Rem Pitlick: The New Paul Byron?

The waiver-wire was a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated by the NHL Players’ Association to ensure that a player who is good enough for the league, is not penalized by being sent to the minors because he plays on a deep team. It was created so that the said player gets a chance at playing in the NHL on a team that perhaps isn’t quite as deep. It is one system that has worked well for many players over the years.

Paul Byron

Paul Byron

One of the best waiver pick-up in the last decade or so was Paul Byron. When playing for the Calgary Flames, a team deep at the forward position, they tried sending him down to their AHL affiliate. Marc Bergevin, then GM of the Montreal Canadiens, put a claim on Byron who then made his way to Montreal. Since then, Byron not only stuck to the NHL without ever playing a single AHL game, but he turned his career around by finding a niche with the Canadiens.

Since being picked off waivers, Byron has played 364 regular season’s games with the Canadiens. He has managed 78 goals, 77 assists for 155 points, placing him sixth on the team in scoring. He is also a plus-28 player in that time span, and has been one of the NHL’s best penalty killers as well. He has also scored a team-leading 9 goals while his team was short-handed.

Rem Pitlick

Selected in the third round, 76th overall by the Nashville Predators at the 2016 NHL Draft, Rem Pitlick had only managed to play 11 games for the Predators when, on October 5th, 2021, the Minnesota Wild claimed him off waivers. He played a total of 20 games for the Wild, managing 6 goals and 11 points in the meantime. Surprisingly, he was once again placed on waivers when the Canadiens, in the midst of a rash of injuries and players on the NHL’s COVID protocol, claimed him on January 12, 2022.

Since then, Pitlick is averaging 0.53 points per game, tied for 6th on the Habs with Josh Anderson, Jeff Petry (who has been hot lately), Mike Hoffman and Artturi Lehkonen. He is averaging 15:44 minutes of ice time per game, similar ice time as Cole Caufield, Jonathan Drouin and Christian Dvorak.

Pitlick is a good skater with low center of gravity. Standing at 5-foot 11-inches and 196 lbs, he has a strong lower body and is hard to knock off the puck. He has produced offensively at every level that he’s played at and while he may never equal his offensive production from the minor leagues, the 24 year-old Ottawa native can still contribute offensively, as he’s shown so far at the NHL level, managing 21 points (10 goals) in 46 career games so far.

Pitlick could very well be the next Paul Byron and if he does, it will be yet another steal by the Montreal Canadiens, by Jeff Gorton this time. Ironically, Byron is also an Ottawa native…

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Tough Decisions Ahead For The Habs

We all know the type of season the Montreal Canadiens are having so let’s not focus on that right now. Between COVID and injuries, the Habs couldn’t field a team which prompted the NHL to shut them down for 10 days. But now, with the players on COVID protocol coming back, and with the return of some players from the injured reserve, Jeff Gorton and the coaching staff will have some tough decisions ahead of them.

They were given the opportunity to evaluate most of their depth in recent weeks and while working on finding that elusive new General Manager, they must now make some decisions about who stays and who goes, at least until trade deadline. In anticipation of that, Gorton claimed C/LW Rem Pitlick off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. This is the second time the team’s new VP of Hockey Ops claims a player as he did the same with Kale Clague from the LA Kings last month.

Forwards

At forward, Tyler Toffoli, Paul Byron, Jake Evans and Josh Anderson are all skating, getting closer to a return. Yesterday, head coach Dominique Ducharme said that Byron was the player who was the closest to a return, he who has yet to play a single game after having hip surgery in the off-season. Here’s what the log-jam looks like, starting with last night’s line-up against the Boston Bruins. The players in red are waivers-exempt (per Capfriendly.com).

Hoffman – Suzuki – Lehkonen
Drouin – Dvorak – Armia
Dauphin – PoehlingCaufield
Paquette – Vejdemo – Pezzetta

Toffoli – Anderson – Byron – Gallagher – Evans – Perreault
Ylönen – Pitlick – Harvey-Pinard – Belzile – Baddock

Gorton didn’t pick up Pitlick to put him back on waivers. He is preparing to make changes, whether through trade or attempting to put players through waivers to be sent down to Laval. He obviously feels like Pitlick is a better option, at this time, than some others who are currently on his projected roster.

Expect all of those who don’t have to clear waivers to be sent back down to Laval. In this group, the most deserving to stay up is Ryan Poehling. He may be told to go back until Gorton and the new GM can clear space, at which point he would be called back up. If the Canadiens decide to go with eight defensemen, it would leave room for 13 forwards and two goaltenders for a 23-men roster.

Pending any trade and considering that Pitlick is likely not going to be placed on waivers, the Canadiens would have to pick 13 out of the following 16 forwards: Suzuki, Dvorak, Hoffman, Drouin, Lehkonen, Armia, Toffoli, Anderson, Byron, Gallagher, Evans, Pezzetta, Pitlick, Perreault, Paquette and Vejdemo. Three of them will have to clear waivers.

Defensemen

While it’s not as bad of a situation on defense, the Canadiens will have to decide only when Joel Edmundson is ready to come back and there is currently no indication that he will be doing that any time soon. Again, based on the line-up against the Bruins, this is what the situation looks like.

Chiarot – Savard
Kulak – Petry
Niku – Wideman

Romanov – Clague – Edmundson
Belpedio – SchuenemanFairbrother

The last three will simply be sent down to Laval, something the Rocket won’t be complaining about as they too are very much short-handed. But when Edmundson is ready to return, unless there’s a trade, one of Clague, Niku or Wideman will have to be placed on waivers. It is doubtful that they would send Romanov down, even temporarily.

Goaltenders

Jake Allen got injured in the first period of last night’s game in Boston. On a lateral pass across on Brad Marchand’s first goal, he reached with his left leg and immediately seemed in discomfort. It appears to be his left groin. With Carey Price nowhere close to being ready to come back and the total uncertainty and mystery in his case, the duo of Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau should be tasked with carrying the load.

Montembeault
Primeau

Price-Allen

So there you have it folks. Remember that even to go onto the Taxi Squad, players must clear waivers too, as if they were sent down to the AHL. And of course, trades are a high reality. That said, teams often wait to a couple of weeks before trade deadline (March 21st, this year) before making moves. Trying to predict the line-up when everyone is healthy is almost impossible, let alone trying to figure out what it will look like past trade deadline. But there will be some action, that’s for sure.

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