BROSSARD – If you weren’t familiar with Cale Fleury before Monday night’s preseason contest against the Devils, you definitely are now.
The 20-year-old defenseman was so impressive, in fact, that head coach Claude Julien even referred to him as one of his top defenseman in the 4-2 victory at the Bell Centre.
Fleury played with tremendous poise while logging just over 19 minutes of ice time, and earned himself second star honors as a result.
He even picked up an assist, kicking off the play that eventually led to Nate Thompson‘s goal during the first period.
Video: NJD@MTL: Thompson puts home rebound to extend lead
So where exactly did the Calgary native’s calm, cool and collected demeanor come from versus New Jersey? He says it’s a byproduct of playing 60 games with the AHL’s Laval Rocket last season during his freshman year in the pros.
“The year with Laval helped me out a lot. I think it’s a big reason why I’m where I am right now,” stated Fleury, who registered nine goals and 23 points as a member of the Canadiens’ affiliate. “Just really getting into that pro game helped me to be confident.”
Fleury is adamant that being mentored by Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard has worked wonders for him as well.
“It was just about being a pro on and off the ice every day,” said Fleury, regarding lessons learned under Bouchard’s tutelage. “He taught me that you’ve got to put in the work, about off-ice habits, your routine at the rink, everything like that. He was just on top of me, and I think it really helped me a lot.”
Being partnered with a familiar face in veteran Xavier Ouellet was also a bonus for the former third-round selection.
The familiarity the pair built in Laval enabled them to click from the outset in the win.
“We know each other on the ice,” explained Fleury. “We probably played over 40 games together last year, so it really helped my confidence and just makes plays more simple.”
In addition, his confidence was bolstered by the fact that his playing style is now well-suited to handle the sheer speed of the game at this elevated level.
What a difference 12 months makes…
“For me, it’s just handling the pace of play. I remember last year maybe feeling like the pace was a little too quick for me at times,” mentioned Fleury. “When I was just used to playing in Junior and going into the scrimmages, it was kind of tough. But this year I felt really confident with the pace.”
Fortunately for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound blueliner, he’ll have another shot to impress team brass come Wednesday night in Bathurst, NB when the Canadiens battle the Florida Panthers in conjunction with Kraft Hockeyville.
And his mandate is to pick up right where he left off against the Devils.
“I think the biggest thing is just consistency,” responded Fleury, when asked about what is required of him to secure a roster spot with the big club come October. “It’s all good if you have one good game, but to make the NHL, you’ve got to be good every night.”
A tip of the cap
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Canadiens’ veterans are taking notice of the youngsters’ capabilities at training camp.
In short, they’ve really enjoyed what they’ve seen from them thus far.
Assistant captain Brendan Gallagher is a big fan of the club’s deep prospect pool.
“It’s definitely exciting. I got the chance to watch the game last night and those guys stand out. I think that’s exciting going forward for the organization, for the fans, but also for us as players because it’s going to help us win,” said Gallagher. “Having young, fresh bodies that are able to push the pace is only going to do us a ton of good. It ups the intensity and the compete level. It’s how you create positive competition within the group.”
Video: Ryan Poehling demos his stickhandling routine
Gallagher even stated that the Habs’ hopefuls nowadays are far more skilled than he was at that point in his career.
“They’re a hell of a lot better than I was, honestly. They’re a lot more talented and they have a lot more potential than I ever had at that age,” added Gallagher with a laugh. “You just hope that you can do what you can to enjoy the ride. Hopefully, they put in the work and they continue doing all those little things that got them there. But, there’s definitely a lot of positive signs for the young guys going forward.”
Like Gallagher, Phillip Danault senses that the Canadiens’ future continues to trend in the right direction.
“They really respect the culture that we’ve created over the last few years. They’ve blended in with the group really well,” said Danault, of players like Fleury, Josh Brook, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki, among others. “[Assistant GM] Trevor Timmins and the organization had some really good drafts. They brought in good kids with very good attitudes.”
Video: NJD@MTL: Evans forces turnover, pots terrific SHG
And it just so happens that Danault identified Fleury as someone who has caught his attention early on.
“I thought he was excellent [versus New Jersey]. I liked the way he moved the puck. He kept his head up and has good size. He’s a very good player, and I’d say that he really stood out so far,” concluded Danault. “But, the other kids are doing excellent work as well. These NHL training camps are tough. Guys play hard out there and the practices are also difficult.”