Montreal Canadiens Season Preview
I like doing my season previews late.
I don’t understand why pundits do their season previews in the middle of August, when trades have not yet been made, training camp has not even started, and there are still some marginally impactful free agents on the market. Hence, I do my Montreal Canadiens season preview 5 minutes before puck drop.
The Canadiens are an interesting team. They are incredibly young, especially up front, but are not without veteran leadership, with age-30+ players Shea Weber and Carey Price solidifying the team’s core. I believe that this combination of young players and veterans gives the Canadiens a chance to win now and later, even after Price and Weber are past their primes. In this preview I am going to look at the current line combinations, as well as the best- and worst-case scenarios for Les Boys, and if this article isn’t too long by then, my predictions.
The Forward Corps
Tatar - Danault - Gallagher
Lehkonen - Domi - Suzuki
Drouin - Kotkaniemi - Armia
Byron - Thompson - Weal
Analysis: I don’t think I need to write much about the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line. That line was dominant last year. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Lehkonen-Domi-Suzuki is an interesting combination, and it showed flashes of brilliance in the final preseason game. Artturi Lehkonen provides a defensive conscience to this line, and while Domi and Suzuki are no slouches defensively, Lehkonen’s contributions in the defensive zone will be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, Nick Suzuki gets to ride shotgun with the best offensive player on the team. His underrated shot will have to be relied upon, so that he can finish Max Domi’s passes. My concern with this line is that there is no clear finisher. Lehkonen is extremely snakebitten, though he creates a lot of high-danger scoring chances. His shooting percentage last year was 6.3%. If he can find some luck he could become the finisher on that line, but otherwise we have to look at Nick Suzuki. Suzuki has an underrated shot, but is primarily a pass-first guy.
Moving on to Drouin-Kotkaniemi-Armia. Drouin needs to find some consistency. Fast. He has the potential to be a star on this team, but he needs to show up to every game ready to perform. Hopefully playing with a centre with elite potential in Kotkaniemi, as well as a physical, defensive-minded winger in Armia, will bring out the best of Drouin.
The fourth line of Byron-Thompson-Weal is a mark of the Canadiens’ impressive forward depth. When a two-time 20-goal scorer is on your fourth line, you have depth. Nate Thompson is a great defensive centre and a faceoff specialist. Jordan Weal is another offensive guy who has the potential to be a big contributor for the Canadiens, as evidenced by the 10 points in 16 games that he got after being acquired last season at the deadline.
Analysis: The defense should be much better this year, with Shea Weber back for a full season (hopefully). He and Victor Mete showed great chemistry last season, with Weber being the physical, stay-at-home defenseman on the pairing, and Mete being the puck-moving, playmaking defenseman on the pairing. They should continue this chemistry this season.
Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry also complement each other nicely. Chiarot, who was signed by Marc Bergevin this past summer, is another physical, stay-at-home defenseman, while Petry is a potent offensive blueliner who likes to carry the puck through the neutral zone. I expect another good offensive year for Petry, because now that he has a defensive partner, he will be able to jump into the play more often and therefore produce more.
Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury make a surprisingly offensive third pairing. Fleury had an amazing camp, and is well deserving of this spot. Meanwhile, Brett Kulak really solidified himself as an NHL regular last year, and while no longer getting top-4 minutes, will be looked upon to ease Fleury’s transition to the NHL.
Analysis: Carey Price is Carey Price.
Will we be seeing 2018-19 Keith Kinkaid, who struggled behind a terrible Devils team, or 2017-18 Keith Kinkaid, who carried the Devils to the playoffs? We shall see.
Everything goes right. Max Domi builds on his great year and reaches point-per-game or higher. Jonathan Drouin has a breakout season. The Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line finally gets recognized for its dominance. Jesperi Kotkaniemi becomes a legitimate top-6 centre. Nick Suzuki transitions seamlessly to the NHL and receives Calder votes. Ryan Poehling gets called up very soon and adds to the Canadiens’ already crazy forward depth. Victor Mete scores a goal and evolves into a legitimate top-4 defenseman. Shea Weber ages like a bottle of whiskey; he only gets better. Jeff Petry sets new career highs. Carey Price is Carey Price. Keith Kinkaid enjoys a bounce-back year with a more limited workload. The Canadiens do not get a divisional spot, because that would mean facing one of Toronto, Tampa Bay or Boston, which does not bode well for a playoff run. Therefore, the Canadiens get the first wild-card spot, and face the winner of the Metropolitan division in the first round of the playoffs. The Canadiens can beat any team in the Metro in a seven-game series, and I think they will meet their end in the conference finals against Tampa Bay. Keep in mind, after reading this lofty proposition, that this is the absolute best-case scenario.
Jonathan Drouin struggles, gets traded for a minimal return, and suddenly thrives in a new city. Max Domi regresses. Jesperi Kotkaniemi hits a sophomore slump. Nick Suzuki hits a wall shortly into the season and goes to the AHL. Ryan Poehling stagnates in the AHL and never gets called up. Victor Mete extends his scoring drought to 202 games. Shea Weber regresses due to age. Jeff Petry, well, I can’t find anything negative to say about him. Carey Price struggles, and frustrated with the lack of support in front of him, requests a trade. Turmoil ensues. Keith Kinkaid, like Antti Niemi before him, cannot find any consistency. The Canadiens fall behind everybody except Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa, Columbus and New Jersey, and celebrate their hosting of the draft with the 10th overall pick.
My Prediction: 1st wild card spot, facing Washington in the first round, beating them in seven hard-fought games, then losing to Carolina in the second round. Points leader: Max Domi with 82. Goals leader: Brendan Gallagher with 35.
Mesdames et Messieurs…
…veuillez souhaiter la bienvenue à votre…
…Canadien de Montréal!