Let me take you back a few months ago, when it became clear that Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey was having little success trying to convince Mats Sundin to join the Habs.
At the time, Gainey said the Canadiens had a Plan B in place at centre, in Kyle Chipchura, should the Habs fall short in their efforts to convince Sundin that Montreal is the place to resume his NHL career.
Fast forward to today, and Mats Sundin is still dithering about his playing future, while Kyle Chipchura is no nonger a member of the Habs, sent down to Hamilton to join the American Hockey League Bulldogs, after starting the season with the big team.
What happened? Well, for one thing, Robert Lang happened. Lang became Gainey’s Plan B at centre, when all was said and done, when it became clear that Sundin wasn’t going to be receptive to the GM’s overtures. And as a result, Chipchura, after starting this season in Montreal, is back with the Bulldogs.
Chipchura never got a chance to suit up with the Habs in the opening four games of the regular season before being sent down to the AHL. He did record a goal in pre-season play, in the opening minute of the September 27th contest against the Senators in Ottawa. However, history will show that Chipchura did not distinguish himself during training camp and the pre-season. The fact that he has been returned to Hamilton comes as no surprise, not with the likes of Chris Higgins ready to return to action after sitting out the start of the regular season on the injury shelf.
It’s a far cry from last season, when Chipchura distinguished himself at centre during training camp and won a spot on the big club. He went on to score four goals and add seven assists in 36 games before being sent down to the Bulldogs. His skating, and his ability in the faceoff circle, became liabilities, and Chipchura finished the season in Hamilton and is destined to finish this season in Hamilton, unless he can work his way back into the Montreal lineup.
At age 22, Chipchura is no longer the fresh-face youngster picked 18th overall by the Canadiens in the 2004 entry draft. He is a young man at the make-it-or-break-it-point of his career with this organization. He knows it, and he knew it going into training camp this season. That’s not to say that we have seen the last of Kyle Chipchura in a Canadiens’ uniform. However, you have to wonder if the native of Westlock, Alberta, still has a long-term future with this organization.
Grit? He has plenty of it. Character? Tons of it. The ability to keep up to the play at the NHL level? That is a question that Chipchura has yet to successfully answer. While Chipchura struggles to find his game, a new group of youngsters has arrived on the Canadiens’ scene, including Ben Maxwell and Max Pacioretty, ready to push some veterans for jobs.
The reality is, Kyle Chipchura might end up being lost in the talent shuffle, which is unfortunate for the personable young man who fought back from a serious achilles tendon injury in junior hockey to knock on the door at the NHL level. Whether that door ultimately opens, completely, for Chipchura as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, however, remains to seen.