An 18-year-old Austrian who walks into an NHL environment doesn’t necessarily have tons of familiar faces. This was the case with David Reinbacher.

The Canadiens’ first choice in the last draft, however, had a friend: Vinzenz Rohrer, a compatriot whom the Habs drafted 75th overall last year. So one evening before the start of development camp, the two Austrians reconnected.

“I waited for him in the lobby. We went out for dinner, and we were like, we’re here eating steak together in Montreal, and we’re from the same little corner in Austria. It’s crazy. Adding Marco Rossi, that’s three NHL prospects within 15 minutes! »

Reinbacher comes from Hohenems and Rohrer from Rankweil. Barely 12 km separate the two localities in the province of Vorarlberg, which shares a common border with Switzerland.

“I’ve known him since I was 7 years old,” Reinbacher said. We played together in the national team. We talked about how crazy it is to be in the same franchise. »

Hockey is booming in the land of Mozart, Schubert and Falco. From 2007 to 2019, only two native Austrians were drafted, but neither (Andre Burakovsky and Marko Dano) represent the country internationally. However, in the last four drafts, six Austrians have found takers and the six wear the colors of the national team. Three of them (Reinbacher, Rossi and Marco Kasper) were claimed in the top 10.

If these athletes are proud to represent their country, they nevertheless had to go into exile at a young age. “Austria won’t like it, but if you exclude Marco Kasper, we’ve all played a good part of our lives in Switzerland,” Rohrer said. We lived near the border. Playing at this level makes a big difference. I think that helped us. »

“But Kasper played here until he was 14 before moving to Sweden. So he managed to make his way into the Austrian system. But it’s hard to stay there all the time. »

Speaking of exile, Rohrer still has to pack up. The forward has spent the past two seasons with the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Junior League (OHL), but has signed a contract to play the next two years with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss national league .

“I have my Swiss player’s license, so I don’t count as one of the six foreigners,” Rohrer said. It gives me that chance. And I tell myself that a new challenge is good. »

Rohrer turns 19 in September. He was therefore getting to the point where he would be entitled to optimal playing time in the juniors. But he prefers to try his luck in the professional ranks.

“I will have to give it my all, because I don’t have a bank account with the coach there,” admits the charismatic young man. I don’t know what role I will have, but they told me that they need secondary production. Last year, if their first line did not score, the other lines did not produce much attack. »

Rohrer showed some offensive progression last season, amassing 49 points in 54 games after a 48-point campaign in 64 games.

The CH hopeful also intends to continue the French lessons he started in Ottawa. He was also able to exchange a few polite expressions in French with the journalists on Sunday.

Logan Mailloux is one of the 37 players taking part in the development camp. The former CH 1st round choice walked the ice with the other defenders on one of the ice rinks, while the attackers occupied the other surface. However, the media could not speak with him. The Habs said Mailloux will not grant an interview until he receives the green light from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who said a month ago he wanted to meet with the young man before allowing him to play. Mailloux should theoretically begin his professional career this fall, presumably in Laval, unless he causes a surprise.

Let’s stay with the 1st round choices. Filip Mesar, chosen 26th overall last year, said he hopes to start next season with the Laval Rocket. The Slovak striker was playing in the Slovak first division when the CH drafted him, and spent the 2022-2023 campaign with the Kitchener Rangers, in the OHL. If he were North American, he would not have this luxury, since he is 19 years old, but since he was playing in Europe during his draft, he will be able to play in the American League.

A second Xhekaj joined the Canadiens’ organization when the team drafted Florian Xhekaj, Arber’s brother, Thursday, 101st overall. The forward was in his second year of eligibility, and his 25 points in 68 games meant he wasn’t necessarily expected in the 4th round. Besides, he was at the gym during the draft, because he wanted to “change his mind”. Florian Xhekaj doesn’t really have a physical resemblance to his brother and at 183 lbs, he concedes 55 lbs to his brother. But his 76 penalty minutes are a reminder that he too likes rough play. And his intonations clearly run in the family!