Trail native and former Smoke Eaters captain Jake Lucchini is skating with the Montreal Canadiens at their NHL training camp.
His play with Montreal’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Laval Rocket obviously made an impression, and in September, Lucchini signed a one-year, two-way contract extension with the Habs for the 2020-21 season.
Lucchini was invited to a concentrated Canadiens main camp, comprised of just 42 players, including six goaltenders, 12 defensemen and 24 forwards.
The camp started Monday, Jan. 4 with the first regular season game scheduled for Jan. 13. Lucchini is currently slotted into ‘B’ Group, with ‘A’ group composed mainly of returning veterans and top prospects.
The 25-year-old Lucchini spent most of the 2019-20 season with the Pittsburgh AHL affliliate Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins and attended the Penguins’ development camp the past two years.
When asked what type of player he was? Lucchini replied.
“I try to work hard, try to do everything right. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but I just want to play a full game defensive and offensive. Help the team, whether that be scoring goals or playing on the penalty kill, whatever it takes.”
The talented centre was traded to the Montreal franchise Feb. 20 and played with the Rocket scoring four goals and five points in eight games before the season was cancelled in March due to COVID.
Lucchini will have his work cut out for him as the Canadiens made moves in the brief off-season to bolster their offence, acquiring veteran NHL MVP Corey Perry, former Canuck Tyler Toffoli and Columbus Blue Jackets stand out Josh Anderson.
But Lucchini is the type of player that adapts quickly, takes his game to another level, and makes players around him better.
In Trail, the Smoke Eaters forward improved dramatically each of his three years. He tallied eight points in 2013, 26 points in 2014, and 83 points in 2015 as captain and MVP, leading all Trail scorers and finishing fourth overall in league scoring.
The undrafted forward continued to get better through four years at Michigan Tech finishing as captain and top scorer, before moving on to the AHL and the WBS Penguins at the end of 2019.
On Tuesday, Lucchini skated on a line with Vermillion, Alta. product Brandon Baddock and Rocket teammate Joseph Blandisi, who came over from Pittsburgh with Lucchini in the trade.
Rocket coach Joel Bouchard and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin recognize the type of player and teammate Lucchini is, and an invite to the main camp is another step in the right direction for the Trail minor hockey product.
The next one is the toughest - cracking the Canadiens line up.
“He’s the type of player that the Montreal Canadiens have been focusing on bringing back so far this off-season,” said SB Nation hockey analyst Jared Book. “Lucchini turned 25 in May, and his NHL outlook will make it tough for him to secure an NHL contract, but he has shown enough that Bergevin and Bouchard should know what they are getting.”
Montreal will play in the NHL’s all-Canadian, seven-team, North Division when NHL play resumes Jan. 13.
The Quebec health authority confirmed Monday that the NHL can have games in La Belle Province. B.C. and Alberta have also given the go ahead, as of Wednesday, Jan. 5, only Ontario and Manitoba have yet to give approval.
Hockey notables: A total of 48 BCHL players are skating with 31 NHL teams in their 10-day training camps prior to the start of an abbreviated 56-game season.
Veteran NHLers and 2008-09 Smoke Eater, Danny DeKeyser, is back in camp with the Detroit Red Wings where he had been a stable presence on the backend since making his debut in 2012. Last year, however, the Detroit native was sidelined by a back injury for most of the season, but is excited to be back on the ice.
“I have a different outlook this year. A little bit more jump in my step,” DeKeyser said in an interview with the Detroit News. “A lot of the guys, I’m sure, feel the same way being out for 10 months. For me in particular, I feel lucky to be out here.”
Nelson native Dryden Hunt will look to crack the Arizona Coyotes lineup and is currently attending their camp in Phoenix.
The AHL is planning a return to play on Feb. 5, with 28 of 31 teams going. The Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds opted out and will return in 2021-22.
The Laval Rocket, Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies and Manitoba Moose will play in the Canadian Division.