Thursday, September 24, 2009

Doesn't this all sound eerily familiar?

On the first day of Habs training camp, Guillaume Latendresse came out to meet the gathered media after his physical, and the first question he was asked went something like this:

"Well Guillaume, it seems like we ask you this question every year, but this is a pretty big training camp for you, isn't it?"

To which Latendresse replied, "Don't you have the tape from last year?"

It was nothing more than some light banter, but really, I felt the exchange spoke volumes about Latendresse's progression as a player.

Year after year, the Canadiens have been waiting for Latendresse to show the same level of aggression, the same physical dominance, the same goal-scoring aptitude that led the team to trade up in the second round of the 2005 draft to grab him.

This is Latendresse's fourth year in the NHL, and the same questions remain as to his potential, whether it is to be a top-end power forward or more of a third line grinder who can chip in some offence.

An injury to Max Pacioretty, who was clearly competing with Latendresse for a spot on the left side of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, has opened the door wide open for the Golden Boy to make his mark, starting with tonight's pre-season game against the Bruins. If La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin's sources are to be believed and Pacioretty is indeed two weeks away from a return, that would represent a release on the pressure valve for Latendresse.

The situation is very similar to what happened at this time last year, when Latendresse was given an opportunity to play with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay when Christopher Higgins was unable to start the season. Pacioretty was knocking on the door at last year's camp as well, but he hadn't played a single game as a pro yet and was ultimately sent to the minors.

Latendresse, however, did not seize the opportunity given to him last year and wound up back on a line with Maxim Lapierre, which eventually turned into an excellent energy unit when Tom Kostopoulos was added to the mix.

But still, the point needs to be made that Latendresse was given the chance to grab a coveted top-six spot, and he didn't.

That same opportunity is available to him this year to play with Gomez and Gionta, will he seize it?

And while we're on the subject of déjà vu, listening to Jacques Martin compare Latendresse yesterday to Tomas Holmstrom instantly reminded me of these comments from the Golden Boy last year:

“That’s going to be a key for me, if I get to play on the power play, is to be in front of the goalie, I watched (Tomas) Holmstrom last game and the last time we played against them in Detroit, and I worked with Marc Denis on it. He watched me yesterday and today when I was in front of the goalie and he tried to give me some tips. I think it’s paying off.”

And this:

“I want to be around the net. I think I can make a living being around that net.”

And there's more:

“In my first year I was more physical, but last year some things happened that might have changed my mind. This year, I want to get to being the player I was the first year I came here, play physical, go the net, stay in front and get those rebounds.”

I posted those comments on Oct. 1 last year, and while Latendresse had a nice season in my estimation, he definitely wasn't the player he's describing.

So let's see if Latendresse version 4.0 will finally become the Latendresse everyone has been waiting for, the one that plays exactly the way he described a year ago.

We should have our first indication of that tonight.

UPDATE (2:10 p.m.) It appears that Gionta will not be playing tonight as Andrei Kostitsyn will skate opposite Latendresse with Gomez. Doesn't change much for Latendresse, though, as this is still a first line audition.


V said...

"Latendresse version 4.0"

Hah! 4's a lucky number for me, but I'm really looking forward to Latendresse 4.2 or 4.3 - he'll be good this year after some early growing pains, just as he improved last year over time. Give him some leeway for stumbles and a slow start and he really will be the Golden Boy living up to potential and inspiring more dreams..

Sliver24 said...

I can't remember which game it was but I did see Lafaiblesse doing his best Holmstom imitation on the PP during at least one of the pre-season games this year.

He's also the hardest hitter on the team as far as I'm concerned - when he's hitting. I've been saying that for years but I'm even more convinced now. I was sitting in the corner where he smoked that Panthers d-man in the first pre-season game (I don't think it was on TV but RIS was carrying highlights:

I'm pretty sure it's top-5 in the hardest hits I've ever seen live. The video doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

The problem with Latendresse, as I see it, is that he seems to be able to focus on only one facet of his game. When he plays on the third line he is free to concentrate on playing sound positional hockey and hitting guys every chance he gets. The offensive output that he does generate is almost and afterthought for him.

When Latendresse is on the first line, on the other hand, he morphs into a perimeter player and plays a style that's better suited to Grabovski than to himself.

I think it would be helpful to Gui if Jacques Martin were to sit down with him and show him, using video of Gui and of others (I'd suggest Adam Graves circa 1994), exactly what he needs to do to be successful in that top-six role.

To me the answer is for him to play the same game he does when he's on the third line with only minor adjustments to reflect the fact that he's with faster linemates that have increased offensive expectations.

Guillaume needs to be skating in straight lines, banging in the corners and wreaking havoc in front of the net.

He can leave the bobbing and weaving to the other guys.

Arpon Basu said...

that's actually exactly what Martin said Gui needed to do yesterday, just work with his assets, no matter who he plats with. Let's see if he got the message

Yves said...

I'm liking what Martin is doing... this might be good for Guillaume as well as a few other guys.

Maybe Martin will "show him" the way to winning a top 6 forward spot more then Carbo was able to.

Just a thought.

As it is with every year.. I'm hopin' Lats progresses.. I'd love to see him succeed in a top 6 spot.

pmk said...

How do you see the top two lines shaping up? Specifically do you think the "big" 3 will be put together or will pleks play with one (gionta/ cammy) If so which one? cammy needs a set up man and is our best goal scorer so logically he should play with gomez but the gionta and gomez chemistry is undeniable -tough call. Figure Andrei is on left wing with gomez then the other left wing spot is Tenders to lose at the very least until Patches get back. So I see it as:

Andrei - Gomez - Gionta
Tender - pleks - Cammy

Not terrible but definitely not awesome.I really like the new additions but unless the kids step up we are still thin up front.

pierre said...

Lats doesn't have the skills to be a successfull power forward like Franzen ( the Mule ) and he doens't have the fearless nature to be a freak like Holmstrom who stand in front of the net despite the thousand of shots who get blasted at him every single year.

He is no Franzen but he can be a Holmstrom if he wants to...... he obviously doesn't wants to.

He is an excellent third liner though..... his number of goals are impressive in that rôle... and he shure can hit hard when he does.

I hope we get a chance to see the big three together at evenstrenth and not just on the PP first wave..... they are a blast to watch and because of their good ethics would also set the standard for others to follow.

I wish pre-saison had been longer as I would have liked to see some games with those lines :

Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta

A.Kostitsyn, Plekanec, S.Kostitsyn

D'Agostini, Metropolit, Pacioretti

Moen, Lapierre, Latendresse