Prospects looking to leave their mark as Habs host Bruins

While many hockey fans finally got their fill of hockey last night, with pre-season action opening up in several cities, the time for Habs fans to rejoice is today. That's right! After several long months of scrutinizing Pierre Gauthier, complaining about Carey Price and ganging up and criticizing the mainstream media, we can finally return to what's really most important; Montreal Canadiens hockey!

Okay, it will only be "kind of" Montreal Canadiens hockey, with several prospects and young players suiting up for the game, but the Canadiens are definitely in for a few treats as the future watch will officially be on, tonight. The Canadiens will take the ice tonight at the Bell Centre and welcome their biggest and oldest rivals, the Boston Bruins. With the town itching to have a team to cheer for (let's ignore, for a second, the Alouettes and the Impact, but what else is new), the opener is certain to at least be a near sellout. The game will also be broadcast on RDS, and while I have to admit that my attention might be divided during the 8PM hour, with the season premiere of Chef Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" on Fox, you can bet that the collective eyes of the city and the fanbase will be glued to their TV sets tonight, as their team returns to action.

Many of the players set to take the ice tonight are going to be prospects and rookies who will be looking to impress Jacques Martin and his staff in a real game scenario. Most have nearly no chance of cracking the final line-up, which will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the ACC on October 7th, but there will definitely be a few players to keep a close eye on during the game tonight:

Jared Tinordi:
The latest Canadiens' first round pick will get his first taste of action on the Habs blueline tonight. Tinordi recently made the jump from US College hockey to the OHL's London Knights, a move that put a smile on the faces of many Habs fans last month, and a move that put Tinordi much closer to the action in Montreal and his eventual team. He will likely be partnered with Jaroslav Spacek, who's experience and prowess will definitely help Tinordi look good tonight. Keep an eye out for his speed and physicality, as he will definitely be looking to send a message against one of the Canadiens' top rivals. Tinordi is nearly guaranteed to be sent back to his junior team before training camp is in the books, but if Tinordi is anything like he's been built-up to be, he'll definitely be motivated to perform tonight.

Aaron Palushaj:
I'd bet that some of you may be saying "who?" right now. Aaron Palushaj is a somewhat overlooked prospect who was acquired for underachiever Matt D'Agostini last March. The Michigan native is a former 2nd round draft pick, and was deemed by the Hamilton coaching staff to be the Bulldogs' best player in last year's AHL playoffs. Palushaj has impressed many in scrimmages so far at training camp, and at 21, he will get every opportunity to do what D'Agostini wasn't able to last season, and that's make an impact with the Canadiens. In an almost surprising move, Palushaj will suit up on the Canadiens 1st line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. The right winger has never played a game in the NHL, but he will be looking to make a strong case for himself tonight. A goal and a good performance from Palushaj tonight will go a long way for the young forward and his bid to make the cut come the first week of October. Definitely keep an eye on this one, as whether he gets cut or sticks with the team, he WILL be a member of the Montreal Canadiens at some point in the 2010-11 season.

Gabriel Dumont:
Our regular readers will hopefully already be somewhat familiar with forward Gabriel Dumont, thanks to an excellent piece written by Czechtacular last month. Tonight, we will get to see whether the words spoken of the former Drummondville Voltigeur will hold true, as he will skate with the Habs for the first time, on a line with Louis Leblanc and Ian Schultz. How much ice time this young line will get is anyone's guess, and while it's likely that neither of the three will end up making the cut, we could be looking at a potential 1st line in Hamilton later this season (when the Junior season finishes) or of course next year. A good performance from Dumont could mean that the youngster could eventually be called up to the Canadiens' roster during the season.

Ian Schultz:
By most accounts, Ian Schultz has been making a huge impact so far at training camp. Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette explains Schultz' contributions to his "Team A" victories at scrimmages over the weekend, with a goal and an assist on Saturday, and a hit on pretty much everyone on Sunday. Schultz was acquired from the St. Louis Blues, along with Lars Eller, in the Jaroslav Halak trade and will look to justify the acquisition tonight and beyond. While fans should be cautious of building Schultz up too much, as he hasn't played a professional game of hockey in his life, Schultz has displayed a physical style of hockey at camp that hasn't been seen from a Montreal Canadien in a long time, and he will definitely bring that to the table against the Big Bad Bruins tonight. I would be utterly surprised if he didn't drop the gloves tonight, maybe against veteran bad guy Brian McGratton? He will also get the chance to strut his offensive stuff, lining up with talented (local) forwards Dumont and Leblanc.

