CANADIENS FORWARDS – Success Hinges on Number-One Centre

Sep 2nd, 2017 | By | Category: Canadiens, Latest News

Guy Lafleur used to complain that the Canadiens were made up of four – fourth lines. That was ten years ago. Last season they weren’t as bad as the Lafleur 2007 assessment, but it is no secret they had difficulty stocking their two top lines. As a result, they produced 173 even strength goals which ranked them 13th in the league.

Coaches like to tell us that today’s game is based on defense, but Stanley Cups are not won by teams that score an average of two even strength goals per game especially when they additionally have a lousy power play..

FILLING THE HOLE

It’s well documented that finding offense from the first line centre ice position is a Canadiens priority.   But, easier said than done. 

For most of last season Phillip Danault was their top centre. Much as I like his overall ability, Danault was in that role by default.

Tomas Plekanec had an awful season.  Alex Galchenyuk was a failure and we were left at various times with Torrey Mitchell, Andrew Shaw, Mike McCarron and Brian Flynn, none of whom’s scoring prowess ever caused opponents to lose sleep.  

It’s possible that Danault will improve on last season but just 40 points while playing between Pacioretty and Radulov isn’t first line production.

It’s also possible Plekanec will rediscover his offensive touch but I have my doubts. His point total dropped from 54 to 28 in one year. His goal scoring has dropped from 26 three years ago to 14 and then last season,10. And he turns 35 at the end of October  He still brings valuable defensive skills to the team but at this point on a good team he would be a really effective third line centre.   

Claude Julien has said he’s going to try Alex Galchenyuk at centre again but don’t hold your breath.  I still believe he doesn’t have the on-ice vision to be a top NHL centre.  I’m slso convinced, with his head in the right place, he’s going to be a very good winger.  Eventually the Canadiens are going to stop trying to force the figurative square-peg-in-the-round-hole when it comes to dealing with his NHL role.  

We’re also hearing that Julien might try Jonathan Drouin at centre, a position he’s not played on a regular basis since his midget days with the Lac St. Louis Lions six years ago.

From the farm system, at this stage Mike McCarron needs to work on putting some skating jump into his game which might ultimately generate offense, which has been almost non-existent so far.

The IceCaps used Jacob de la Rose at centre over the final months of last season and he seems to be close but don’t ever expect a lot of offense from him.

Charles Hudon started his pro career as a centre but the Canadiens coaches gave up on that idea two years ago. Beyond that there is absolutely no help coming from their AHL affiliate. 

And so, as it stands now, it’s Danault and Plekanec. To paraphrase Guy Lafleur, at centre ice the Canadiens have four third-liners.

ON THE LEFT SIDE

I often wonder where Max Pacioretty would be in the goal-scoring race if he had someone like Washington’s Niklas Backstrom to get him the puck on a regular basis. Backstrom certainly hasn’t hurt Alex Ovechkin‘s production.

When the Canadiens opened last season, left wing depth was an issue. Assuming that Jonathan Drouin winds up on that wing, the depth chart could read Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehknonen. Paul Byron also is listed as a left winger and big Andreas Martinsen is also in that mix..

We keep hearing that  Hudon is a threat to make the team on the left wing. He scored 30 goals last year for St. John’s but,considering his lack of attention to the defensive side of the game, I’ll believe his NHL arrival when I see it. And let’s not forget about Daniel Carr, who showed promise two years ago but now has to resurrect himself after last year’s struggles.

THE RIGHT WING

Last year, with Alexander Radulov, right wing was a strength. This year not so much.

Brendan Gallagher moves back up on the depth chart to the first line. After that it’s going to be interesting. Considering the left wing depth, I wouldn’t be surprised if either Drouin or Byron are shifted to the right wing. Each is a left shot, but their NHL coaches have not hesitated to put them on their off wings in the past. Andrew Shaw should be on the third line and they’re looking at Ales Hemsky for either the third or fourth line, depending on how he’s come back from last season hip injury.

Best minor league RW prospect is Nikita Scherbak who showed late season signs of justifying the Canadiens decision to make him a first round draft choice three years ago.

SUMMED UP

Be warned!  This an exercise in subjective speculation and almost assuredly ripe for change through either trade or training camp developments.  

No advance information leaks out of the Canadiens front office, so all of those rumours and the social media chatter have to be based on speculation and a lot of wishful thinking. Indisputable is the 8.5 million dollars Marc Bergevin has to spend, and he is going to do something with that money, probably before the end of training camp.  

For this exercise, we can only deal with the here-and-now.  And in the unlikely event things don’t change between now and the October 6th season-opener in Buffalo, here is way the Canadiens forward units might look.  

Max Pacioretty    Phillip Danault     Brendan Gallagher

Alex Galchenyuk    Tomas Plekanec    Jonathan Drouin

Artturi Lehkonen    Torrey Mitchell    Paul Byron

Ales Hemsky     Mike McCarron    Andrew Shaw

You can move players up or down in the pecking order but overall it doesn’t look very promising, does it?  Certainly not at the top end.   Thus you can understand the collective summertime angst from the Montreal fan base.

With that in mind, assuming (or hoping) that Bergevin is able to engineer a deal for a front line centre, here is how the landscape might change the look of the team.

Max Pacioretty    ???????     Brendan Gallagher

Alex Galchenyuk    Phillip Danault    Jonathan Drouin

Artturi Lehkonen    Thomas Plekanec    Paul Byron

Ales Hemsky    Torrey Mitchell    Andrew Shaw

That looks a lot better than the one we presented in the first projected lineup but this is based almost entirely on Bergevin’s ability to land that front line centre.  Regarding that, we must always remember that every trade action produces a reaction.  Something has to go the other way.  Bergevin will have to give up a key asset to order get one in return.  My guess Bergevin would prefer that to take the form of draft choices, but he would need a trading partner to agree to that, perhaps one of those five or six teams who face salary cap issues.  Otherwise, he would probably have to give up a major player off his roster.

And if that happens, you can throw out all of the above and start over..

NEXT UP – The Canadiens Defense.   

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