The Situation at Center

By Bob Trask – The center ice position has been a bone of contention for the Montreal Canadiens for as long as most of us can remember. There have been some solid individual players like Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec but not much depth and never a superstar.

Marc Bergevin tried to address the situation through trades (Jonathan Drouin) and the draft (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) but came up short. After the season mercifully ended for the Canadiens, Kent Hughes took his first swing at improving the center ice position with the acquisition of Kirby Dach.

So how do the Canadiens look now?

Incremental Improvements

Nick Suzuki

The Canadiens don’t have a 1-2 tandem like Auston Matthews and John Tavares in Toronto but there should be some incremental improvements internally.

Nick Suzuki is still only 23 years old and should continue to improve over the next 3-4 years. Jake Evans is 26 years old and has played less than 2 full season in the NHL. He has the potential to improve as well. Christian Dvorak is also 26 years old and showed marked improvement once Martin St-Louis took over as coach.

With a lot of players not reaching their full potential until they are about 28 years old, incremental improvements from this trio shouldn’t be unexpected. And with St-Louis behind the bench the improvement from the group could be more than expected.

Dach vs Poehling

With three centers returning (at this point anyway), it is fair to compare Kirby Dach to Ryan Poehling for the remaining center position. That doesn’t mean Dach will start on the 4th line as Poehling often did but the players share similar attributes.

Both players are on the bigger side – with Dach have a 2″ height advantage – but neither are particularly physical players. Poehling and Dach have both suffered wrist injuries that may have affected their offensive performance – and Poehling has also been sidelined more than once with “upper body” injuries.

Kirby Dach

In watching highlights of both players, Dach seems to be the more skilled puck handler and statistics support this argument to some degree. However, Dach may have had the opportunity to play with skilled linemates more often than Poehling so the comparison may not be entirely fair.

Poehling also had a better shooting percentage than Dach. Some of that may be attributed to Dach’s wrist injury but Poehling might just be a better shooter. It’s hard to know at this point.

A quick comparison of the two players can be seen here:

Source: Stathead.com

I am not sure how to read the stats but it seems like Dach may have contributed more defensively base on his DPS (defensive point share) numbers.

The Wild Card

The wild card in all of this is the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation. There has been a lot of chatter about a potential trade to Montreal but until it happens, if it happens, the Canadiens have to proceed with what they have – Suzuki, Dvorak, Dach and Evans.

The Potential

Of all the current Canadiens’ centers, Kirby Dach has the potential to show the greatest improvement. A 45 point season from Dach along with incremental improvements from Suzuki, Dvorak and Evans would give Montreal the best depth at center it has had in years.

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Plenty of Rumours Around the Habs

It is this time of year and with the NHL Draft set to begin in four days, the action should start at any time now. It is believed that the Montreal Canadiens will be one of the busiest teams as they currently are set to speak 14 times, including the first overall and the 26th pick in the first round. Chatter is that they will cut down that number by trying to move up at the draft, even to the top-10.

Jimmy Murphy

In a recent article, Montreal Hockey Now Jimmy Murphy states that Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes is extremely busy working the phones with his counterparts. Those who felt like Hughes was hired to be Jeff Gorton’s “puppet” better think again as he seems to be in total control.

“He’s easily I’d say the busiest GM right now,” an NHL executive told Montreal Hockey Now Saturday afternoon. “I know we’ve spoken to him multiple times and we’re not the only ones. Gotta give it to Kent, he’s creative and determined. What I think has helped him as and agent turning into a GM is the amount of kids coming up the ranks he’s been scouting. He’s very connected at the amateur level and that helps in trade talks.”

Murphy adds that in addition to the executive quoted above, two different NHL sources confirmed that multiple teams are likely in the mix for Jeff Petry. Josh Anderson’s name is apparently still out there but it’s more listening that shopping, and another source told him that he’s been hearing trade chatter on Christian Dvorak.

Elliotte Friedman

In his 32-Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman says that the Canadiens are doing an excellent job shielding their thoughts on who will go first overall. He says that he’s heard Shane Wright. He has heard Juraj Slafkovsky. Someone even said, “Few know Logan Cooley better than Montreal management.” There is an overriding feeling that they are trying to get a second high pick, possibly top-10. Friedman even goes on to say: “Probably a pipe dream, but could you imagine a Bell Centre with the Canadiens picking one and two?”

Always according to Friedman, the Canadiens continue to test the market on some of their veterans. He mentioned Christian Dvorak, Jeff Petry and possibly Josh Anderson. He was told by some teams that the Habs don’t want to move Jake Allen. An important note: he says that the Canadiens wish to be more competitive, so they’re not going to strip it bare.

Friedman finishes by saying that prior to the deadline, there were some conversations between the Senators and Canadiens on Colin White and that it’s not impossible to see White heading to Montreal. GM Kent Hughes was his agent.

Chris Johnston

Friedman’s fellow Insider Chris Johnston went with a very exciting, yet very much underwhelming news yesterday. He stated that the Canadiens are likely to trade Josh Anderson within 48 hours. That’s the exciting part, although most fans don’t want to see him gone and he wants to remain with the Canadiens. The not so exciting part is the return. He mentions a top-40 pick and a “B-level prospect”, IF they take back a contract or retain salary. This makes little sense for the Habs.

So as you can see, the action is picking up as the Draft approaches. We are expecting a lot of action in the coming days.

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