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Monday, September 19, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: Gallagher Impresses at Camp, Questions on Defense

by Kamal Panesar

With the Montreal Canadiens 2011-2012 training camp in full swing, the players are on the ice again Monday, in preparation for their first exhibition match tomorrow against the Dallas Stars.

And like with any training camp, there is no shortage of storylines that emerge on a daily basis.

From Andrei Markov suffering a setback with his rehabilitation from knee surgery, to Scott Gomez's lower body injury that is keeping him out of practice, the Canadiens season has already got its share of spice to it!

But, for me, the storyline that I am following the most—and which I always enjoying watching—is the youth progression. Who are they? How good are they? When will they be ready for primetime, and what kind of players will they be?

This year's camp is filled with young, bright-eyed prospects but none are attracting more attention than Brendan Gallagher.

Impressive on and off the ice

Picked 147th overall in the 2010 NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Gallagher is yet another small but talented prospects in the Habs farm system.

Listed at 5' 8 and 163 lbs, Gallagher won't be intimidating the opposition with his physical play but, with a hard, heavy shot, pinpoint accuracy and excellent on-ice vision, he is a kid who knows how to create offense.

Gallagher is coming off a career season with the WHL Vancouver Giants where he was their undeniable go-to offensive guy. In addition, he was near the top of the league in scoring despite missing time to try out for the Canadian World Junior team.

In the 2010-2011 WHL season, Gallagher played in 66 games potting 44 goals and 47 assists for 91 points to go along with 108 penalty minutes. While the Giants were eliminated early in the playoffs, Gallagher did manage two goals over four games.

So far through the Canadiens rookie camp—and now playing with the pros—Gallagher hasn't looked out of place. In fact, much like Canadiens captain Brian Gionta—who coach Martin compared him to—he plays with a fearless edge, going into the corners with players who have almost a foot on him, and coming out with the puck.

I should caution that as exciting as Gallagher has been so far in camp, this is a player who could use some work on his skating speed. That and a little improvement on his defensive game will go along way towards making him a bonafide NHLer.

His on-ice play aside, Gallagher appears mature and wise beyond his 19-years of life.

Listening to this kid talk and watching how he responds to the crush of microphones in the dressing room, he looks like someone who has the character to make it in the NHL. Especially in the media frenzy that is Montreal.

But like Martin St. Louis, Brian Gionta and other diminutive NHLers, success for Gallagher will only come with speed.

And for Gallagher, skating is an area that he needs to work on.

Still, he seems to be rounding into form and a likely spot on this year's Canadian World Junior team should go a long way towards continuing him progression.

Whatever happens going forward, Gallagher has gone from a prospect that was once a long short to make it, to a player who will definitely be on the Habs radar for years to come. And that has to be a source of contentment for the organization.

New Sunday Shinny podcast

This week on the Sunday Shinny we discussed the Andrei Markov situation and what it means for the Habs defense. Nick asked the excellent question of who we all see as the Canadiens top-seven defenseman for this season.

For me, if Markov is ready to go for the start of the season, I see the pairings looking a little like this:

Markov-Gorges
Gill-Subban
Spacek-Yemelin
Weber

The question is, who takes Markov's spot if he is out for an extended period of time?

The good news is that GM Pierre Gauthier spent the summer acquiring defensive depth for the Habs. There are no all-stars in the bunch but players like Jeff Woywitka, Raphael Diaz and Mark Mitera are all capable of playing adequately at the NHL level.

I think, if Markov can't play, it will be one of those three that slots in as the seventh Dman with Diaz on the top of the list.

Click play below to listen in (listing time 42:35):


So how do you see the Canadiens D shaping up this season? Are you concerned about the Markov injury or is it really a mountain out of a mole hill?

---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter


(photo a video capture from Dave Stubbs, Montreal Gazette)

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