We all know the top end of Montreal’s depth chart on the left wing is strong due to the emergence of Max Pacioretty as a high quality front liner. Beyond him though, how does that position stack up in the rest of the organization?
Players are listed in the league that they played the most games, not necessarily the one they finished in. Alternative positions are listed in parentheses.
Signed: Jacob de la Rose (C), Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust
RFA’s: Michael Bournival, Alex Galchenyuk
With Pacioretty under contract for four more years (enjoy that for a moment before reading on), the Habs don’t have to worry about the top left wing spot for a while yet. In terms of the other signed players, there is next to no offensive upside. There’s a good chance that de la Rose, who played the wing for most of the year, is the checking centre of the future but even if he stays on the wing, he’s not going to be a point producer. Prust is a fourth liner who was too often miscast as a top nine player; while he brings some needed grit to the table, there’s little upside with a bit of a hefty price tag for an energy guy.
In terms of the RFA’s, Galchenyuk is probably high up on the offseason to-do list for Marc Bergevin. If they try to do a long-term pact as they did with Brendan Gallagher, it will limit their flexibility this summer but if they do a bridge deal, they’ll have more money to spend. The GM will want to know which way they’re going (even if the contract isn’t done) by the time July 1st hits. As for Bournival, he’s worth keeping around on a cheap deal; don’t be surprised if he signs below his $715,000 qualifying offer to help his chances of sticking with the big club.
Needs Assessment: Medium: If the team decides to move Galchenyuk to centre, there will be a top six vacancy on the left side that will need to be filled outside the organization. If nothing gets done with the centre logjam, it’s not crazy to think that the depth chart to finish last year will be the one to start 2015-16 although sending de la Rose to the AHL to work on his offence wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Signed: Daniel Carr, Connor Crisp
RFA’s: Drayson Bowman, Eric Tangradi
AHL Free Agents: Nick Sorkin (RW)
The depth doesn’t look too pretty here although there are a couple of players who will be coming up from the junior/college ranks next season. Carr caught a lot of people by surprise last year and it didn’t take long before he was a regular inside the top six while leading the AHL in goals by a rookie. Crisp had an injury riddled and disappointing rookie season. He’s going to be in a battle for fourth line ice time or will play in ECHL Brampton.
Bowman and Tangradi both had decent seasons with the Bulldogs last year. They were veterans who had a bit of a scoring touch and played well at both ends of the ice while Tangradi also brought a welcome physical game. As someone who would like to see a successful farm team, I think both should be brought back. However, I expect the Habs to release both of them for two reasons (to allow younger players to get more ice time and to give them a chance to catch on with a team that might give them a better NHL shot).
Needs Assessment: Low: With the two prospects (more below) moving to the AHL next year, there’s decent depth to start regardless of what happens with Bowman and Tangradi. If they come back, this will be a big strength and nothing will need to be done here; if not, they’ll likely look to add a veteran in a 2nd/3rd line role for St. John’s.
Unlike the blueline, the Habs have several interesting prospects in the pipeline. Two of them will be making the jump to the pro level, Tim Bozon and Mark MacMillan.
Bozon could have played in Hamilton last year but there were concerns about how he’d handle stronger players as he came back from his bout with meningitis. He should be a 2nd/3rd line winger before too long with the IceCaps. MacMillan had a decent end to his college career (though it ended prematurely due to a broken knee cap), earning himself a deal from Montreal. He’s the type of player that could endear himself to Sylvain Lefebvre and play a noteworthy role as the season progresses.
Montreal doesn’t have many forward prospects that legitimately have a chance at being a top six player down the road but both of the remaining unsigned players (Artturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway) could have that potential.
Lehkonen had a hot-and-cold season last year, his first in the SHL. He showed flashes of having a quality scoring touch but inconsistent play was a concern. He has one year left on his deal and will likely come to North America at that time. Reway is still a part of the organization despite an unwarranted level of panic as June 1st came and went and arguably is the most gifted offensive prospect Montreal has. However, his attitude and maturity level have been called into question wherever he has played while Reway has suggested in the past that he has no intention of signing with the Habs until an NHL spot is ready. There is a lot of upside but even more questions with him as a result.
Needs Assessment: Low: There are a few players with NHL upside which is always nice to have and something that isn’t the case with other positions in the organization. Of course you want to take the best player available but the left wing shouldn’t be an area of need for a little while.