A preview of the 2017-18 Montreal Canadiens

Ahh, August is here and the countdown to hockey season begins. With pre-season hockey on the horizon, the time has come for some preliminary line predictions/opinions from yours truly.

The following will be sorted into three groups, forwards, defence and goalies. So sit down, get comfortable, and pour yourself a drink. This one is gonna take a while.

 

Forwards:

 

First Line:

Pacioretty-Danault/Galchenyuk-Lehkonen

Artturi Lehkonen Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The thing that probably jumps out at you here is Artturi Lehkonen on the first line, and I have him here because he is (in my opinion), Montreal’s most balanced forward. The 22-year old Finn’s wrist shot is a joy to watch and he is a fantastic 200-foot player. His playmaking could use some work, but he will benefit from the increased minutes, as well as getting the chance to play with Max Pacioretty, who is (regardless of public opinion) Montreal’s best pure goal scorer.

As for centre ice, Alex Galchenyuk should be given the job as he is the Canadiens best centre, as well as being fresh off a new contract extension. That being said, Phillip Danault has been, and likely will be the Canadiens first line centre. Head Coach Claude Julien, amongst other members of management, have taken a liking to Danault. I am not suggesting Danault is a bad player, he’s a good centre, just not first line calibre.

 

Second Line:

Drouin-Galchenyuk/Danault-Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin PHOTO AGENCE QMI, DARIO AYALA

The Habs big ticket acquisition this summer should be starting on the second line. Jonathan Drouin is the kind of player that can make others around him look better. Thus, being placed on the second line to provide balanced scoring to the other two members of the top six. Brendan Gallagher, despite coming off a low production year due to consistency and injury issues, still can fit in the top six. On paper, this line looks like it’s quite small. While height and weight wise this may be true, but to anyone to has watched a Canadiens game over the past few years, they know Gallagher to play as he is 6’5, 235lbs. For Drouin, while he is small, his work ethic and pure skill

Gallagher, despite coming off a low production year due to consistency and injury issues, still can fit in the top six. On paper, this line looks like it’s quite small. While height and weight wise this may be true, but to anyone to has watched a Canadiens game over the past few years, they know Gallagher to play as he is 6’5, 235lbs. For Drouin, while he is small, his work ethic and pure skill do negate the size disadvantage he may face in his match-up. For Centre ice, refer to the previous paragraph.

 

Third Line:

Hemsky-Plekanec-Shaw

Another new face in the Canadiens lineup comes in the form of Ales Hemsky. Obviously, his best years are behind him, and he has had trouble staying healthy, but he could provide a much-needed boost to

Ales Hemsky USA TODAY Sports/ Candice Ward

the bottom six. More of a playmaker than a scorer, the 33-year old Czech Republic native can open up more opportunities for Andrew Shaw, who while less skilled than his Chicago days would have you believe, is still a threat to provide efficient offence and his signature brand of physical play and his pest like attitude.

To address Tomas Plekanec‘s role on this team, he is still a capable centre, but last season’s failures cannot be ignored. Perhaps it was a fluke year for one of the modern Canadiens most consistent players, and I do think he can be better this season. Hopefully by playing with a fellow Czech in Hemsky, and Shaw giving them a little more room on the ice, Plekanec can return to his old self.

 

Fourth Line:

Byron-Mitchell-Hudon

Montreal’s lack of scoring became their undoing in the 2017 playoffs against New York. Another major flaw in the Canadiens system was their fourth line. Gone are Dwight King and Steve Ott, and in the modern NHL, a fourth line needs more than brute strength and toughness. Even though Paul Byron is coming off a career year, it cannot be expected that he will match those same numbers. That being said, his ridiculous speed is an asset to this team. Byron’s strength is in his skating, and he would be able to skate circles around an opposing team’s fourth line.

Charles Hudon PHOTO BERNARD BRAULT, LA PRESSE

Charles Hudon has the talent to play top six minutes and I believe he has earned the opportunity to be there. With the way that the Canadiens are setup, this is impossible. The Canadiens do have good depth on both the left and right sides of the ice. It is unfortunate that Hudon will be stuck there and the Canadiens will suffer due to his lack of defensive skill, but hopefully, he will get some powerplay minutes and be able to show the staff what he can do.

Torrey Mitchell is a fantastic fourth line centre. he is great defensively, he can win faceoffs and can chip in offensively. If the line is set up in this order, I truly believe the Canadiens fourth line will be much improved.

 

 

Defense:

First Pairing:

Streit-Weber

Montreal isn’t exactly dealing from a position of strength when it comes to puck-moving defenseman.

Mark Streit (Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Streit is 39-years old but is probably the best option the Canadiens have for a breakout defensmen. He can still make plays in the offensive zone, and allow Shea Weber to be Shea Weber. This is why he’s on my first pairing. I seriously considered placing new Canadien, and former KHL offensive D-man Jakub Jerabek in this spot, but I’ll get into that later.

