To say that the Habs have a lot of fourth line forwards would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, you could reasonably argue that they have four lines worth of them.
Looking at Montreal’s depth chart up front, we realistically know five of the top six forwards – Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Alex Radulov, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Plekanec. We also know that Andrew Shaw and David Desharnais are safely in the top nine. Sven Andrighetto seems to be a likely candidate to have a bigger role next season so let’s pencil him into one of the open spots. After that, however, there are a collection of depth players or youngsters that could slide into that last top nine spot, play on the fourth line, or be sent to the minors.
Here’s a closer look at all of the potential fourth line options:
Paul Byron – His new three year deal begins this season and he’s a safe bet for one of the fourth line spots and should once again see plenty of penalty kill time.
Phillip Danault – Marc Bergevin thinks he could be ready for a bigger role so perhaps he slides into a third line spot. If not, he’s an option for the fourth line or perhaps even the 13th forward.
Brian Flynn – He’s Montreal’s top faceoff player and has positional versatility but doesn’t play a typical fourth line style of game. With a cap hit that can fully be buried in the AHL if need be, his roster spot could a bit more tenuous than it was a few months ago.
Stefan Matteau – Bergevin noted they had been trying to acquire him going back to last preseason. Matteau didn’t exactly reward their faith in him but if management still sees some potential, he’s a strong candidate for an end-of-roster spot.
Torrey Mitchell – He was the regular fourth line centre for most of last season and it’s safe to pencil him into that spot again for 2016-17. He also could potentially move up when there are injuries.
The New Guys
Bobby Farnham – The Habs signed him presumably to provide some protection for their youngsters on the farm but after playing 53 NHL games last year, he could be in the mix for an end-of-roster spot to be used against more physical opponents.
Artturi Lehkonen – After a strong season (and an even better playoff) in Sweden, Lehkonen will take aim at a roster spot as a rookie. He could be a contender for the other top nine spot or could start him in a fourth line role if they want to keep him with Montreal instead of assigning him back to Sweden.
Chris Terry – After being pretty much a regular with Carolina the last two years, Terry seems to be earmarked for St. John’s (pending waivers) but has shown he can handle a regular fourth line role in the NHL.
The Call-Up Options
Daniel Carr – Realistically, Carr should be on the team. He made a very strong impression last season and earned a one-way contract as a result. He’s still waiver exempt which could work against him in training camp though. If the Habs want some offensive punch on the fourth line, he could fill that role.
Jacob de la Rose – He earned the trust of Michel Therrien two seasons ago but took a step back last year. However, even after last season, he could still safely be pencilled in as a fourth liner though starting with St. John’s would be more ideal.
Charles Hudon – The top returning scorer from the IceCaps last season, it was surprising that he didn’t get much of a look with Montreal despite the injuries last year. If they’re not sold on him yet, he might have to start his NHL career on the fourth line.
Michael McCarron – Physically, he’s ready to take on a full time fourth line role right away. Is playing eight minutes a game in the NHL better than 20 minutes a night in the minors? I’d say no but unless he falls off completely next season, he’ll likely be in that NHL fourth line spot at some point.
All of the 12 players above – four lines worth of players – could very easily play on the fourth line in Montreal next season. That’s a lot of depth for not a whole lot of spots.
For those who think Bergevin should try to flip some of the more veteran depth, keep in mind that there are plenty of fourth line guys available in free agency, why would a team trade for one when they sign a comparable player for free? There’s a very good chance all of these players are around when training camp opens up in September which if nothing else should make for a very intriguing battle.
There’s a school of thought that you can never have enough depth but the Canadiens may be putting that to the test here. If nothing else, they should be in better shape in terms of recall options if the injury bug strikes again in 2016-17.