The Habs have a fair bit of depth on the wing but most of it is on the left side, leaving the right wing a little thin which is something that can be said for their prospect pool as well.
Signed: Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw
UFA’s: Ales Hemsky
Gallagher was one of the few bright spots the Habs had in 2017-18. After another hand injury limited him to just 10 goals in 64 games, he bounced back with a career-best 31 tallies, played every game, and led the Habs in points. This is a good time to mention that he still has three years left on his contract at a team-friendly $3.75 million cap hit. With him locked up, the Habs have one of their top-two right wing spots intact for a while yet.
Shaw had a quiet but still somewhat effective season. His per-game offence didn’t drop too much despite spending a lot more time in the bottom six, he toned down the stupid penalties considerably, and he didn’t look out of place when he was asked to play centre. That’s not great value for his current contract but when healthy, he can still be an important part of the team. Staying healthy was an issue this last season and he’ll be on the shelf to start 2018-19 as well.
Hemsky was signed to a no-risk contract and wound up providing no reward as he suffered a concussion that ended his season (and perhaps his career) after just seven games. It’s safe to say he won’t be back.
Needs Assessment: Medium – While the Habs have some flexibility in the sense that several of their left wingers were deployed on the right wing without much issue, there is a distinct lack of right-shot forwards on this team. Gallagher and Shaw are really the only regulars who shoot that way (Byron Froese is also a righty but there’s a good chance he’s in the minors to start next season while Logan Shaw’s fate is up in the air). It would be nice to have some more balance, especially in terms of getting another top-six righty that can give the power play more shooting options.
Signed: Will Bitten*, Nikita Scherbak, Antoine Waked
RFA’s: Jeremy Gregoire
AHL Free Agents: None
* – Will be entering their first AHL season in 2018-19
Heading into the season, the hope was that Scherbak would be able to dominate in the minors. Once he was healthy, he did just that as he put up more than a point-per-game in his time with the Rocket. Things didn’t go as well with the Habs (six points in 26 games) and he had some rocky moments along the way but the offensive upside is still intriguing if he can put it all together. He’ll be up with the Habs full-time next season as he’ll have to go through waivers to go back to the minors and he’ll get claimed if they try that.
Gregoire improved on his first two seasons but that was a pretty low bar to clear. He’s a capable bottom-six forward in the minors but Laval should have plenty of those already which makes him a coin flip at best for a qualifying offer later this month. Waked looked good in training camp with the Habs but things went downhill in a hurry once he got to Laval where he was overmatched and a non-factor most nights. Starting next season in the ECHL wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
Bitten started 2017-18 down the middle in Hamilton but wound up on the wing to end the year and with the current outlook at centre (plus any potential additions), he’s more likely to start on the wing in the pros. While he showed some offensive upside in junior, that likely isn’t going to translate to Laval although, with the dearth of options they have at the moment, he may get a chance to jump into their top-six pretty quickly.
Needs Assessment: High – Scherbak will be in Montreal, Gregoire may be gone, and Waked might not even make the team. A right wing lineup that starts and ends with Bitten is not good at all. Yes, some of the extra centres will shift over but a top-six winger (or two) that is capable of scoring will be critical if the Rocket plan to have success in 2018-19.
As was the case on the left side, there really isn’t much to write about here. They basically have two unsigned forward prospects at the moment in Ryan Poehling and Joni Ikonen who are both natural centres. Max Friberg is still in the organization but he’s 25 and has two more years left on his contract so he’ll be a UFA once his deal with Frolunda ends. That’s as close as they have to a right wing prospect at this time.
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