BROSSARD, Que. – Tomas Plekanec has jumped right into his new role as one of the four alternate captains on the Montreal Canadiens.
The 31-year-old centre was surrounded by youngsters on the ice Tuesday for a skate ahead of the team’s pre-season opener against the Boston Bruins.
He was put on a line with fellow Czech Jiri Sekac and Swedish prospect Jacob de la Rose, who are in the mix for a job on right wing, even though both are left-hand shots.
“They give you energy,” said Plekanec. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them.
“They’re flying everywhere and you’ve got to catch up to the tempo.”
Plekanec was a candidate to take over as captain when Brian Gionta left for Buffalo as a free agent in the summer, but management opted not to give one player the C. Instead, Plekanec and defenceman Andrei Markov were named alternate captains, while P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty will share the third A.
In training camp, it seems that part of the deal is for Plekanec to be a mentor to young players.
The 22-year-old Sekac, who signed as a free agent, and 19-year-old de la Rose, a 2013 draft pick, were put in a ideal spot for their first NHL pre-season action by playing with Montreal’s best two-way centre and leading faceoff-taker.
“As big as they are, they skate really well,” Plekanec said of six-foot-two Sekac and six-foot-three de la Rose. “They’re fast and they’ve got all the skill in the world.”
The youngsters could not ask for a better role model. Plekanec got to the NHL the hard way, spending three seasons with AHL Hamilton before joining the Canadiens for good for the 2005-06 season.
There is a chance that one or the other, probably Sekac because he’s older, will start the season in Montreal to fill a spot on right wing that opened with the departures of Gionta and Thomas Vanek. The other will head to Hamilton.
Montreal also acquired right-winger P.A. Parenteau, who so far has played on the right side of the first line with David Desharnais and Pacioretty.
Plekanec said he’ll help the youngsters any way he can.
“I went through a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “When I was as young as they are in camp and things didn’t go so well for me, I got down on myself.
“With them, it’s the same. Sometimes they’ll get down for a couple of days when things don’t work out, and the other way around, they feel good about themselves and get a little too high and think they know everything. If I see something or if they need to ask me something, I’m there to help and try to put them on the right track.”
Sekac sifted through at least a dozen offers from NHL teams after impressing scouts while playing for Lev Prague in the KHL. He opted for Montreal because it gave him a chance to play in the NHL right away. He signed a two-year entry level contract on July 1.
It may help that he comes from the same hometown, Kladno, as Plekanec. They have played roller hockey together in the summer, although they didn’t get to know each other until Sekac signed with Montreal.
“We want to give him an opportunity to feel comfortable as quick as he can and putting him with Plekanec, we think, is the best thing for him,” coach Michel Therrien said this week.
At first, they had Sven Andrighetto as their right-winger, but Therrien opted to move de la Rose to left wing against Boston.
“I really don’t care what side I’m on,” said de la Rose. “The only thing I can control is to play the best I can, and that’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”
Plekanec spent time after the skate giving youngster Charles Hudon tips on faceoffs. He is the one Therrien sends out for important draws, even if his win percentage was only 48 per cent last season.
“It’s little pointers on how to talk to refs and (what to do on) certain faceoffs,” he said. “He’s a good faceoff guy, but he came and asked, so you try to help him out as much as you can.”