Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty hits Florida Panthers Nathan Horton during second period NHL action at the Bell center in Montreal on Thursday, September 17, 2009 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe
MONTREAL - Injury struck at the wrong time for Montreal Canadiens prospect Max Pacioretty.
The 20-year-old was doing well on the top line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta in an NHL pre-season game against Pittsburgh when he was taken out by a hit from Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik. He is listed as day-to-day with what the team calls an upper body injury and won't be in the lineup when the Canadiens play host to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
"Yeah, it's frustrating to finally get my timing right and to finally feel good in a game and then to have to get pulled out at the end of the second period," Pacioretty said Wednesday. "But I think I'll only get stronger from this because I've got my confidence back and I'm ready to go.
"It's nothing serious. If it was the regular season, I'd be out there."
The six-foot-two 196-pound Pacioretty, a first-round draft pick in 2007, looked to be a good fit with his smaller linemates, bringing an aggressive forechecking game and strong passing to the trio. He may yet up on that line when the season begins Oct. 1 in Toronto.
Gionta liked what he saw.
"He's got a lot of talent and he's still young - he's got a lot more to come," said Gionta.
Pacioretty is among a group of players battling for the final spots on the 23-man roster with two pre-season games left to play.
Centres Ben Maxwell and Tom Pyatt and winger Greg Stewart are also in the running for the one or two spots still be decided among forwards. Kyle Chipchura and Olivier Fortier have not been cut, but both are recovering from injuries.
Centre Maxim Lapierre missed practice with an upper body injury suffered during off-ice training, although coach Jacques Martin said it does not appear to be serious.
Defencemen Paul Mara (lower body) and Roman Hamrlik (virus) were back on the ice for practice.
Pyatt, 22, was acquired along with Gomez from the New York Rangers for Chris Higgins and a prospect on June 30. He spent last season with Hartford of the AHL, where he had 15 goals and 22 assists in 73 games, and has looked promising in camp.
"I was happy to come here and they're giving me a good opportunity," the Thunder Bay, Ont., native said.
"There are individuals who will be evaluated in the next two games," said Martin. "We're entering the third phase of camp - two more practices and two more games.
"We want to work on developing intensity in practices and we'll still experiment with line combinations."
There's also a race on defence, where the top six are set, but Ryan O'Byrne, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle are vying for a job. Martin said it was uncertain yet whether the team will carry seven or eight defencemen.
Carle will almost certainly head for Hamilton of the AHL, but Weber and O'Byrne make an interesting choice because they bring different skills.
Weber has a booming shot and excels in the offensive side of the game. He can skate with the puck and play on the power play. The six-foot-five O'Byrne stays at home.
"O'Byrne is a bigger physical presence who can step in for his teammates," said Martin. "He's a defensive player."