OTTAWA, ON — The perceived problems with the Canadiens defensive system have been written about at great length so I have no appetite to further pick it apart. The fact of the matter is the Montreal Canadiens struggle to score goals. Fans can attribute the scoring woes to the system all they want (I somewhat agree with you), but come playoff time the Habs were controlling the puck, outshooting and out-chancing their opponents only to score 25 goals with an abysmal shooting percentage of 6.0 per cent (worse than any other team in the playoffs.)
General Manager Marc Bergevin used his year-end press conference to lower the expectation of change amongst Habs fans. With an off-season full of high-profile coaches available, Bergevin thoroughly defended coach Michel Therrien, assuring all of us that he is here to stay. Bergevin also took the opportunity to make it clear that trading for a first-line centreman would cost the Canadiens Carey Price, an obvious no-go. It seems clear that Bergevin and the Canadiens organization feel they are on the right path. With that in mind, it may be time for Habs fans to begin looking within their system to find the scoring they need.
So who could that be?
Round: 2 (40th overall)
Thomas was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2013 from the New York Rangers in exchange for 2008 draftee, Danny Kristo. Of the Habs prospects we are looking at in this article, Christian is the one we have seen the most of at the pro level. At the AHL level, Thomas had his most offensive success in his first full season as a pro. That was in the 2012-’13 season with the Connecticut Whale where he scored 19 goals and totaled 35 points in 73 games. With two seasons in the Canadiens organization, Christian has played 20 games with the big club, scoring one goal in an extremely limited defensive role on the team. Thomas is a small forward but his work ethic and speed shouldn’t be overlooked and he’s not bad at putting the puck in the net either.
Round: 5 (122nd overall)
Hudon has been a strong offensive contributor since junior and could be the next player to assist the Montreal Canadiens in their offensive woes. Drafted by Chicoutimi of the QMJHL sixth overall in 2010, he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year title, was the second-leading scorer on his team in 2010-’11 and 2011-’12, and then led his team in scoring in his final season with the club. From there, Hudon turned pro at the age of 20. In his first full season as a professional hockey player, Charles Hudon finished second on the Hamilton Bulldogs in points with 57. He is known for being a responsible player on both sides of the ice, something that may help him crack the Canadiens roster come fall.
Round: 1 (25th overall)
Not necessarily known for his goal scoring ability I almost left McCarron off the list. That said, at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, McCarron could be the power forward the Canadiens have been looking for. After taking the 2013-’14 season to adjust to the OHL with the London Knights and being passed over for the USA World Junior roster (for playing in the CHL), many Habs fans were ready to write-off the former first-round pick. Michael responded to critics with a heck of a season this year. Before being dealt by the Knights to the Oshawa Generals, McCarron tallied 41 points in just 25 games, finishing the season with a total of 68 points in 56 games. I don’t expect McCarron to come in and provide a ton of offensive but he could definitely be the player to provide more space for his teammates on the ice with his size, grit and puck control along the boards.
Round: 3 (86th overall)
Sven is perhaps the most likely of the crop to make the Canadiens roster come spring. After having great offensive success over two seasons in the QMJHL, Andrighetto turned pro and finished fourth in scoring on the Bulldogs this season with 43 points in 60 games. Had Andrighetto not been with the Canadiens for part of the season, it is safe to say his point totals would have risen. In 12 games with the Montreal Canadiens this season, Sven looked extremely comfortable. Many fans hoped he would stay with the big club after scoring two goals and adding an assist in 12 games but that was not the case. In the eyes of many he looked comfortable and the pace of his game felt well-suited for the NHL. We will see if he can build upon his success throughout the offseason.
Round: 1 (26th overall)
Last season’s first round pick Nikita Scherbak had a great start with the Montreal Canadiens organization. Scherbak managed to impress the organization in his first training camp before heading back to the Everett Silvertips, his new Western Hockey League club after being traded from the Saskatoon Blades. This kid can score. With two seasons of junior hockey under his belt, Scherbak has totaled 160 points in 130 games. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has decent size to compliment his skating and stick-handling ability. The Habs should have high hopes for the shifty winger. I am doubtful that Scherbak will play with the Canadiens next season and we should assume that the Habs want him to garner some experience in the AHL once he turns pro.
Maybe the most intriguing of the bunch in this list is Daniel Carr. The Canadiens were able to sign Daniel Carr last year as an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA. In his four college hockey seasons, Carr was nearly a point per game player and scored 78 goals in 160 games. In his final NCAA season, Union College won their first national championship with Carr leading the charge. He led the team in scoring and became the program’s all-time scoring leader. Carr adjusted well to the professional game, as he was able to suit up for 75 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season and managed to lead all AHL rookies with 24 goals. According to Hockey’s Future, Carr is known for playing a solid 200-foot game, which will give him an upper hand in Therrien’s system if the Canadiens give him a fair chance come training camp.
Round: 4 (116th overall)
After two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, Martin Reway took his career to the pro level in the 2014-’15 season. This season, Reway played for the Sparta Praha of the Extraliga totaling 37 points in 34 games, which was good for third on his team. From what I’ve watched and read of Reway, he has sound hockey sense and his offensive threat comes from strong vision and playmaking skills. The Habs are in need of goal scoring and I can’t see them taking Reway over other players on this list with more goal scoring ability.
Round: 5 (147th overall)
Daniel Audette has played the last three seasons in the QMJHL playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. As an 18-year-old, Audette led his team in scoring this year with 73 points in 60 games. He is still a very raw talent with exceptional offensive skill, and according to Hockey’s Future, he will need to make adjustments to his defensive game in order to be effective at the pro level. Audette is currently playing the centreman position and may have more of a chance to make an impact at the pro level on the wing until his overall game improves. In my opinion, Audette is a longshot to crack the Habs roster next season.
I decided to leave certain names of the list, most notably Artturi Lehkonen, the Canadiens second round pick in 2013. Having yet to play in North America, I don’t expect Lehkonen to make the Canadiens roster until he makes the move overseas to learn the style of play. That said, he is another skilled player in the Canadiens system that could make some noise down the road.
The final top-six winger roster spot was a revolving door for the Habs this season with Dale Wiese, P-A Parenteau, Devante Smith-Pelly and others getting a chance. The Habs have internal options that may provide an offensive boost in the top six, but do the Canadiens have enough faith in their young prospects to fill the role?
Do you think the Habs have an internal solution to their goal scoring problems?