Habs Gambling at Center

By JD Lagrange – “Getting centers is not easy” was one of Canadiens’ former GM Marc Bergevin’s quotes that fans have made fun of over the years. And because new GM Kent Hughes acquired two this off-season, those fans are having a heyday. Yet, Hughes’ trades prove what Bergevin was saying as the two centers that he acquired come with huge question marks and come at a price.

First, they paid a high price by trading the 13th pick overall (previously acquired from the Islanders in the Romanov deal) and a third round pick (#66 – Gavin Hayes) to the Chicago Blackhawks to get 21 year-old Kirby Dach. It would be easy to say that it’s a deal considering that Dach is a former third overall pick, but have a look at this comparison:

DACHKOTKANIEMI
152GP171
19G22
40A40
59PTS62
-22+/--11
First 3 years of their respective career

Now forget the whole offer-sheet fiasco as it was revenge against the Habs and ask yourself this: how would fans have reacted if the Canadiens had traded the 13th overall and an early third round pick to acquire Kotkaniemi?

The fact here is that for a few reasons (including injuries), Dach has yet to develop into the player the Blackhawks and many scouts saw in him. While it is possible, it is unknown if he will ever develop into that player. So at the time of the trade (no revisionary or hindsight should be considered), it’s a risk… and a steep price for a risk.

Then, they acquired Sean Monahan and his $6.375 million contract (one year remaining) from the Calgary Flames for future considerations. While “future considerations” is cheap, his cap hit is not. Granted, it’s for one season but it’s still a big, big cap hit for a player who is coming back from not one, but two hip surgeries. Habs’ fans should look at Paul Byron and his hip surgery as a reference…

While the Monahan gamble isn’t a big one, the same cannot be said about the trade for Dach. So when Bergevin was saying that acquiring centers (and he referred to top-end centers, by the way) isn’t easy, he was absolutely right and Hughes knows it. He chose to be bold and gambled on these two guys. It’s a choice that’s he’s made and we all hope that both of them pay off.

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Building Depth at Center

By Bob Trask – If we make the assumption that the Canadiens will draft Shane Wright with the first overall pick, how could the center ice position with Montreal unfold? There are really only two possibilities; Wright makes the Canadiens or he returns for another year of junior. Let’s take a look at each.

Wright with the Canadiens

Despite all the accolades he has gathered, I still believe Wright could be a long shot to make the team. The primary reason I have taken this view is that there is little in the way of experienced centers for the Canadiens to fall back on if Wright struggles. But let’s assume it does happen.

The ideal spot for him to begin his career may be the 3rd line where the matchups may not be as stiff but the ice time is still sufficient. That could mean Christian Dvorak would probably begin the year on the 2nd line with Evans and Poehling battling for the 4th line center position – with one of them being relegated to the wing.

It might not be a bad option because it would give the Canadiens 5 players capable of playing center. As the season progressed, general manager Kent Hughes could assess the situation and decide what his options were closer to the trade deadline. This option could have a domino effect that would impact the wingers if Evans and Poehling flip-flopped between center and wing during the season.

Wright in the OHL

How many times have the Canadiens been accused of rushing their prospects into the league without sufficient development time? Sending Wright back to junior where he can continue his development and hopefully dominate might be the preferred approach.

Shane Wright

There is no hurry for Wright to get into the NHL particularly if it hinders his development. Realistically the Canadiens are a long shot to make the playoffs and Hughes may prefer the methodical, patient approach. The organization certainly doesn’t need another Kotkaniemi or Galchenyuk situation on their hands.

The Canadiens would be left with their four returning centers along with anyone acquired over the summer and/or depth players like Laurent Dauphin. It’s not the lineup of a Cup contender but that’s unlikely to be the goal for next season anyway.

While Wright would be expected to develop and dominate in junior along, the Canadiens could also monitor the development Riley Kidney and Oliver Kapanen. If Kingston wasn’t in Memorial Cup contention he would likely be traded to a top team and seems to be a shoo-in for the World Junior team – all of this providing additional valuable experience.

And if the season goes south for the Canadiens without Wrigt, they could be in line for another very good draft pick in 2023.

Third Scenario

The most likely option may be a combination of the first two, with Wright starting the season in Montreal. If he stands out, he would stay with the team but if he shows that he is just okay, the Canadiens could give him 8 or 9 games and then return him to the OHL.

Of course all of this could be moot if the Canadiens surprise and pass on Wright. And that debate among Habs fans still rages on social media.

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