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Balancing act

Monday, 10.09.2007 / 2:00 PM / News
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Balancing act

Mathieu Carle
MONTREAL – Offensive-minded defensemen with the ability to also get the job done in their own end don’t grow on trees. So it didn’t take any arm twisting for the Canadiens to pluck Mathieu Carle from the NHL’s draft crop of 2006.

After spending three-plus seasons with the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titans, Carle was traded to Rouyn-Noranda in January. Despite the change of scenery, the 20-year-old blueliner didn’t miss a beat, with his 70 points ranking third among all defensemen, and his 54 helpers placing second among QMJHL rearguards.

Now taking part in his second Canadiens rookie camp, the Gatineau native is eager to make up for lost time. A monster hit suffered against Leafs prospects at the 2006 rookie tournament slowed Carle a year ago, but didn’t stop him from returning in time to pile up seven points in a win over York University. Full of ups and downs, Carle’s first camp experience was a serious eye-opener.

“That was a tough blow, but at least I was able to bounce back,” said Carle. “I definitely learned a lot last year, though. I focused almost solely on my defensive game. This year, my goal is to show what I can do on offense. This time around it’s going to be up to me to take more risks, but calculated ones, of course.”

Mastering the balancing act between offense and defense has been Carle’s self-imposed mandate for the past 12 months. No one has to remind him that striking that equilibrium holds the key to him one day making the leap to the NHL.

“With Rouyn-Noranda, I was on a team that emphasized a tight defensive style, which helped me,” said Carle, who inked a three-year deal with the Canadiens in May. “I’m aware there aren’t many defensemen with my skill set in the team’s system and it’s up to me to take advantage of it.”

With the NHL’s league-wide emphasis on defensemen pinching in to lend a helping hand on offense, Carle likes his chances but also knows he still has some work to do.

“I know that I have to strive to become a more complete player,” said the 6-foot, 206-pounder. “I may not be the biggest defenseman around, but I make up for it in quickness and offensive upside. Seeing a young defenseman like Marc-Edouard Vlasic accomplish what he did in San Jose last season is also encouraging to see.”

Carle’s quest will continue this week at the rookie camp, setting the stage for the big boys, who begin Canadiens training camp on Thursday.

Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com