59, G 25, A 28, P 53

No OHL defenceman scored more goals than Mailloux did with the London Knights last season, and few offered the offensive versatility he possesses in spades.

Whether or not Mailloux can prove he can be half as effective at the other end of the ice will ultimately determine if he can crack the Canadiens out of camp.

The London, Ont., native knows.

“If you don’t play defence, you can’t play in the NHL,” Mailloux said after Thursday’s skate. “I’m going to try to be able to come in first and gain the trust of the coaches that I can play in all situations, I can play defence really well and the offence will come over time. I’m not going to go out looking for it or running out of position just for that.”

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Success on that mission could swing the door wide open for Mailloux, who’s competing at a position of need for the Canadiens—right defence.

That he’s six-foot-three, 220 pounds, extremely mobile, and in possession of a lethal shot only helps make him a legitimate NHL prospect.

To immediately become an NHL player, Mailloux will not only have to prove up his defensive ability but also show that all the training and individual development he’s done over the last two years since being drafted 31st overall in 2021 can supplant some of the experience he missed in not being permitted to play for most of the 2021-22 season.

Mailloux was only cleared to play in the OHL in January of 2022, after serving a suspension for his sexual misconduct in Sweden the year prior.

He then appeared in 12 games with the Knights before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery and a rehabilitation period that kept him out of Canadiens training camp last fall.

Still, Mailloux bounced back strong—not only in the regular season for London, but also in the playoffs, where he put up eight goals and 24 points in 21 games.

Now we’ll see what he can do at a higher level.

Gorton said earlier this week that, after meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly earlier this summer, Mailloux’s clearance to play in the league should be a formality should he make the Canadiens’ roster.

Mailloux said on Thursday he intends on doing exactly that.

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Whether or not he does, we believe he’ll play some NHL games this season.

Members of the Canadiens’ development staff have told us they see him as arguably their best prospect, and he appears very keen on proving them right immediately.

To prepare, Mailloux has spent the last month near Montreal, living with former Canadien Paul Byron and his family, and skating with several members of the team.

His quest to unseat some of them begins in Buffalo.

Emil Heineman, 21, LW, AHL/SHL, ’22-23 stats: GP 46, G 15, A 9, P 24

When Mailloux was asked who stood out to him at Thursday’s skate, the name he mentioned was Heineman’s, and with good reason.

Here’s a six-foot-two, 202-pound winger who plays every bit his size and has a cannon of a shot.

Heineman, who was drafted 43rd overall by the Florida Panthers in 2020 and acquired by the Canadiens in the 2022 trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames, may be Swedish, but he plays a North American-style game.

That much was on display at last year’s training camp, before Heineman suffered an injury. He then returned to Sweden to play 35 games with Leksand, where he was reasonably productive but not quite as prolific as he was in compiling seven goals in 11 games on the smaller ice surface with the AHL’s Laval Rocket at season’s end.

Heineman will face stiff competition to steal a spot on the wing with the Canadiens, but few prospects at rookie camp have as good of a chance of doing so as he does.

Sean Farrell, 21, LW, NCAA/NHL, ’22-23 stats: GP 40, G 21, A 33, P 54

In Reinbacher’s words, “He’s really good, he’s fast.”

That’s what Farrell showed all the way up the ranks, right up until leaving Harvard at the end of last season to join the Canadiens for six games down the stretch.

The former USHL MVP, who had 20 goals and 33 assists with the Crimson in his sophomore season, has a bit of a leg up after having gotten a taste with the Canadiens.

And even if Farrell may have only scored one goal in the world’s best league, he took a lot from the experience to carry with him to rookie camp this fall.

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The Hopkinton, Mass., native said he now feels comfortable in this setting and, after a summer of training focused on “core strength and lower body strength and making sure I can stay in battles and get a little bit faster to try to separate from some of those bigger defencemen in the NHL,” is out to prove he belongs in the NHL.

Farrell has the skills to play in the league, and those skills should make him a standout at the Prospects Challenge this weekend.

What he needs to show it in camp and stick with the Canadiens is the poise, and he’s well aware of that.

“I think the NHL is such a possession-based game and the guys who are really good usually have the puck on their stick a good amount and get a lot of touches and are able to possess it and keep plays going. That’s one of the things I worked on was just being able to hold onto the puck when I have to but, at the same time, when there’s a play to be made, get it off my stick.”

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