 

 

 

Second Pairing:

Alzner-Petry

As we move down the depth chart for the Canadiens defensive group, the problem becomes quite clear. There are no puck-movers on this roster, and no offence will be generated from here. However, both Jeff Petry

Karl Alzner Photo: John E. Sokolowski, John E. Sokolowski)

and high profile free-agent Karl Alzner are both good at what they do. Alzner brings good defensive skill, but next to no offensive ability. This is shown by his career high 21 points on the offensively loaded Washington Capitals. I worry about Montreal’s breakouts when this line is on the ice, but Petry is able to show flashes of puck-skills from time to time. No doubt that this will be a pairing in which the opposition will struggle to move from end to end, but I am concerned about their ability to hold the puck in the offensive zone, and clear the defensive end.

 

 

 

Third Pairing:

Schlemko-Benn

Rounding out the bottom pair, we arrive at Jordie Benn and yet another new face in David Schlemko,

David Schlemko
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

who was acquired via trade from Las Vegas this offseason. Benn was arguably the 2nd best defenseman in the playoffs for the Canadiens and was a silver lining in a disastrous playoff run. Jordie showed flashes of defensive brilliance last season and had a surprising physical impact to the Habs late in the season. Going into his first full season with Montreal I expect he will provide the same bottom pairing defensive play he showed last year.

I have always liked Schlemko and his play. He is a player who can play both sides of the ice. He may not put up a ton of points, but his advanced stats, (which aren’t everything, but do have a factor) show his real impact. According to hockey-graphs.com, Schlemko was fantastic for New Jersey in 2015, “Of all Devils defensemen who played more than 200 minutes during the 2015 – 2016 season, no one contributed to entry assists more often than Schlemko.” Adding any forms offensive ability to the Canadiens will benefit the team, and adding Schlemko is a huge positive.

Depth:

Jakub Jerabek, Brandon Davidson

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about Davidson. He’s a decent depth defenseman, but he is a player the Canadiens have too many of. He may see limited time, but don’t expect too many games from him.

Jakub Jerabek
Photo: en.khl.ru

Jerabek, on the other hand, is a player who I would like to see get on the ice as much as possible. The recent signing from the KHL is an offensive dynamo. He was 5th in KHL defenseman scoring in 2016-17 and is ready to make the jump to the North American game. The only reason I don’t have him in the regulars for this year is the need for him to get adjusted to the smaller NHL sized ice. Expect for Jerabek to see some decent ice this year. He is currently under the teachings of former Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who hopefully will teach him the way.

 

 

Goalies:

Carey Price:

Do I really have to say anything here? Carey Price is Carey Price. Expect another great year from him.

 

Al Montoya:

Montoya had some issues with consistency last year but was a very effective back-up. His stats were jaded last year due to the 10-0 loss early in the season. Again, goaltending isn’t the issue in Montreal, so expect a good back up in Montoya.

Charlie Lindgren
BEN MCKEOWN / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Charlie Lindgren:

Lindgren is the Canadiens goalie of the future. If Price wasn’t here, I would debate having him up with the club full-time. In his limited games as a Hab, he has been very impressive. Should there be an injury to Montoya or Price, he will be the one the Canadiens will call to fill in. If injuries become an issue for Price this season, there’s a reasonable argument to start him over Montoya.

 

 

The 2017-2018 Canadiens are filled with new faces, alongside returning veterans who long to bring a cup to Montreal. However, time is running out. As each season passes, prime years are wasted. Now is the time to make a serious run. Or it may be too late.

 

 

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2 Responses to A preview of the 2017-18 Montreal Canadiens

  1. Good article, decent line combinations. Questionable grammar/editing.
    Content wise…
    Anything I didn’t personally agree with right away was explained at least enough to see the writers point.
    I’d think Drouin is a lock for first line, the fanfare and money symbolizes it. All depends on how he gels with Pax.
    I’m of the mindset that #27 plays first line centre for min 40-50 games to start season regardless of stats.
    So my first line looks like:
    Pax-Chuck-Drew
    Following it up:
    Lehk-Danault-Gally
    Hemsky-Pleks-Shaw (like the writers idea here, all of these three can move up lineup as needed)
    Byron-Mitchell-Hudon (writer had good points and both wingers can be moved up lineup depending on opposition and situation. As injuries and rest becomes an issue these wingers move up and youngins slide into 4th line, but at lower min. This fourth line means truly wearing teams down over 60 min while not over playing top 6. Truly roll 4 lines and let Hudon see some pp, Mitchell/Byron pk.
    D combos looked decent, minus Streit playing top pairing, but a better option is not really obvious. Hopefully Jerabek (?) forces his way onto roster and sheltered top pairing minutes perhaps with Streit alternating with him. What do i know tho. Go habs Go!

    Rick August 6, 2017 at 9:44 am Reply
  2. IMO Byron is very smart with the puck. I think with the right linemates he is quite capable of putting up good numbers. At the strat of last years when Pac was hurt the line of Chucky , Radu and Byron put up very good numbers

    habbernack August 6, 2017 at 1:42 pm Reply

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