By Bob Trask – With the upcoming NHL season still more than two months away, summers are spent dissecting the lineup and examining all the pieces in detail while trying to guess how the potential lineup compares with last season and with other teams in the league.
One way to do it is position by position. Who replaces Jeff Petry, for example? At the moment, Justin Barron appears to be the only right shot defenseman in contention. Another (or others) may be acquired before the season begins but for now he is the prime candidate. Those are big shoes to fill for a rookie
Another way to compare the lineups is by skillset.
Skillset Comparison – Defense
Rather than compare Barron to Petry, a more valid comparison may be to compare Matheson to Petry.
In achieving those totals Petry played more than double the minutes on the power play as Matheson did. As an aside, both Petry and Matheson have been criticized for their defensive lapses. This only makes the comparison more valid.
Since Petry versus Matheson involves a left defenseman replacing a right defenseman, taking a look at the reverse situation would balance the left/right comparison. In this case the assumption is that Justin Barron would replace Alex Romanov. Yes, they play two completely different styles of game but Barron has the potential to be equally effective as Romanov on defense with a lot more offensive upside. And to be fair, Romanov’s defensive play was not always flawless. It was physical, yes, but not flawless.
|Alex Romanov (last season)||79||3||10||13||0.16|
|Justin Barron (NHL career)||7||1||1||2||0.29|
It’s not a stretch to think Barron could equal or exceed Romanov’s output on offense and as mentioned, Romy’s defensive game was not with its inconsistencies.
This exercise in skillset comparison on defense can be continued with Edmundson vs Chiarot and Schueneman vs Kulak. In both cases, any potential dropoff would be minimal and there may even be an overall improvement. With Savard and Wideman being returnees, there is no need for a comparison for either of these players.
Using a skillset comparison, the defense looks no worse than last year with the potential to be better. The ace in the hole on defense is the organizational depth. Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle, Otto Leskinen, Mattias Norlinder and maybe even Arber Xhekaj or Gianni Fairbrother are a superior group to Kale Clague and Sami Niku.
If one legitimate NHL defenseman emerges from this group or is acquired via trade, waivers or free agency the Montreal defense corps should be miles ahead of last year.
Skillset Comparison – Forwards
At center we can compare Kirby Dach to Ryan Poehling while on the wings the comparison could be Dadonov versus Toffoli, Slafkovsksy versus Hoffman and Pitlick versus Lehkonen.
Both players have had to overcome injuries and curiously enough, both have had to over come wrist injuries. Poehling may have also suffered a couple of concussions since he turned pro. Dach achieved his numbers while being almost exactly two years younger than Poehling. Both are big-bodied centers.
The first skillset comparison between wingers is Mike Hoffman versus Juraj Slafkovsky (if Hoffman was to be traded).
If Slafkovsky makes the team and is considered to be a replacement for Hoffman those are the numbers he has to shoot at. Over an 82 game schedule that would translate into 18 goals and 24 assists. Those are not unrealistic targets for the first overall pick. While Hoffman’s strength is his shot, Slaflovsky projects to be a more of a multi-dimensional player.
A second skillset comparison between wingers is Tyler Toffoli versus Evgeni Dadonov.
Toffoli’s production includes his stint in Calgary and both players had about the same amount of power play time, while both players saw significant time on the off-wing. Their offensive skills seem to be similar making this one appear like a saw-off… but Dadonov may actually be more suited to a Matin St-Louis style of game than Toffoli. In the meantime, his presence allows prospects one more year to develop in the minors or amateur ranks. That gives Kent Hughes a little more time so that he can be afford to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to make any moves.
The last skillset comparison is between Artturi Lehkonen and Rem Pitlick. This one is less than perfect because Lehkonen was very accomplished defensively while that aspect of the game has hardly been Pitlick’s strength.
Extrapolating their respective production with the Canadiens, Lehkonen would have had 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points; Pitlick would have had 16 goals and 30 assists for 46 points. There isn’t much to pick and choose offensively. Both bring similar size and skillsets to the game but Pitlick needs to work on defensive awareness. If he can improve that aspect of his game he becomes a passable replacement for Lehkonen in the lineup.
With most of the other forwards from last year still listed on the roster, there is no need for comparison. What can be said, however, that an improvement among younger players and a rebound among veterans to their previous levels of play should be considered as a possibility.
The Big Picture
There is more than one way to look at a team’s lineup. By using a skillset comparison rather than a rigid position by position comparison a slightly different perspective can be developed.
Measuring the progress to date, the Canadiens have become bigger, faster, younger and maybe more skilled. The picture will continue to change as Hughes fine tunes his projected lineup with trades and/or free agent signings. And while we wait for the roster to be finalized, there are some green shoots of optimism that will hopefully blossom into future success.