Cover boy starts in Phoenix

Canadiens’ recently-anointed Number One goaltender is on the cover of The Hockey News Future Watch ’08 issue.

The headline is: Peerless Price: The Games Hottest Prospect.

The Hockey News asked 21 NHL scouts to rate the league’s Top Five prospects. Price got 16 first-place votes. He was a runaway winner over Kyle Turris, who had four first-place votes.

Turris was the 2007 first-round draft choice of the Coyotes, the team Price will face tomorrow night. Guy Carbonneau announced today that Price will start in Phoenix.

Hockey News senior writer Ken Campbell wrote the cover story without interviewing his subject. Price did not return any of Campbell’s phone calls or messages.

So Campbell talked to Don Lever. And the Hamilton coach, recalling Price’s call-up from junior for the Calder Cup playoffs, said "The first game he played for us he looked like he had played in the league for 15 years."

The Hockey News asked its scouts’ panel to assign grades to each organization’s prospects. Canadiens got an A- and ranked seventh, behind top-rated Pittsburgh, Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, L.A. and Columbus.

The poor Leafs are 28th with a C-, ahead of only New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

• • •

The Hockey News offers assessments of each team’s Top 10 prospects.

Canadiens’ list, from top to bottom: Carey Price, Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, David Fischer, Alexei Yemelin, Yannick Weber, Ben Maxwell, Ryan White and Mikhail Grabovski.

I hate to second-guess my friend and Gazette colleague Herb Zurkowsky, who wrote the assessments, but I’d rate Grabovski a lot higher than 10th. And unless signability is an issue, I’d have Yemelin up with McDonagh. I’d also rate Kyle Chipchura and Matt D’Agostini higher than Maxwell and White. And I think Pavel Valentenko will be better than Fischer.

But hey, it’s The Hockey News. They picked Canadiens to finish 13th in the Eastern Conference this season.

• • •

On the club’s dime, a 30-member contingent of Canadiens’ loved ones flew from Montreal to Phoenix on Monday and spent yesterday with team members on an off day.

Christopher Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Maxim Lapierre, Bryan Smolinski and Ryan O’Byrne invited their fathers to make the trip. Goaltending coach Roland Melanson chose his goaltender son, Benoit, who got to face a few shots in practice this morning.

It’s a first in the long history of the Canadiens. And if the lads lose in Phoenix, it might be a last.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think the first week of March is the best time for r’n’r on the road. Players should be focused on hockey and nothing but.

Canadiens had wanted significant others to join the team for their post-Christmas trip to Florida. But league rules on incentives put the kibosh on that. Teams can offer each player one round-trip air fare and hotel accommodation for one game per season.

At least the spouses et al are missing dreadful weather in Montreal. The city is closing in on a record set in 1971, when we were up to our asses in spring snow watching a rookie goaltender lead Canadiens to an unlikely Stanley Cup.

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