The Habs have strong depth on the left side up front but can the same be said for the rest of the organization? Our depth series continues with a look at Montreal’s left winger situation.
Signed: Paul Byron, Nicolas Deslauriers, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, Max Pacioretty
RFA’s: Daniel Carr
For now, at least, Pacioretty is still a member of the Habs. It doesn’t seem likely that he will be a month from now but if he does return, he should be fully healthy and motivated to have a big contract year. That would bode well for him returning to his 30-goal form or at least coming close to doing so which would give the Habs their number one winger back.
Galchenyuk remains a bit of an enigma. While his defensive game improved as the year went on, so too did his offensive performance. Was that a sign of things to come or him just picking up his play when the pressure is off like he did a couple of years ago? Either way, he’s still a legitimate top-six winger (and I think we can give up on the notion of him playing down the middle in Montreal).
Byron was a big surprise in 2016-17 and may have been more of one this past season. No one expected him to put up 22 goals a year ago and pretty much everyone expected a considerable regression. He still managed to put up 20 tallies despite a notable dip in his shooting percentage and for someone who is more of a pure speedster than a sniper, that’s pretty impressive. His availability for the start of next season is in question, however, after undergoing shoulder surgery back in April that could take up to six months to recover from.
The youngsters in Hudon and Lehkonen had somewhat similar years statistically but the perceptions were a lot different. Hudon had a solid rookie campaign and earned more ice time as the season went on and in the process, he showed that he is a legitimate NHL player. Lehkonen struggled mightily for most of the year but was a lot better down the stretch where he picked up nearly half of his point total on the season in the final six weeks. The big question with him remains whether or not he’s a legitimate top-six option moving forward. If they don’t think he is, I wonder if he becomes a trade candidate if the Habs need to move a young NHL player as part of the deal.
Deslauriers and Carr both cleared waivers to start the season but things went up from there. Both were recalled in November and made immediate impacts. Deslauriers went on to have a career year and earned a two-year contract extension in the process. Carr also had a career year but may have played too well to be qualified. He has a good arbitration case which makes him a bit of a risk to receive a qualifying offer; the award he could get in a hearing is higher than what his worth is to the team as a fringe player on the roster.
Needs Assessment: Low – Even if Pacioretty is dealt, the Habs have good depth on the left side, especially if Jonathan Drouin is shifted to the left wing if they were to magically acquire a number one centre. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pursue a left winger in free agency to replace the captain if he is dealt since there is decent depth at that spot on the open market but they have a fairly young group with a bit of upside still to work with if they just keep the rest of the group intact.
Signed: Jeremiah Addison
RFA’s: Kerby Rychel
UFA’s: Chris Terry
AHL Free Agents: Jordan Boucher, David Broll
Rychel was part of the return for Tomas Plekanec and while the jury is out about his NHL upside (though he fared okay in four games with the Habs at the end of the year), he has been a productive scorer in the minors the last couple of years. Assuming he’s qualified and clears waivers again in the fall, he will give Laval a legitimate threat offensively (and as things currently stand, he may be about the only above average forward they have).
Addison’s first professional season was all but a write-off. A shoulder injury sustained before the season even began kept him out of the lineup until March and then he was in and out of the lineup as the team was trying to ease him back in without asking him to play three games in as many nights. He’ll slot in as a bottom-six forward next season.
Terry was the top scorer in the league in 2017-18 and is going to be very tough to replace. It seems likely that he will look to go elsewhere after the Habs didn’t give him a chance last season. For a team that struggled to score, losing the top point getter is really going to hurt.
Boucher fit in well in his first full professional season and quickly earned Sylvain Lefebvre’s trust. He was moved up and down the lineup and played both wings; that type of versatility is nice to have in depth players. There are a lot of bottom-six forwards there already but if he’s open to another minor league deal, he’d be worth bringing back. Broll was a non-factor for most of the season and now qualifies for veteran status and it’s not worth using a veteran slot on a fourth line tough guy.
Needs Assessment: High – Laval is transitioning to a younger team up front next season but most of their newcomers are either centres or play the opposite wing. Adding some depth is required at a minimum but at least one top-six left winger needs to be added – two if they fear Rychel won’t make it back via the waiver wire. It’s rare that any minor league need is high but this one qualifies.
Well, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss here. Montreal’s recent focus on drafting centres and defencemen means that they don’t really have any unsigned left winger prospects. Michael Pezzetta spent some time on the wing after his OHL rights were dealt but he was still drafted as a centre and may be given the opportunity to start there at the professional level. He’s the closest they have to a left wing prospect at this point.
Needs Assessment: Medium – The fact they have none makes me want to go higher here but I also don’t think they should be passing up potential fits at centre in an effort to give themselves better left wing depth. It’s easier to convert a centre to the wing than the other way around.
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