Expectations were high for Christian Dvorak heading into last season and he didn’t meet them. However, with a strong finish following the coaching change, could he be in line for bigger things in 2022-23?
After the Habs opted not to match the offer sheet Carolina tendered to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Habs flipped what was supposed to be their first-round pick plus a 2024 second-rounder to Arizona to get Dvorak. Thankfully, Marc Bergevin put a top-ten protection on that first-rounder which meant the one from Carolina ultimately was the one that transferred.
Dvorak entered the season as the undisputed second-line centre, a role that he held with Arizona the year before. The early returns were a bit underwhelming. While he was able to win faceoffs at a higher-than-expected rate, his output dropped relative to his previous two seasons in the desert. That’s hard to spin as a positive for the Habs and it’s ultimately his performance in the first few months that has had him in trade speculation for the last few months. Also worth noting is that he managed just one power play goal after having 14 over the previous two seasons.
Dvorak missed time due to a lower-body injury in December and a concussion in January so he had to wait a little while to make his debut for Martin St. Louis. Under his tutelage, Dvorak’s point production improved (17 points in 22 games versus 16 in 34 contests under Dominique Ducharme) despite averaging less ice time per game. To be fair, a lot of those were secondary assists but it allowed him to finish his season on a bit of a high note and provide a little cause for optimism heading into 2022-23.
Stats: 56 games, 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points, -19 rating, 24 PIMS, 1 PPG, 1 GWG, 87 shots, 17:22 ATOI, 56.7% faceoffs
5 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
While many expect that Kirby Dach will be behind Nick Suzuki as the second centre on the depth chart, I’m not so sure of that. The way Dvorak finished coupled with the fact that Dach will be learning a new system from scratch makes me believe there’s a chance that Dvorak starts on the second trio and gets the first chance at holding down that spot. As the season progresses, I think the two of them are largely going to be interchangeable at five-on-five; both will see time on the second and third lines.
From a special teams perspective, one of the bigger surprises from last season for me was Dvorak’s lack of power play production. Dach could cut into that but I go back to his last two years in Arizona when he had 14 goals with the man advantage. I don’t expect the power play to become high-end next season (even good might be a stretch) but I do think there’s a role for Dvorak and a chance for him to pick up a few more points in that situation.
Assuming Martin St. Louis doesn’t want to overwork Suzuki, it’s likely that his penalty kill time will be limited which should allow Dvorak to once again be among Montreal’s leaders for shorthanded ice time. Even with Dach in the fold now, there shouldn’t be a substantial drop in his ATOI from last season when all is said and done.
At 26, Dvorak is still young enough to have a breakout year. As I look at my projections from him for last season (18-27-45 in 82 games), it really wouldn’t shock me if he produced at that level next season. The shooting percentage goes up a couple of ticks and there’s some carryover in terms of picking up secondary points; it’s not an unrealistic scenario by any stretch. I think both he and the Habs would be quite content with that outcome, especially if they are open to the idea of moving him.
That said, I’m not going quite that high with the projections this time around. Montreal’s attack will be better but it’s still going to be at the lower end of the spectrum relative to the rest of the league and while he’ll see some top-six time, Dach will get some too. I could see Dvorak’s ATOI around 16-17 minutes next season and even with the potential boosts (a more attack-oriented team and more power play points), his point total shouldn’t be substantially higher than 2021-22.
From a fantasy perspective, he’s a player to shy away from in 12-team formats or shallow 14-team ones. He’s a 3C or 4C in other leagues that managers are going to want to pick around the three-quarter mark of the draft. Drop him down a bit in the rankings if your pool counts shots on goal as he has never topped two per game. As for faceoffs, his improvement last season, if sustainable, could give you a lift in that category. He’s worthy of a small boost in rankings for leagues that count total faceoffs taken as well; as Montreal’s lone left-shot centre coupled with being their best at the dot, he’ll get a lot of late-game situations to pad the total faceoffs won category.