With Alex Semin back in the dog house, the question of who should the right wing alongside Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller has resurfaced. Unfortunately for the Habs, there aren’t many realistic options on the current roster.
Given the success of the Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais lines so far, it would seem unlikely that Michel Therrien will rush to break either of those up so none of those players will be considered. Let’s look at the rest of the internal options though.
Pros: Like Gallagher, he can surprise by how feisty he is for his size and he certainly is much more of a threat with his speed than Semin.
Cons: His skill level just isn’t good enough to thrive on a scoring line, especially his shooting touch (or lack thereof if you ask Calgary fans).
Verdict: Byron is a threat more in transition than anywhere else. This line gets a lot of offensive starts (Galchenyuk and Eller lead the team in offensive zone starts) which mitigates a lot of what Byron could bring to the table. He’s probably the least desirable of the options here.
Pros: Over the past few years, he is the one that most consistently has spent time on a scoring line (with Buffalo and in the AHL) so his offensive awareness might improve over time. He could also take strong side faceoffs.
Cons: Flynn doesn’t really bring any particular element to the table other than he’s a safe player that isn’t going to hurt (or help) much. He’s not getting anybody going.
Verdict: Flynn is the definition of short-term filler when it comes to this RW spot. He’ll eat up some minutes but isn’t going to mesh with Eller and Galchenyuk on a skill level.
Pros: Has shown a scoring touch earlier on this year and can keep up pace wise. Like Flynn, being a right handed centre could help for draws on that side of the zone.
Cons: Mitchell has a long track record of offensive struggles and despite his hot start to the season, he’s not viewed as a legitimate scoring threat. He’s at his best in a defensive/shutdown role and the Galchenyuk line seldom plays in those situations.
Verdict: Of the four 4th line options, I like him in this spot the best. I’d suggest he has a better shot of catching lightning in a bottle for a week or two than the others. But he’s best off on the fourth line which is a major asset for Montreal. As a result, I wouldn’t want Mitchell in this spot for long.
Pros: Smith-Pelly adds some grit/sandpaper to the line and has had some success on scoring lines in the past with Anaheim.
Cons: He’s not fast enough to keep up with those two and his success rate on scoring lines with the Ducks was hit or miss.
Verdict: As a short-term option, Smith-Pelly would be passable as his physicality is an element that none of the other players can provide. But he hasn’t been a scorer before and it’s not likely that he’ll be one which means he isn’t going to be the one to get Eller and Galchenyuk scoring more consistently.
With Alexei Emelin missing the last few games while he’ll miss the next few as well, the Habs can retroactively place him on injured reserve and open up a roster spot for someone perhaps to come up from St. John’s.
However, as there are already 12 healthy forwards, this wouldn’t qualify as an emergency recall. So if the team is worried about waivers, this would eliminate Bud Holloway and Christian Thomas from consideration. Players like Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr, and Michael McCarron could all be options though. But this would only be a short-term option as whoever was recalled would have to go back down when Emelin returns. (Unless someone else gets hurt, traded, or waived.)
If anyone has made it this far and is excited about the internal possibilities on Galchenyuk’s right wing, I admire your optimism. If you’re like me though, you’re not particularly enthused about any of these options.
That brings us back to Semin, who has now been pulled off of that line twice. Despite that, he still probably is the best option in the short-term. His lack of speed is an issue while his compete level has varied and that’s a big chunk of the reason he’s back in the press box. The latter of those two can be improved at least.
Semin’s shot has to be considered a threat in spite of everything else which means he has to be covered. Teams can’t cheat off him to double up on someone else like they can with pretty much all of the other options and giving Eller and Galchenyuk a bit more time and space to work is arguably more of an asset than what the others can bring to the table. And if you keep tabs on the possession metrics, Semin grades better than the fourth line options as well.
Has Semin thrived with the Habs thus far? Certainly not. However, despite his flaws in the early going, he still seems to be the best internal option the Canadiens have at the moment to play on Galchenyuk’s right wing. I have a hunch Marc Bergevin may be working the phones to try to change that but until then, Semin is likely going to get another chance.