In this week’s edition of Montreal Canadiens news and rumors, the Habs are close to signing head coach Martin St. Louis to a contract extension, Montreal management met with projected no. 1 overall pick Shane Wright at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo on Monday, and the Laval Rocket are preparing for their Eastern Conference Final series against the Springfield Thunderbirds in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Plus, Joel Armia and Finland won gold at the IIHF World Championship at home in Tempere and several Canadiens’ prospects remain in the hunt for a Memorial Cup berth in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) playoffs.
St. Louis’ Extension Is Coming
It has been several weeks since the conclusion of the regular season and St. Louis remains without a contract for next season. Rest assured, an extension is coming. Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have been busy preparing for the draft having just returned from scouting at the Worlds in Finland.
Hughes confirmed on the Cam & Strick Podcast that he hopes to have his head coach re-signed by the end of this week. St. Louis posted a 14-19-4 record in 37 games after taking over from Dominique Ducharme behind the bench and brought a much-needed fresh, more modern approach to teaching the game.
Habs Brass Meets Wright at Draft Combine
The 2022 Draft Combine is underway in Buffalo with many of this year’s top prospects invited to the final big showcase before the draft in Montreal, including Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky, and Logan Cooley.
The combine gives team executives medical and physical evaluations for each player and the chance to interview them before making their final selections in July. With the first-overall pick in hand, Habs brass had dinner with Wright on Monday night and will conduct their full 1-on-1 interview with him on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Cooley has an interview scheduled with the Canadiens on Tuesday and a dinner invite for Thursday.
Speaking with the media on Tuesday from Buffalo, Hughes said he was impressed with Wright’s intelligence and maturity, but confirmed they have yet to decide which player they will select at the top of the draft and will use the next few weeks to continue their research and evaluations before making their final choice at the beginning of July. He also indicated they will take the best player at no. 1 regardless of their position.
Montreal owns 14 picks in this year’s draft, including seven in the first three rounds. It is now confirmed that their second pick in the first round, acquired from the Calgary Flames in the Tyler Toffoli trade, will be at no. 26. They will also have the first pick in the second round at no. 33. The Habs will be hosting their own combine in Brossard in June featuring prospects who were not invited to the NHL’s combine in Buffalo.
Laval Continues Calder Cup Playoff Push
The Laval Rocket are back to work after sweeping the Rochester Americans to earn an Eastern Conference Final berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
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They will next face the Springfield Thunderbirds, the AHL affiliate for the St. Louis Blues, in a best-of-seven series beginning Saturday for the chance to play for the Calder Cup. The series will feature a much-anticipated goaltending battle between Cayden Primeau, who has been outstanding throughout Laval’s postseason run, and former Hab Charlie Lindgren. The Rocket have been getting contributions from different players throughout their lineup which has been key to their playoff success. Currently, eight players have five points or more in their eight postseason games so far, led by Danick Martel and Sami Niku who have eight points each. Defenseman Mattias Norlinder will not play in the series against the Thunderbirds after being the victim of a hit to the head in the previous round.
Laval has been receiving tremendous fan support throughout the playoffs with home games selling out in a matter of minutes which has created a great atmosphere at Place Bell.
“I’ve played a bit in the NHL but in terms of energy, I’d take this over that,” defenseman Louie Belpedio said about the Laval crowd. “I learned this year that nobody likes hockey more than Quebecers. It’s an honor for me to play here.”
Springfield finished the regular season seventh in the AHL standings based on points percentage while the Rocket were 12th†
Armia Wins Gold at Worlds
Finland captured gold at the IIHF World Championship on Sunday thanks to a 4-3 overtime victory over Canada in the championship game, much to the delight of the home crowd in Tempere.
Throughout the tournament, Armia proved once again that he is a big-game player despite a disappointing season with the Canadians. He scored five goals and eight points, including the winning goal in the semifinals against the United States and a goal in the gold medal game to give the Finns a 3-1 lead.
Josh Anderson also had a strong tournament for Canada, putting up eight points en route to the silver medal. Meanwhile, Habs prospect Sean Farrell had 6 points for the Americans in their fourth-place effort.
Montreal Prospects Are Shining in CHL Playoffs
Speaking of Montreal prospects, several are having quite an impact in the CHL playoffs as their respective teams continue to pursue a Memorial Cup berth.
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Kaiden Guhle has been dominant for the Edmonton Oil Kings who find themselves in the Western Hockey League (WHL) Championship series. The 20-year-old defenseman posted three goals and five points in the Eastern Conference Final against the Winnipeg Ice, a series which the Oil Kings won in five games.
In the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Hamilton Bulldogs are undefeated in the playoffs with a remarkable 12-0 record. They’ve been getting significant contributions from Arber Xhekaj and Jan Mysak.
In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) semifinals, Xavier Simoneau, William Trudeau, and the high-powered Charlottetown Islanders defeated the Sherbrooke Phoenix and Joshua Roy. The QMJHL scoring champion this season and winner of the Paul-Dumont Trophy as Personality of the Year, put up 23 points in 11 playoff games. Just like Riley Kidney before him, Roy will soon join the rocket for their playoff run and get his first taste of professional hockey.
The three league winners will join the host Saint John Sea Dogs in the Memorial Cup which will be held from June 20-29.
What’s Next for the Canadians?
Following the conclusion of the Draft Combine, expect some of the focus to shift to other offseason business, including St. Louis’ extension and potential player signings before the focus shifts back to the main event in Montreal. Only six more weeks to go before one of the biggest and most important drafts in Canadiens history.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.