After coming up short in last season’s playoffs, it was clear that the Montreal Canadiens’ greatest need was to find additional scoring in the top six and on the powerplay. While the jury is still out as to how effective recent signing Alex Semin will be, he seems like a positive addition to the offence. Yet it still leaves the most pressing need unresolved. With Carey Price, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty firmly in their primes (two of which on cap-friendly deals) the time to win is now, but this team is going nowhere unless the issues at centre are resolved.
At the moment it appears as though Montreal plans to go with Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller, and Torrey Mitchell at centre. With Plekanec a UFA at seasons’ end there are more questions than answers with this group. Theoretically Bergevin could hold out hope that someone like Eric Staal is available (and interested) come next summer or that he’s able to swing a deal for an aging Joe Thornton. But both of those scenarios are risky and unlikely, so the answer is clear:
Alex Galchenyuk needs his shot, if for no other reason than to see what the team needs moving forward.
One of the reasons that a move to centre is possible is the organizational depth at right wing which would allow either a signing of a left winger to take Galchenyuk’s spot on the 2nd line after the transition or for one of the current centres to shift to the wing. The lack of an elite-level winger on the right side has been discussed, but I would argue a by-committee approach may get the job done, especially considering the talent on the way. Let’s have a look:
Alex Semin & Brendan Gallagher
At this point they are the clear top six wingers on the right side. One has to assume that Semin will get a shot in the top six and on the powerplay, potentially giving the Habs a dynamic goal scorer unlike anyone else on the right side. Not too much needs to be said about Gallagher, he’s the heart and soul of this team and will do anything to get the job done. He’s not likely to score much more than 25 goals a year, but the intangibles he brings make him a top-line talent at a very reasonable price.
The acquisition of Kassian and a fifth round pick for Brandon Prust has to be seen as a great deal for Montreal. Though I’ve always been a huge fan of Prust – he’s a warrior whose contribution doesn’t always show up on the scoresheet – Kassian is bigger, younger, and has significantly more offensive upside. As a fan that has lived on the West Coast for my whole life I’ve suffered through plenty of Canucks coverage, including a healthy dose of Kassian bashing (much like another cast-off named Dale Weise…). Kassian has always seemed like he’s capable of much more and I have to wonder if watching Gallagher give everything he has every shift won’t have a positive effect on him. If he can put it all together and become a 20 goal power winger the Habs could be in business.
Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise
Rounding out the projected right wingers are Smith-Pelly and Weise. While neither is going to set the league alight they make for potentially strong depth players. Weise has proven over the past couple of years that he will take on any role and play his heart out – perfect for the bottom six. Smith-Pelly, like Kassian, seems like he may have another level. He won’t be an elite scorer, but if he can score 10-15 goals a year and make life miserable for opponents he could be a solid option for the third line. With the addition of Semin, one of them may need to move to left side to secure his spot in the starting line-up, particularly if Galchenyuk is moved to centre.
On the way
Montreal has two potential scoring right wingers on the way – Sven Andrighetto and Nikita Scherbak. Both of them bring high-level skill on the right side and will put the pressure on the likes of Kassian and Semin if they want to hold onto their spots in the top six. That’s not including Michael McCarron, who played as a right winger in the OHL prior to making the successful shift to centre with the Oshawa Generals and winning the Memorial Cup. With these three prospects it seems as though the Habs are in good shape moving forward at the position.
While the lack of elite production on the right side has been concerning to many (myself included) it now appears as though the position may be something of an organizational strength – opening the door to focus on the need for help in other areas.
This means that Bergevin has got to make a bold move and make room for Galchenyuk up the middle. That can be done by moving one of Desharnais or Eller to the wing or moving one of them out and filling the spot with a prospect like Daniel Carr or Charles Hudon or adding a veteran like Sean Bergenheim or Jiri Tlusty. With Semin added and Galchenyuk signed, this is what should be next on the GM’s to-do list this summer.