Earlier in this series, I lamented the lack of the depth on the left wing in
all facets of the Habs’ organization. There was one blue chip player and
little else to be all that excited about. Fortunately for the Montreal
Canadiens, the situation on the right side is much better both in quality and
As quite a few wingers in the organization can play both sides, their
positions for the purposes of this series will be based on the position listed
on our depth
Signed: Erik Cole, Brian Gionta
RFA: Ryan White, Aaron Palushaj, Michael Blunden
UFA: Brad Staubitz
Cole spent most of the 2011-12 season being one of the most vaunted scorers
on the team, something that isn’t expected to change next year. What will
change is that, barring another long-term injury, he won’t be the only scoring
winger on the right side as Gionta will be ready to return from injury and
should be counted on to score at least 20 goals again. Unfortunately there
are some question marks beyond those two though.
White was often thrust into an offensive role which is clearly something he’s
not capable of playing. He can, however, be a good energy guy from the
fourth line. Palushaj is supposed to be an offensive player but he too
failed to produce when given the opportunity. He no longer is waiver
exempt and his presence on the team next year is far from a certainty. The
same can be said for Michael Blunden as although he brings a physical element,
he brings little else and is in danger of losing his job. Staubitz as we
all know can fight. If Michel Therrien wants a pure ‘enforcer’ he might be
kept around. If not, he’ll be looking for a new home next year.
Needs Assessment: Low – Assuming White is re-signed, three of the four
wingers will already be in place. There is a need for a shutdown player as
White isn’t ready to step into third line minutes but beyond that the needs are
limited. There also is the possibility that one of the players listed on
Hamilton’s roster below could move up and take on that role (a certain former
first rounder pops to mind). Of the different areas the Habs have to fill,
this is one of the better stocked ones.
Signed: Louis Leblanc, Brendan Gallagher, Alexander Avtsin, Ian
Schultz, Alain Berger, Steve Quailer
Most of the signed players fall into two rather extreme categories – players
who did well and players who couldn’t have played much worse if they tried.
Leblanc had a quality rookie campaign with Hamilton and although he looked
overmatched at times with Montreal, he did enough to demonstrate that he will be
a quality player for them in the near future. Gallagher had yet another
high scoring season in junior while playing an important role at the World
Juniors. He is jumping up the prospect depth chart in a hurry as a result.
Then there are the negatives. Avtsin followed up a lousy rookie season
with the unthinkable, an even worse sophomore season that at times saw him
nailed to the bench while ECHL’ers on tryouts saw playing time. He’s under
contract still but I have to wonder if both he and the organization may be
thinking re-assignment to Russia might be in his best interest. Berger
came to the Hamilton under the guise of being a power forward.
Unfortunately, to qualify for such a label, he’d actually have to score,
something he did just once in 47 games.
Schultz, the one player who
doesn’t fall into either category, took advantage of some early injuries to play
his way back into the organizations’ good graces, even earning himself a couple
days on the NHL roster partway through the season. Quailer, who just
signed this week, should bring a bit of grit to a lineup that looks like will be
lacking in that department with a bit of scoring touch.
Needs Assessment: Low – If Leblanc starts the season in Hamilton (I’m
a big proponent of that idea although I know I’m in the minority there), there
will be precisely zero holes to fill in terms of filling roster spots.
It’s hard to pin this on a rookie but I think Gallagher’s development (the speed
of it) will go a long way in determining their early season success; if he can
handle a regular scoring load as a 20 year old, they’ll be in good shape.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see one player added but that could very well be a
player on an AHL-only deal to allow Berger and/or Quailer to get more regular minutes by
playing the ECHL.
The Habs lack quantity here but their lone prospect, Danny Kristo, has
legitimate NHL upside. He’s not the greatest all-around player but he’s a
natural scorer, something the team lacks in its prospect corps. His
college days will one way or another be over after this coming season so sooner
than later we’ll know if he will go into the clubs’ system or opt for the free
Needs Assessment: High – It’s nice that the lone prospect in this
category has NHL potential but possibly having a situation late next year where
the team may have no unsigned prospects at a forward position (at least those
that are natural right wingers) can’t be a good thing. (Having one
position where that’s the situation – goalie – is bad enough, two would be