The left wing has been an area of strength the last few years for the Habs but with Alex Galchenyuk’s expected full-time move to centre, the position isn’t quite as deep as it has been. Here is how the left side shapes up throughout the organization.
Several players played at both centre and the left wing this past season. I’ve placed them based on their expected role for next year or, when their role is uncertain, where they played the most in 2015-16.
Signed: Paul Byron, Stefan Matteau, Max Pacioretty
It’s safe to say there is a big gap between the three that are under contract. Pacioretty is Montreal’s most dangerous goal scorer and an undisputed front line winger that plays in all situations. And, of course, he’s their captain. Add in the fact that he’s signed for three more years on a team-friendly deal and you have yourself a franchise cornerstone.
The same can’t be said for the other two. Byron had a nice season after being added on waivers to replace the suspended Zack Kassian and quickly worked his way into a regular role in the lineup, particularly as a penalty kill specialist. That earned him a three year extension before the trade deadline and a spot on a projected fourth line for next season.
Matteau was added at the deadline from New Jersey in a change of scenery type of acquisition. The early returns weren’t particularly impressive as he struggled on the fourth line. However, Marc Bergevin noted he had been trying to acquire him for a while so it would seem likely that they’ll be patient with him and keep him at the end of the roster to start next season. If they want to send him to the AHL, he’ll need to pass through waivers.
Needs Assessment: Medium – While the above group is clearly lacking in depth, at least one of the centres (likely Lars Eller who will be covered in the centres article) will shift to the wing. Even with that though, there is still a need for a second line addition as Eller is best suited for a two-way third line role at this stage. Whether that comes through free agency or a trade, it’s an area that Bergevin will likely look to address this summer.
Signed: Tim Bozon, Connor Crisp, Jacob de la Rose
RFA’s: Michael Bournival, Daniel Carr, Lucas Lessio
UFA’s: John Scott
AHL Free Agents: Brandon McNally
While it’s still possible that de la Rose becomes the fourth line centre of the future, he spent a lot more time on the left side at both the NHL and AHL levels this past year. Because of Montreal’s depth down the middle, there’s a good chance the Swede starts in the AHL in 2016-17 and should do so in a top six role to work on his offensive game, something that remains a work in progress.
Bozon disappointed in his first pro campaign. He wasn’t able to produce much offensively in the AHL (he fared a bit better in the ECHL) and spent most of the year in a bottom six role. Although it would be ideal for him to step into a top six role next year, he’s probably not ready to start there. Crisp missed most of this past season with a concussion and isn’t more than a fourth liner at this point.
The restricted free agents provide some interesting options for the Habs. Carr continued his strong play with St. John’s and made quite an impression in Montreal as well. He could contend for a roster spot with the big club but he has one year of waiver exemption left despite coming off his entry-level deal which may force him down if they run into a bit of a numbers game with waiver-eligible players in training camp.
Lessio was acquired midseason and played a depth role for both St. John’s and Montreal. His speed is a huge asset but he hasn’t put the rest of his game together. Bournival was a regular with the Canadiens not all that long ago but concussions have set him back. He didn’t play well with the IceCaps before his symptoms returned, ending his season early. He has received the green light from team doctors to fully resume training which is good news. However, the Habs are likely going to up against the 50 contract limit next year and it isn’t crazy to think one or both of these two could be traded or go unqualified to make some room. If they are brought back, both need waivers to get to the minors.
As for McNally, he had a quiet year overall and isn’t likely to return. We all know the back story with Scott. He was nice for St. John’s marketing campaign but it would be shocking if he was back next season.
Needs Assessment: Low – Assuming at least one of the three RFA’s is back with the IceCaps to start next season, they’ll have a decent 1-4 grouping on the left side. More depth is needed but that will likely come in the form of AHL contracts, one to replace McNally and perhaps one other although several other returning players can shift over to this side. There are more prominent holes to fill in at the AHL level than this one.
The top prospect on the left side was unsigned up until recently when Artturi Lehkonen inked his entry-level deal. Where he winds up next year is a mystery, though. He could contend for a roster spot with Montreal (I wouldn’t put him in the discussion for the #2 LW role behind Pacioretty though), he could start in the minors, or he could be back with Frolunda of the SHL where he dominated in the postseason thanks to his European Assignment Clause. If he isn’t NHL ready at the start of the year, it may not be too much longer before he shows that he is.
Jeremiah Addison had a career year with Ottawa of the OHL but still failed to crack the point-per-game mark despite playing in his fourth full junior campaign. He’s eligible to return as an overager although he’s also eligible to go to the minors (either on an NHL two-way deal or an AHL contract). He projects as a fourth line energy player if he can make it (which is a big if) and could conceivably serve in that role with St. John’s if the team wants to skip his last junior season.
Needs Assessment: Medium – Lehkonen is a legitimate NHL quality prospect, likely in a 2nd/3rd line role but there’s nothing really behind him. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add one or two more at the draft although they could also continue a recent trend of picking centres and moving them to the wing instead.