Louis Leblanc:
As mentioned above, the highly touted Habs' first round pick will be making his pre-season debut tonight, centering what is likely to be a 3rd or 4th line of youngsters. Leblanc is almost guaranteed to be returned to his QMJHL team, the Montreal Juniors, but just like Jarred Tinordi, fans will be expecting a lot from him tonight. And while scoring may not end up being his prowess, a good offensive performance in front of Leblanc's hometown crowd will send both the fans and the coaching staff home happy. Nonetheless, expect a rousing ovation from from the fans when he first takes the ice tonight, similar (or likely larger) than the one he received when he was drafted in the very same building in June of 2009.

Ben Maxwell and Tom Pyatt will be the other youngsters who will dress as forwards tonight. While both have NHL experience and were around the club at the end of the season and during the playoffs, neither player is guaranteed a spot. With so much prospect depth at camp this year, Maxwell will likely find himself in Hamilton on October 7th. Pyatt is heavily favored by Jacques Martin and was actually an important part of the team during their playoff run, so he will likely stick around, but it can't be a sure thing.

Jeff Halpern, Travis Moen, Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot, and, of course, Cammalleri and Plekanec, are the veteran forwards who will round out the team. The forward lines should look something like this:

Cammalleri - Plekanec - Palushaj
Pouliot - Maxwell - Moen
Pyatt - Halpern - Lapierre
Dumont - Leblanc - Shultz.

Playoff heroes Hal Gill and Josh Gorges will be the Canadiens number one defense pairing (a sign of things to come, with Andrei Markov still on the LTIR?), with Spacek and Tinordi teaming up as numbers three and four, as mentioned. Yannick Weber and Frederic St-Denis will round out the defense asthe 3rd pairing. Weber could be making his final case to make the team, and will have to work hard with a lot of depth on the back-end for the Habs, and Ryan O'Byrne in similar shoes.

Carey Price and Curtis Sanford will each play a period and a half in goal. While it hasn't been confirmed, expect Price to start the game, and pay close attention to how the crowd reacts when Michel Lacroix announces the starting line-up.

The Scratches will likely be Andrew Conboy and Olivier Fortier up front, and on defense, Urqhart and Bisaillon

Team B

That leaves the top line of Scott Gomez, (captain (?) ) Brian Gionta, and Lars Eller to take the ice on Friday against the Sens.

As a whole, Team B will likely look like this:

Lars Eller - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Matt Darche - Dustin Boyd- Andrei Kostitsyn
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Alex Avtsin

Alex Picard - Ryan O'Byrne
Alex Henry - PK Subban


The good news isn't only on the side of the Canadiens, as the Bruins will be icing a highly touted Leafs Bruins prospect in tonight's game. This past draft's number two overall pick, Tyler Seguin, will get a glimpse of the city that will grow to hate him over the next few years, tonight at the Bell Centre. While I can't speak of line combinations, Habs Inside/Out is reporting that the following players will play for the Bruins tonight:

Forwards - Bergeron, Campbell, Caron, Horton, McGrattan, Paille, Recchi, Reich, Sauve, Seguin, Spooner, Wheeler

Defensemen - Bartkowski, Bodnarchuk, Boychuk, Hunwick, McQuaid, Seidenberg

Tuuka Rask and Nolan Schaefer will split the time in goal.

Unfortunately, the three biggest targets for Habs fans, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas (snicker) will not see any ice time tonight, but expect interesting reactions to Quebec native Patrice Bergeron, as well as former Hab Mark Recchi, who enters Chris Chelios territory and his 175th NHL season.

Don't be surprised to see the rivalry heat up either with a couple of fights. Of course, the Canadiens' aren't known to be too physical a team, but the Bruins are, and with a few Habs fighting for both attention and roster spots, I'd be incredibly surprised if we didn't see a fight or two.

The line-ups actually seem a little equal, and it's really hard to make a prediction without having seen any of these players in action. That being said, I'm going to make a homer pick:

Habs 4 - Bruins 3 in a shootout.

Enjoy the game!