The 2016-2017 Montreal Canadiens are a very different team than the one that faltered out of playoff contention last season after an abundance of injuries throughout their lineup. This season, Habs fans have something to be enthusiastic about other than a healthy Carey Price. A legitimate top six should make Price’s job a little calmer with a reduced number of one-goal games throughout the season. On opening night, we will see a top six made up of skillful players, not grinders, nor will it include centre David Desharnais.
Here is how the top six will look against the Buffalo Sabres opening night.
Line 1: Max Pacioretty – Alex Galchenyuk – Brendan Gallagher
Max Pacioretty – After being part of a winless Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey, Pacioretty has a plethora of motivation to have a strong season with the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty played up and down the US lineup, and was called out for his play by head coach John Tortorella. There were also reports that Michel Therrien called Pacioretty “the worst captain in Canadiens history.” Of course Therrien denied the statement, adding he’s glad that there will be more veteran leadership on his squad this season.
When it comes to leadership however, many have questioned if Shea Weber would be better suited for the role, but that has not changed, Max Pacioretty will be the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Weber will provide leadership on and off the ice, as will the rest of the associate captains. And don’t forget about the influence Carey Price who is also part of the leadership core of the team. With everything that has happened, Max Pacioretty should have no problem discovering that extra gear that could see him score 40 goals for the first time in his career. On this line, with regular power-play time, it’s certainly a possibility.
Alex Galchenyuk – It took some time, which to countless fans felt like an eternity, but the Montreal Canadiens have ultimately discovered their number one centre in Alex Galchenyuk, the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Galchenyuk, who had 22 points in his final 22 games (including 16 goals), looks to build on a successful 2015-2016 season. This time he’ll be doing so as a full-time centre.
With the addition of Shea Weber to the Canadiens power-play, the Habs will now have three trigger-men on the top unit. Brendan Gallagher will be causing havoc in the crease and Andrei Markov will be the quarterback on the point. Galchenyuk, who scored 30 goals last season should surpass that number during the 2016-2017 challenging Max Pacioretty for the team lead in goals and points. Galchenyuk’s contract renewal should be priority number one for GM Marc Bergevin, with negotiations initiated before Galchenyuk’s cap hit rises.
Brendan Gallagher – It was clear last year what Brendan Gallagher brings to the Montreal Canadiens. He should be now primed for a breakout season alongside Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. Injured or playing injured for the majority of the regular season, Gallagher was still able to generate 40 points, including 19 goals in just 53 games.
A 25+ goal season is what I’m expecting from Gallagher, which would be a career high, but with his drive I could see him scoring 30+ goals along with Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. His cap hit is an absolute bargain, and he brings the same intensity game after game. The ‘A’ on his sweater is well deserved, and in my opinion, he could one day become the captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
Line 2: Artturi Lehkonen – Tomas Plekanec – Alexander Radulov
Artturi Lehkonen – Selected in the second round, 55th overall during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Lehkonen is a goal-scorer who has tremendous hands and speed and who isn’t afraid to battle for pucks in the corner. His skill-set was on display during the Swedish Hockey League playoffs, when the 21-year-old broke the Frolunda HC record previously held by future hall of famer Daniel Alfredsson, scoring 19 playoff points, including 11 goals in 16 games (Alfredsson had 18 points in 14 games.)
This accomplishment had Canadiens fans excited about a North American debut, which has been a very successful one, scoring two goals, adding an assist during five pre-season games, looking comfortable alongside Plekanec and Radulov. Lehkonen has the potential to score 20+ goals during his rookie season as a member of this line
Tomas Plekanec – Simply put, Tomas Plekanec has become accustomed to playing with new linemates, as the veteran centre has been a reliable two-way player throughout the years. This year however, it seems that Plekanec will be able to concentrate a little more on the goal-scoring side of the game, and not as much the defensive side, as he has at last been rewarded with two offensively gifted wingers.
These additions should help Plekanec reach the 20-goal plateau once again after scoring 14 goals and 54 points last season. Plekanec is not a sniper, but does get the puck on net and is capable of generating scoring chances. The veteran should have a successful 2016-2017 season if his linemates aren’t swapped game after game.
Alexander Radulov – During free agency, the Montreal Canadiens turned heads when it was announced that they had signed KHL superstar Alexander Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million contract. As the KHL’s second all-time leading scorer and the player with the most assists in KHL history, Radulov could be the best signing during the offseason. Radulov looked incredible during the pre-season, scoring one goal while adding four assists, one of them a highlight reel worthy assist from his knees to Alex Galchenyuk against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Radulov is an elite talent, with great hockey IQ, a first class shot as well as being a gifted passer. With that being said, Marc Bergevin should not wait around to offer him a contract extension, Radulov could become an extremely valuable asset for years to come if used properly. I expect 25+ goals from Radulov and over 60 points, providing that extra scoring they desperately have been seeking. I expect that he’ll earn a longer-term contract for that reason.
As you can see, the Canadiens top six is very much enhanced compared to previous years> There is no David Desharnais, Dale Weise, Alex Semin, P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Briere or Zach Kassian (remember him?) With the arrival of Andrew Shaw, a player who can play up and down the lineup, “Man Mountain” Shea Weber and a healthy Carey Price, fans have a reason to be excited about the Montreal Canadiens as the season begins on October 13th.
What do you think of the “new look” top-six? What are your predictions for these players?