Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury goes lean in bid for spot on blue line

The 6-foot-1 Fleury weighed 215 pounds at the Habs' development in camp in June, but he reported to rookie camp this month at 205.

Canadiens defenceman Cale Fleury checks New Jersey Devils forward Blake Speers into the boards during the second period at the Bell Centre on Sept. 16, 2019. Eric Bolte / USA TODAY Sports

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A lot of young players feel the need to bulk up, but Canadiens defence prospect Cale Fleury arrived in camp this year with that lean and hungry look.

“I leaned out this year,” Fleury said after practice in Brossard Tuesday. “I worked on my skating to be more explosive and shedding a little bit of that weight helped out with that.”

The 6-foot-1 Fleury said a “strict diet” led to the weight loss. He weighed 215 pounds at the Canadiens’ development in camp in June and he reported to the team’s rookie camp this month at 205.

Canadiens defenceman Cale Fleury checks New Jersey Devils forward Blake Speers into the boards during the second period at the Bell Centre on Sept. 16, 2019. Eric Bolte / USA TODAY Sports

Fleury has attracted a lot of attention in the early days of the camp. After a solid performance in a three-team rookie showcase in Belleville, Ont., last week, Fleury was named one of the three stars Monday night as the Canadiens opened their preseason schedule with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre.

Fleury, 20, said he was happy with his performance, but the second-year pro knows that this is a what-have-you-done lately business and he’ll face another test Wednesday when the Canadiens play the Florida Panthers in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Bathurst, N.B. (7 p.m., SN1, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

“The biggest thing in the NHL is consistency,” said Fleury. “It’s good if you have one good game but in the NHL, you have to be good every night.”

Fleury is a right defenceman and the way the depth chart looks, he’ll be fighting Christian Folin for a spot behind Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. The Canadiens will probably carry seven defenceman to start the season, but Fleury would have to find a spot in the top six because the team doesn’t want a prospect sitting on the bench when he could be logging big minutes in Laval.

Fellow rookie Josh Brook and 2015 first-rounder Noah Juulsen are also in the mix, but Fleury has the early edge. Brook has looked out of place in the early going, while there are health concerns surrounding Juulsen, who was shut down last season after suffering an eye injury.

Headaches have kept Juulsen on the sidelines at camp and the team announced Tuesday that Juulsen will consult a specialist. Head coach Claude Julien described the move as precautionary and noted that Juulsen is not dealing with a  concussion.

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“It’s unfortunate when guys get hurt like that,” said Fleury. “You don’t like to see that but if I can take advantage of that, I’ll take it. I came into camp to make the team.”

A third-round draft choice in 2017, Fleury played in Laval last season and had nine goals and 14 assists in 60 games.

“Having the year in Laval really helped me, just getting into the pro game and feeling comfortable,” said Fleury. “(Coach Joël Bouchard) was great and he continued to help me with advice in the summer and in this camp.

“The biggest adjustment was handling the pace of play,” said Fleury. “There were times last year when I felt the pace was too quick for me. It’s tough when you’re used to playing in junior and you go into scrimmage where it’s so much faster. This year, I feel confident with the pace.”

Fleury said he felt comfortable Monday because he was paired with Xavier Ouellet.

“We have good chemistry from playing 40 or so games together in Laval,” said Fleury.

In Bathurst, he’ll be paired with Otto Leskinen, a free agent from Finland.

phickey@postmedia.com

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