Meet The Newcomers

By JD Lagrange – As training camp gets underway, there is one shiny new toy that is on everyone’s mind – and rightfully so – and that’s this year’s first overall pick, Juraj Slafkovsky. But he’s not the only new face at camp this year as four other very good players are going through the motions at the Canadiens’ training facility in Brossard for the first time.

So without further ado, let’s meet meet Mike Matheson, Kirby Dach, Sean Monahan and Evgenii Dadonov. The scouting reports are from Sportsforecaster.com.

MIKE MATHESON
POSITION:DefenseAGE:28
SHOOTS:LeftHEIGHT:6’2″
WEIGHT:188 lbs

Scouting Report: Has all the skills needed to be a solid two-way defenseman but has yet to develop the consistency needed to thrive at the NHL level. Is very mobile and aggressive with good offensive abilities. However, he drives coaches crazy at times by getting caught out of position. Needs to improve his defensive-zone coverage to make the most of his attacking skills. Can play big minutes in any situation, so he does have value.

Matheson was acquired in the trade that sent Jeff Petry to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Joel Edmundson, he provides quality top-4 play from the left side of the defense. This is perhaps his biggest opportunity to step into a major role as the Canadiens certainly don’t have the defense that Pittsburgh had.

KIRBY DACH
POSITION:CenterAGE:21
SHOOTS:RightHEIGHT:6’4″
WEIGHT:197 lbs

Scouting Report: The third player taken in the 2019 draft was in the NHL as an 18-year-old and shows increasing flashes of why he was so highly regarded as he moves into his early 20s. He is big, skates well and is strong on the puck, a trait that should get even better as he matures. Is an excellent passer but must learn to take more shots in order to keep opponents from dropping off him in coverage. Has been plagued by injuries, including a broken wrist.

The only reason why Dach was traded by the Chigago Blackhawks is… who knows what the Hawks are doing? They also traded 24 year-old, two-times 40 goals’ scorer Alex DeBrincat! Yes, Dach’s development was slowed down by serious injuries but the skills didn’t go away. How many big 21 year-old centers are there on the market? This has the potential to be a homerun by rookie GM Kent Hughes who gambled by giving Dach a four-year contract, with a cap hit of $3.36 million.

SEAN MONAHAN
POSITION:CenterAGE:27
SHOOTS:LeftHEIGHT:6’2″
WEIGHT:200 lbs

Scouting Report: Injuries, including surgery, have taken a toll on his game; he is no longer the scorer who put up seven straight 20-goal seasons. However, he still knows how to find the quiet spots on the ice to get his shot off and can still produce in a diminished role. Consistency remains an issue, and if he is not putting up points he is not likely making an impact on the game.

This one is mind boggling. The Canadiens did receive the Flames’ first round pick in order to take Monahan’s $6.375 million contract, but they already had a surplus of forwards on their roster. Even with Carey Price placed on LTIR, this acquisition puts the Canadiens right back against the cap, scrambling to create more room. If Monahan can return to form, the Canadiens could get a good return at trade deadline, as he’s scheduled to become a UFA next summer.

EVGENII DADONOV
POSITION:WingAGE:33
SHOOTS:LeftHEIGHT:5’11”
WEIGHT:185 lbs

Scouting Report: The Russian forward improved markedly after returning to the NHL following a stint in the KHL. Is very dangerous with the puck, owns a good shot and knows how to get it off quickly and accurately. Also, he complements other skilled forwards well. His biggest problems come when the opposition has the puck; he is often a defensive liability and lacks the size to win puck battles on a consistent basis.

Acquired in the cap dump of Shea Weber’s contract, Dadonov has one year left to his own contract, coming with a cap hit of $5 million. He will then become a UFA. He better not buy a house in Montreal as his stay is likely to be short lived, as he would be good trade bait at trade deadline. If you’re wondering what type of player he is, think Tomas Tatar.

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Lots of “IFs” With The Current Roster

The off-season is not over, but by the time late July, early August hits, most of the activities have been done and over with. This year, at the time of writing this, you still have two prominent UFAs who have yet to sign contracts in Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg. One would think that the number of potential destinations have been narrowed down drastically by now and the Canadiens are very unlikely to be in the running.

For Montreal, they would clearly want to unload a bit more cap space in order to sign newly acquired RFA Kirby Dach. Then there are the rumours surrounding Pierre-Luc Dubois that simply won’t go away and in my five decades experience in hockey, there is simply too much smoke for there not to be a fire. Whether it happens or not, or when that could be, remains to be seen.

Too many “ifs”

Looking at the current roster on the Canadiens’ website makes you realize that this team is not very good. Perhaps I’m a little too harsh on them. Let’s just say that a lot of things would have to go right for them to compete in a much improved Atlantic Division. In other words, there are a lot of “ifs” in that line-up.

The Canadiens can have a better season if:

  • Josh Anderson stays healthy and can manage 25-30 goals
  • Joel Armia has a bounce back season
  • Paul Byron is back at 100%
  • Cole Caufield is the player he was from February onwards
  • Kirby Dach can find another gear under Martin St-Louis
  • Evgenii Dadonov can help provide secondary scoring
  • Jonathan Drouin stays healthy and rediscovers his game under St-Louis
  • Christian Dvorak, like Caufield, plays like he did in the second half last year
  • Jake Evans avoid concussions and wins more faceoffs than he loses
  • Brendan Gallagher returns to form
  • Mike Hoffman can find more consistency and is a serious threat on the power play
  • Rem Pitlick continues to surprise
  • Juraj Slafkovsky can live up to expectations of a first overall pick
  • Nick Suzuki continues to develop and builds on his ironman streak
  • Justin Barron takes a big step forward and can play top-4 duties against higher competition
  • Joel Edmundson’s back holds up the grind of an 82-games schedule
  • Kaiden Guhle and/or Jordan Harris can provide some solid hockey and progress as anticipated
  • Mike Matheson can make us forget Jeff Petry and compensate for Alexander Romanov being gone
  • David Savard can be counted on for the top-4 on the right side
  • Chris Wideman can step up his game from last season
  • Jake Allen can stay healthy
  • Carey Price returns in good form to play 45-50 solid games this season

Then, there are teams accomplishments. They can have some success if:

  • The coaching staff figures out the special teams, power play and penalty kill
  • The team can come up with a system to cover the weaknesses defensively

As we can see, a lot of things have to go right. In fact, realistically, too many things have to line-up perfectly to see this team be able to compete. Oh they will have some fun games, some tight games, but one should not rely on so many “ifs” to remain optimistic.

The only way that this management group can help make the Canadiens more competitive is by adding some sure value. An experienced top-4 defenseman would go a long way in allowing the team’s youngsters develop better. My personal preferences would be through trade for Tyson Barrie in Edmonton, or signing UFA Anton Stralman for a couple of seasons. Adding Pierre-Luc Dubois would now instead of later would make a lot of sense as well.

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