Tinordi is an old-school rookie

MONTREAL -- It has already been the year of the rookie in these parts, with Calder Trophy candidates Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk blossoming into young stars for the Montreal Canadiens.

Now you can add a third impressive rookie to that list in Jarred Tinordi, who, at 6-foot-6, is living up to the family name.

His father, former NHL defenseman Mark Tinordi, was on hand this week for the two opening games of Montreal's series with Ottawa, watching intently as his 21-year-old son stepped into the cauldron that is the NHL playoffs in hockey-mad Montreal.

Having Dad around to lend his experience is not a bad thing at all.

"He's been good. It's helpful having a guy like Dad to help me out in knowing what to expect," Jarred said Saturday afternoon before the team took a bus to Ottawa.

The elder Tinordi was a 6-4 menace during his heyday, mostly playing for the North Stars and Capitals in a career spanning from 1987 through 1999.

"I definitely try to take some aspects of his game," said Jarred. "I think the game was a little bit different back then when he played. He was definitely a tough, big, mean defenseman. That's something I look up to. I wish I could have seen him play more when I was younger."

Jarred was 7 when Dad retired, but his father's reputation as a tough-as-nails competitor is well known to him.

Now the defenseman is forging his own path. Drafted 22nd overall in the first round in 2010, Tinordi, in his second call-up from the AHL, has returned a more polished defenseman, more sure of himself.

"Tinordi has a presence on the ice," Habs coach Michel Therrien said in French on Saturday. "He's playing physical. He's using his stick well. He's in good position. He's becoming more and more confident, which is an excellent sign for a young player."

On Friday night in Game 2, Tinordi looked poised in his own end while dishing out physical play, and he didn't back down from an altercation with Senators tough guy Chris Neil.

"For a young guy, he was not intimidated at all," said an NHL scout who watched Tinordi play this week. "He does a great job getting in shooting lanes. He's a younger, more improved version of Hal Gill. At times, he struggles with the puck, but I don't think that will ever be his strength. I like the fact he's in the middle of those scrums. I don't expect him to drop the gloves with Chris Neil, but I see a guy that won't back down. That's something Montreal has lacked over the last few years.

"His size and physicality are elements that the Canadiens don't have enough of. He's not flashy but real effective and physical."

Tinordi has quickly made an impression on his teammates too.

"I think he's an outstanding hockey player that's just going to keep getting better and better," said veteran blueliner Josh Gorges. "You can't teach 6-6, but when you have a guy that is that size and can move like he moves, it makes him a dangerous player. Most guys at that size, they give up mobility, they give up skating. He doesn't. His ability to pivot on pucks and keep his gap makes him a hell of a hockey player."

The window opened for Tinordi when the Habs lost hard-hitting blueliner Alexei Emelin last month. While Tinordi wasn't recalled immediately after that season-ending injury to Emelin, the thought had begun to form in the mind of Therrien that his best option to find that physicality would eventually be Tinordi -- if the kid was ready.

When the Habs went into a late-season tailspin, it forced the issue. The Habs' penalty kill was a disaster, giving up 10 goals on 27 chances during the six-game span before Tinordi was recalled. He played the final two games of the regular season in Winnipeg and Toronto and hasn't looked back.

"I feel good right now. I feel confident in my game," Tinordi said. "The last two games of the regular season definitely got me ready to play playoff hockey."

During his first call-up in March, Tinordi wasn't as assertive. That's typical of a rookie when he first gets a look at the NHL.

"When I first came up, I was playing not to make a mistake," he said. "This time around, I'm just trying to play my game and not worried about making mistakes."

Therrien said the first call-up was to give the kid a taste. This call-up is the real thing.

"That was my message to him: 'You're the type of defenseman that we're looking for, that we need right now. Take advantage of his opportunity,'" Therrien said. "We're seeing a young man that's completely different, a more confident player than his first time up here. He's helped stabilized our blue line."

Tinordi is playing like he's never going back to the AHL again.

"When you go through something like that, you get called up and you get sent back down, you realize how important it is to do what you have to do to stay here, how much more fun it is to be here than down in the minors," said Gorges. "I've been in that situation, and it's a real eye-opener. You get called up the first time and sometimes you're a little nervous, a little gun shy, but you're just enjoying the moment. It's such a thrill to be up at this level. And then when you get sent back down, it's like, 'I don't want to be here.' He understood why he was sent back down and what he had to change in order to stay here, and he's done that very well."

Said Tinordi: "I just made up my mind. This was a great opportunity to come up and maybe play in the playoffs. I just wanted to give it everything I had."

His ice time has continued to grow with each game. It's clear Therrien has more and more trust in him. In particular, he's been a mainstay on that penalty kill that needed help.

"I take a lot of pride in killing penalties," said Tinordi. "That's part of my game."

In Tinordi, Gallagher and Galchenyuk, the Habs are entrusting quality minutes to three youngsters. Gallagher has scored twice already in the series and hasn't been afraid to crash the net and take a pounding. Galchenyuk has looked dangerous with the puck and in Game 2 shifted to center -- his natural position -- to replace the injured Lars Eller.

And with Tinordi playing a sizeable role on defense, Montreal is prepared to sink or swim with its kids.

"I've always believed in life that you have to learn how to walk before you run," said Therrien. "Let's say right now we're asking them to walk a little faster, and they're responding very well."

Injured Montreal wingers Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty skated with the black aces Saturday, but their status hasn't changed.

"They're day-to-day. We'll see tomorrow," said Therrien.

Rene Bourque collided with teammate Colby Armstrong in Friday's game and looked a little shaken up. But Therrien said Saturday that he was fine and good to go.