It wasn’t all that long ago that the right wing was a position of weakness for the Habs. They’ve made several strides in that area in recent years to make it one of their deeper spots but can the same be said at the other levels?
Several players played at both centre and the wing this past season. I’ve placed them based on where they played the most in 2015-16. (Recent acquisition Jonathan Drouin projects as a left winger as things stand so he does not appear here.)
Signed: Brendan Gallagher, Andreas Martinsen, Andrew Shaw
UFA’s: Brian Flynn, Alexander Radulov
It wasn’t a great year for Brendan Gallagher (although he did pick it up in the playoffs). His shot wasn’t particularly strong after a 2015-16 wrist injury and that was exacerbated by another wrist problem this season. It’s at the point now where there should be some concern about his ability to get back to his production of a couple of years ago. Given his contract and style of play though, they’ll be more than comfortable giving him another look.
Shaw is who everyone thought he was. At times he was an effective player with a knack for some timely goals while at others, he was a liability who was more interested in starting scuffles and retaliating than making the right play. Fortunately for the Habs, there was less of the nonsense towards the end of the season. Depending on what happens with the centre position, Shaw could be a candidate to move over to the middle at some point as well.
Martinsen was a trade deadline pickup who didn’t play a whole lot down the stretch but must have done enough to impress someone in management or the coaching staff as he recently signed a one year deal. If he makes the team, it will likely be in a fourth line/reserve role but he’s a candidate to hit the waiver wire at the end of training camp as well if some youngsters or invites impress.
Radulov is the key here. If he re-signs, he’ll jump back into that top line role and give the Habs very strong depth on that side while being another legitimate top six forward. Term seems to be the sticking point and GM Marc Bergevin hasn’t handed out a lot of lengthy contracts to players in their 30s before so this will be one to watch. As for Flynn, his agent reached out to start discussions but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be back unless they also envision him as someone who could potentially start at Laval and serve as depth.
Needs Assessment: Medium – If they can find a mutually beneficial deal for Radulov, they’re pretty much set here. If not, then they’ll have to consider playing Drouin on the right side (he has spent some time there) or perhaps look to add a middle six winger in free agency and go with more of a by-committee approach. They’ll know what direction they’ll be going before too much longer.
Signed: Jeremy Gregoire, Nikita Scherbak
RFA’s: Max Friberg
AHL Free Agents: None
Scherbak didn’t take a big step forward like some hoped for but he did improve on his rookie campaign at both ends of the ice. He is arguably the most skilled offensive prospect they have in an organization that is rather bereft of skilled offensive prospects but patience is still required here. He has two years left on his entry-level deal and he may need both of them before he’s really NHL ready.
After an underwhelming rookie season, Gregoire followed it with an even more underwhelming sophomore campaign. He spent a big chunk of the year in a fourth line role and wasn’t even a regular in the lineup down the stretch. His offensive game has waned considerably and all of a sudden he looks like a longshot to become an impact AHL player let alone a potential NHL one.
Friberg’s offensive numbers were underwhelming but he was still a core forward for St. John’s this past season. Not only was he their captain but he was also one of their top checkers. It has already been confirmed that he won’t be back as he signed with Frolunda in the Swedish League. He’s going to be a big loss for the Rocket for next season.
Needs Assessment: Medium – There isn’t help coming from the junior level so this may be a signing where they’ll need to dip into free agency. If the plan is to give Scherbak top line ice time, they’ll need someone to step into a second line role and be a two-way threat, similar to what Friberg did for them. That’s not an easy spot to fill. They’ll also want to add some depth options on AHL contracts.
Antoine Waked had quite the overage season at the junior level and parlayed that into an entry-level deal with the Habs. It’s not likely that he’ll contend for an impact role early on. Instead, he may be better served starting off in the ECHL where he can get top six ice time instead of being in a bottom six one right off the bat in Laval.
Needs Assessment: Medium – Will Bitten seems like a strong candidate to move to this side so the cupboard isn’t entirely bare. It’s still an area that needs to be addressed but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the focus up front be down the middle at the draft this season with the thought that the prospects picked could shift to the wing down the road if need be. It’s not really a great fix but it’s the likeliest outcome. While Montreal’s depth at this spot in the NHL isn’t bad, the same can’t be said here.