MONTREAL, QC. — The off-season is not nearly over yet, meaning that there is still time for team manager Marc Bergevin to modify his starting lineup for the first game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 7th.
The current state of the Canadiens’ forward pool is thin. With leading scorer Max Pacioretty injuring his knee and being out for the next 3 months, the Canadiens are now left with only one player that reached the 60 point plateau if we look at last year’s statistics in Tomas Plekanec. The second closest would be David Desharnais with 48 points accumulated last year. Granted that Pacioretty should be ready for the start of the season knowing his usual recovery speed, but he will still miss a full off-season of training and it is hard to expect him to start the season and contribute as well as he usually does.
On the depth chart, the Canadiens’ right wingers are Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, Zach Kassian and Devante Smith-Pelly, who are all tough and hard-nosed players, but none of them have pure offensive talent.
So, should the Canadiens be worried about their forwards if they start the season with this current lineup?
Personally, I think that Marc Bergevin has one more move left to do this off-season but if that does not happen, I wouldn’t raise the white flag on the team’s forward just yet for a few reasons.
Young and uprising forwards
As my colleagues at All Habs pointed out, the Habs’ recent development camp showed some promise among the Habs’ young prospects. Some are more seasoned and more NHL-ready than others, and theses players could very well have an immediate impact in the lineup. Often in the NHL, theses energetic young players are who the team’s count on to spark their offense. Off the top of my head, I can think of Calgary and Tampa Bay’s offense last season that were totally driven by young players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and such.
General manager Marc Bergevin has spoken numerous time about building his team from within and with the Habs’ forward depth depleted, this might be their chance to shine.
Among theses players that I expect will give an honest fight for a starting roster spot are Daniel Carr, Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto and dark horse Michael McCarron.
Daniel Carr, who many compare to Brendan Gallagher, is a forward who is relentless in putting pressure on opposing defensemen. He also has the ability to score goals as he showed last year in the AHL. He is a hard-working player that can put up important goals and can go on hot-streaks where he is absolutely unstoppable. He already has had a taste of the Canadiens’ system with the Bulldogs, and I think that if he has a good camp, he should have a legitimate opportunity to make the team with his scoring ability.
Charles Hudon is the smartest and quickest player of theses four prospects I have just named. Many have criticized him for his lack of speed, but in my opinion, his speed is above-average, and his quickness and hockey vision more than makes up for it. He has very good puck handling skills, a good shot and a good two-way game. He would immediately be a coach’ favorite in my opinion. The only knock on Hudon is his durability and his size. To have met him in person, he does not have an imposing physique. He has had injury issues in the past and for him to make the team on a consistent basis, he will have to adapt his game in order to be more durable in a long NHL season.
Sven Andrighetto showed good flashes of offensive potential in his call-ups last season when the Habs’ needed help to score goals. He has come into development camp in very good shape and he will definitely be an option on the top two lines because he is a right-winger, if nothing changes until the start of the season. Andrighetto has a very good shot and good play-making ability. He has some grit in his game, but isn’t overly physical. His spot on the team will have to be on the top lines because he is not as defensively aware as the others I have named.
Then there is the long-shot to make the team in prized prospect Michael McCarron. His 6-foot-6-inch, 225 lbs. frame and his ability to play center and wing are certainly making some fans excited to see him with the big team. McCarron has had a very good season and Memorial Cup run with his OHL team, the Oshawa Generals. He is a big body that can throw thunderous hits and be a physical presence everywhere on the ice. He also has very soft hands for a player his size and he can create something out of nothing in the offensive zone. The knock on McCarron ever since he was drafted was his skating. Although, he doesn’t look fluid, and he most likely never will, his skating is enough to be a contributor in the NHL, in my opinion. He is not as slow as people think, but his skating stride is certainly not the most visually attractive one.
Also, another prospect that has impressed at the development camp is Nikita Scherbak. The coaches felt that he has improved a lot since last year and he is definitely a bright spot in terms of skilled forwards for the future of the team. I did not include him in the list of players that could make it right out of training camp because I feel that although he is very skilled and is much improved, he still needs to get more playing experience and round up his game before making the big jump. I feel that unless he is the most impressive player in camp and during pre-season games, Scherbak’s real chance will begin next year. Scherbak is a good playmaker with a lot of raw skills with the puck and he is definitely the type of player that could inject offense into any team’s lineup. I look forward to his 2015-2016, wherever it may be.
With how the lineup is shaping up, it is almost certain that there will be one of them that starts the season with the Habs.
Then, there are players that are already on the current roster that could also contribute more than they used to.
First of all, the Canadiens acquired Zack Kassian while sending forward Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks. Kassian is a former first-round, 13th overall, in the 2009 draft. He was projected as a power forward that could put up a lot of points like he did in his OHL junior career. His progression did not go as well as people predicted with the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks, but we often hear that power-forwards take a lot of time to develop. Kassian comes into Montreal with lesser expectations than in his previous two destinations and he also comes in a team where his skill-set is dearly missed. He is a powerful skater that can hit everything that moves. I remember being very impressed with his play in his first game as a Vancouver Canucks but his general manager has said of him that he lacks consistency. Kassian is only 24 years old and I personally think that he could at least contribute in the way that Dale Weise did last season. The Canadiens have had a need for an aggressive player like Kassian for a long time. To get to know more about Zack Kassian and what to expect from him, you can read this article from my colleague J.D. Lagrange.
Secondly, I feel like a lot of us has been saying this for a long time now, but I think Lars Eller is ready to step up for a more offensive role. This is a subject that has been over-analyzed concerning his ice-time, his role on the team and whatnot, but Eller comes in a season where the number one center position is not exactly clear. Tomas Plekanec had a good regular season, but did not have a good playoff run. David Desharnais had a very average season last year and this is a deciding year for him as well. So there is a possibility of a shake-up in the Habs lineup at the center position during this upcoming season. If Eller could contribute more offensively, he could definitely become the team’s second center, a role that he could, in my opinion, play in with his skill-set.
To sum up, I do not think they should not be worried about their forward depth….at least not yet.