The left wing has typically been a position of strength for the Habs in recent years. While that remains the case in Montreal, the same can’t be said for their prospects.
Signed: Paul Byron, Nicolas Deslauriers, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar
RFA’s: Charles Hudon, Artturi Lehkonen
Tatar wound up being one of the more pleasant surprises of the season for the Habs. After being thrown in for salary purposes more than anything in the Max Pacioretty deal, he wound up establishing himself as Montreal’s top (and most consistent left winger). All of a sudden, his $4.8 million cap hit (Vegas is paying another $500,000) doesn’t look like a cap anchor.
Drouin was supposed to be Montreal’s top left winger and wound up being arguably the biggest disappointment of the season. He got off to a pretty good start but struggled mightily down the stretch, scoring just once over the final 26 games while seeing his ice time cut. They’ll need a lot more from him next season.
Byron was his usual speedy self while scoring at pretty much the same rate he did over his first two seasons with the team. He now has a new four-year contract under his belt that takes him away from being one of the better bargains in the league to a fairly expensive bottom six player. Deslauriers, as expected, didn’t come close to his offensive output from the year before and his lack of speed was certainly evident when the Habs put speedier players out there with him. He’ll be in tough to crack the lineup in training camp.
Lehkonen has been a source of frustration for many over the past couple of years. He does all of the little things right and plays a strong two-way game. He clearly has earned the trust of the coaching staff. But he can’t score with any consistency and at times has become a bit of a black hole offensively. There’s certainly some potential that’s still there but after two straight quiet seasons in terms of his scoring, it’s fair to question if his rookie season was the mirage and not the last two.
Hudon’s future with the team is murky at best. GM Marc Bergevin claimed at the end-of-season press conference that they haven’t given up on him yet but he didn’t play once after the trade deadline which is typically a sign that the coaches have given up. He has a cheap qualifying offer but is arbitration-eligible which makes it far from a given that they’ll tender him later this month.
Needs Assessment: Low – Tatar and Drouin aren’t an elite top two but that’s a decent pair to work with. Lehkonen and Byron provide quality depth and the versatility to play on both wings. Unless there’s a legitimate top line addition available, the Habs are pretty well set here.
Signed: Michael Pezzetta, Joel Teasdale, Hayden Verbeek
RFA’s: Daniel Audette, Hunter Shinkaruk
AHL Free Agents: Alex Kile
To put it nicely, this is not a particularly strong group of wingers. Among the players that are under contract and actually played in Laval last season, Pezzetta and Verbeek both struggled considerably at times and while they each bring one particularly strong element (physicality and speed respectively), their all-around games aren’t good enough to be more than fringe role players just yet.
Teasdale was signed by Montreal after a strong showing at rookie camp, a decision that looks pretty good now after he was the leading scorer in the QMJHL playoffs and MVP at the Memorial Cup. Having said that, he’s not a player that fits a top-six profile at the professional level. As things stand, he’s going to be pressed into a role that he’s not really ready for which may not be the most ideal for his development.
It was an up-and-down season for Audette. He didn’t start particularly well and fell down the depth chart quickly before even being a healthy scratch briefly. To his credit, he didn’t sulk and improved as the season went on, posting a career year in the process. He probably hasn’t done enough for a qualifying offer but if he was open to accepting an AHL contract, he’d be worth bringing back. The same can’t be said for Shinkaruk. He had a brutal start to his year and between an injury and complete ineffectiveness, a dreadful finish. For a former first-round pick, five goals in 54 games was categorically unacceptable. He won’t be back and I’d be shocked if any NHL team makes him an offer for next season.
Needs Assessment: High – I hate to put this classification on anything associated with the AHL team but asking Teasdale to play on the top line next season would be a recipe for disaster. They need at least one impact left winger and probably two. It’s possible that someone like Matthew Peca (a natural centre) clears waivers and shifts to the wing next season but they’ll need to add some extra insurance regardless.
This was an area the Habs made some improvements in over the past year. On top of signing Teasdale, they made an intriguing pickup in Cole Fonstad. While he has spent some time down the middle, he spent a lot of the season on the wing. His production was a little erratic and he had a tough showing in the postseason but he’s a player that looks primed for a breakout campaign in 2019-20.
Jack Gorniak, picked one round earlier than Fonstad, had a fairly quiet year as expected in his freshman campaign. He’s a high-end skater and the rest of his game needs to round into form over the next few years. Montreal also technically has Max Friberg for one more year before he turns 27 and becomes an NHL free agent but he hasn’t done a lot since returning home and isn’t really going to be looking at another opportunity in North America down the road.
Needs Assessment: Medium – While both Fonstad and Gorniak are intriguing projects, neither realistically can be counted on to provide anything at the NHL level; most players in the back half of the draft won’t do that. We also know that there isn’t any immediate help coming from Laval so, at some point, a winger with a bit more upside would be nice to add.
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