MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens opened training camp on Thursday with injuries looming over the team.
A behemoth 74-player roster took to the ice, but defenceman Joel Edmundson was nowhere to be seen.
Coach Martin St. Louis revealed that Edmundson will be out for an undetermined amount of time with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
“It’s undetermined because we don’t have enough details,” said St. Louis. “You’re always worried when a player injures himself, you don’t know the severity and as a coach it’s disappointing but we can only control what we can control."
Edmundson, an assistant captain and leader of the Habs' young defensive corps, struggled through a back injury last season that limited him to just 24 games.
“You hope it’s just a minor thing and he’ll be back,” said winger Brendan Gallagher. "For him, what he went through and to be in that position right now is tough. He’s a huge part of our team and obviously a very important part of our locker room as well. Hopefully we can get Eddy healthy and ready.”
On the flip side, new arrival Mike Matheson wants to solidify himself as a top pairing defenceman. The Montreal native joined the Habs in the trade that saw Jeff Petry head to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the offseason.
“I think there's a lot of people that are coming into this camp hoping to play a different role or a bigger role than they were accustomed to maybe in years past and I'm definitely one of them. So it's important to step up to the table,” Matheson said.
“I know there’s uncertainty and there are open spots on defence so there are very good opportunities,” St. Louis said. “I’m expecting a very competitive camp at that position.”
HOLES AT CENTRE
There will be opportunities for young centremen during pre-season with Nick Suzuki, Sean Monahan and Jake Evans all out with injuries.
Suzuki, 23, will miss the first few pre-season games. The Canadiens’ newest captain is dealing with an upper-body injury and will be out for two weeks.
Monahan, acquired from Calgary in the off-season, was skating with the regulars but remained day-to-day. The centreman had season-ending hip surgery back in April.
Evans is also listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
The injuries open a door for Kirby Dach to show what he can bring to the table. The 21-year-old centre was acquired via trade from the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2022 NHL Draft.
"I have a fresh opportunity here to kind of reestablish myself and play a strong 200-foot centreman game that I know I'm capable of,” he said. “They're gonna give me the opportunity to do it and I'm just looking forward to that and seeing where I end up and hopefully just help the team win games.”
Winger Josh Anderson was also out with an upper-body injury.
SLAFKOVSKY: MONTREAL’S BATMAN
Thursday morning marked the first training camp skate for first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. At only 18 years-old, the Slovakian’s size and power has not gone unnoticed, even during Wednesday’s medical exams.
“I was so excited to see Slafkovsky ride the bike,” said defenceman Chris Wideman. “I saw the video from the summer. So when those guys were testing and made sure to be in the room to watch, pretty impressive. "
Slafkovsky and fellow countryman Filip Mesar showed a lot of chemistry in rookie camp. The dynamic Slovak duo is now garnering much attention from the Habs' veterans.
“As far as Slaf goes, it’s been fun to get to know him,” Wideman said. “Him and his little buddy, Mesar, they’re like Batman and Robin. Everytime I turn around they’re right next to each other so if I ever see one the other one’s not too far away.”
GALLAGHER: CONSISTENCY IS KEY
After a difficult injury-filled 2021-22 season where he picked up just seven goals and 17 assists, Gallagher is back and feeling healthy.
The 30-year-old winger's modest goal for the upcoming season is to be “reliable.”
“I want to be consistent, I want to be a guy that every single game is contributing and doing something to help the team,” Gallagher said. “That's something I'm always taking pride in. I want to be in the lineup, I want to be a part of the group and I want to be healthy but I want to be a guy that coaches and teammates can count on.”
With Suzuki and Edmundson missing, Gallagher is the only member of the Canadiens’ new leadership group on the ice at camp. Gallagher said he’s ready to help the youngest captain in Canadiens history.
“I've been here long enough to understand you need multiple leaders,” he said. “I've played with some very good captains and they've had very good support leadership wise and it trickled down through your locker room.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2022.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press