A lot of attention has been paid to defencemen by the Canadiens in these past
few seasons. The NHL blueline has nearly entirely been made over in recent
years while no fewer than eight defencemen have been selected by Montreal in the
past three drafts. Despite that, there are still some holes on the back
end that need to be addressed by the organization in the not-too-distant future.
Signed: Francis Bouillon, Raphael Diaz, Davis Drewiske, Alexei Emelin,
Josh Gorges, Tomas Kaberle, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban
RFA: Yannick Weber
The defence corps was much maligned towards the end of the regular season and
into the playoffs but it does have its strengths. Subban, the reported
Norris Trophy winner, provides a sound all-around game while Markov and Diaz
bring above average puck movement and offensive skills to the table. (So
too does Kaberle but he’s likely going to be bought out.) As a result, the
Habs have one of the top bluelines when it comes to production. Weber, if
he returns, would also add to the offensive depth but he probably has played his
last game with Montreal.
Unfortunately, production isn’t everything when it comes to playing defence.
This isn’t the biggest nor the most physical group out there and there were too
many defensive zone lapses for anyone’s liking towards the end of the year.
Jarred Tinordi (who appears in the next section since the bulk of his year was
in the AHL) should be able to help in that regard but he alone won’t cure these
woes. Emelin, their lone true physical d-man, will miss a good chunk of
2013-14 recovering from a knee injury, further exacerbating that weakness.
Needs Assessment: Medium – The team already has a full complement of
defencemen signed for next year but it’s pretty clear that they still need to
add. In particular, a defensive minded physical rearguard would fill a
variety of needs and also potentially allow Tinordi to spend some more time
honing his skills in the minors which would be beneficial for him. With
nearly $20 million committed to the defence corps though (assuming Kaberle gets
the second compliance buyout), how much more money with Marc Bergevin want to
spend on the blueline?
Signed: Nathan Beaulieu, Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, Magnus Nygren,
Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi
RFA: Joe Stejskal
UFA: Jason DeSantis, Frederic St-Denis
This is a very young and very promising group of signed defencemen that has a
little bit of everything. Like Montreal’s squad, offensive skills are
highly prevalent. Beaulieu wound up leading the Bulldogs in scoring and
will be able to rely on a pair of newcomers, Dietz and Nygren, to take some of
the weight off of his shoulders. Ellis demonstrated in junior that he has
the capability to contribute on that side but will need to pick up that part of
his game after a mediocre rookie campaign.
Also similar to the Habs is the lack of defensive minded and physical
blueliners. Pateryn and Tinordi are the only pure stay-at-home players of
the group while Tinordi and Dietz are the lone physical ones. The most
glaring hole is the lack of veterans though. St-Denis isn’t likely to
return; he wants a shot at playing in the NHL and he’s far enough down the depth
chart to know that chance will have to come elsewhere. In terms of age,
the ‘veteran’ of the group is Pateryn who is all of 22 years old.
Needs Assessment: High – The talent is there, all of the six
defencemen under contract have legitimate NHL potential but Bergevin needs to
avoid making the same mistake in not providing them with a veteran anchor or two
(that’s still capable of playing regularly) to ease some of the burden off the
youngsters. Players like Beaulieu, Ellis, and Tinordi were thrown to the
wolves last year and still managed to progress to varying degrees. Give
them some help in the form of a veteran or two to learn from and they should
take big steps forward in 2013-14.
With Dietz and Nygren signing recently, this isn’t an overwhelming list but
there still are some decent prospects in the system. In college, Mac
Bennett continues to improve steadily while Josiah Didier is a punishing
physical defenceman that the organization could use more of. Colin
Sullivan also recently completed his first season and ideally should have a
larger role next season. At the CHL level, it was a down year for Dalton
Thrower but his mix of skill and grit make him a prospect worth signing.
As he has completed four years of junior hockey, he is eligible to play in the
minors in 2013-14 but has not yet inked a contract.
Needs Assessment: Medium – In theory, all of these players could turn
pro in a year from now (Sullivan won’t but he is eligible to) so there is a need
to add some more blueliners to the system. After going forward-heavy in
the 2012 draft, I would expect that one or two of the Habs’ first six picks will
be defencemen to keep the pipeline flowing.