By Bob Trask – As the season draws closer, the final roster for the Montreal Canadiens is slowly coming into view. There is still a lot that could happen between now and then but here are some ideas of how the situation could unfold.
I am less than confident about the goaltending situation. Too many soft goals are going past all the goaltenders and I don’t think Cayden Primeau is ready. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Montreal add a veteran backup for Jake Allen before the season starts.
I don’t know if Martin St-Louis will keep them together, but Kaiden Guhle and David Savard look good together – Savard in particular is looking a lot better than last year.
It’s too bad about Joel Edmundson’s injury, but that may open the door for one of the young guys to get an extended look until he returns. Arber Xhekaj brings an element to the team that no other player does but he might still be pretty raw. Nevertheless, Jordan Harris and Xhekaj looked good together. When (if) Eddie returns, a decision could be made regarding one of these two.
That would leave Mike Matheson and Chris Wideman as the other pairing and it’s not ideal because their skills don’t really complement one another. But unless a veteran is picked up on the waiver wire or through trade, those pairings seem plausible with Otto Leskinen or Corey Schueneman as the #7. My preference would be Leskinen but neither are going to be a difference maker.
This is a really interesting situation with five qualified centers still in the mix. Personally, I would like to see Sean Monahan playing LW on Kirby Dach’s line and then have the two of them share faceoffs duties. Having said that, Dach was 50% in his last game.
My centers would be Nick Suzuki, Dach/Monahan, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans. Because teams always run into injuries, that extra depth is a really nice insurance policy.
Cole Caufield really likes to pull the trigger from the goaltenders right side making him my choice for first line left winger. After that, it gets fuzzy really quickly. I alluded to Monahan playing LW with Dach, which would make him the second line LW and I would like to see Rem Pitlick on the fourth line with Michael Pezzetta as the swing man.
That leaves one spot for Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin and other contenders including Juraj Slafkovsky, Emil Heineman and maybe Evgenii Dadonov, depending on where they want to use him.
While he hasn’t shown a lot yet, I believe Dadonov has a good opportunity to start on right wing, perhaps even on the first line with Suzuki and Caufield. He is an offense first (or maybe offense only) player who could benefit from playing with like minded players. Josh Anderson lining up with Dach and Monahan also makes some sense. Dach is a playmaker while Anderson is primarily a shooter and three big guys on one line is a nice contrast from the Suzuki line to throw at opponents.
Brendan Gallagher seems to be made to play with Dvorak. Both are no nonsense players whose work ethic might benefit whoever eventually slots in at LW on that line. That leaves Joel Armia for the fourth line, where he adds some size to a line featuring Evans and Pitlick. The swing man could be Ylönen or Harvey-Pinard, but it’s not an ideal role for either.
On defense, Justin Barron teases us with his talent but doesn’t seem quite ready and Mattias Norlinder has already been sent down.
At forward, Paul Byron still hasn’t made an appearance and I’m becoming more skeptical about his return. Emil Heineman has looked good but not quite good enough to make the Canadiens and because of the structure of his contract, he is likely headed back to Europe.
The Big Question
The big question is what to do with Juraj Slafkovsky. Is he better off with the Canadiens or should he start the year in Laval until the situation at left wing can be sorted out? I don’t pretend to know the right answer to that one but whatever Hughes decides to do with him is going to have an impact on the other wingers, primarily Hoffman and Drouin. Slafkovsky isn’t really competing with Monahan because of the latter’s ability to play center and neither is he competing for the fourth line job with Pitlick or Pezzetta.
In my view, playing him on the third line with two veterans like Gallagher and Dvorak would be a good way to break into the league but that leaves the Hoffman/Drouin situations unresolved.
The next five days are going to be interesting.