The Habs have amassed quite a bit of depth on the right wing when it comes to their NHL team but does that depth extend to the rest of their system as well? Our positional look across the organization concludes with a look at their right-shot options.
For the purpose of breaking down the wingers, it will be done by handedness. We know some players will be interchangeable and play on both sides so the easiest way to break it down is by which way they shoot.
Signed: Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher
Caufield had high expectations heading into last season but struggled mightily over the first half of the year before having a high-end second half following the coaching change. With four years of team control left after this one (more if they work out a long-term deal and bypass a bridge contract), he’s set to be a part of the young nucleus for a while as a focal point of Montreal’s attack.
Anderson brings some elements that make him a dangerous player but he doesn’t typically produce with much consistency. However, the elements he has (physicality, speed, and a decent scoring touch) will help him generate some trade value even with an above-market contract. Signed for five more years, Anderson is under contract for a while but his name could be back in trade speculation as the trade deadline approaches again.
With Carey Price not returning anytime soon (if ever), Gallagher is the longest-tenured player on the Habs. He’s going to be sticking around for a while as he begins a six-year contract that was doomed to be problematic for the Canadiens from the day it was signed. He’s coming off a rough year but there is some cause for optimism with him having a full summer to recover. Gallagher isn’t going to suddenly rediscover his 30-goal form but he should have a better season in a middle-six role.
Armia opted not to test free agency last summer and it’s a decision that worked out well for him as he got a fairly big contract from Marc Bergevin, one that he didn’t live up to a year ago. Even if one of Caufield or Anderson play on the left side, the highest that Armia can realistically play is on the third line most nights and he’s most likely to be on the fourth, albeit in an important defensive role. Speculatively, he’s someone I could see being on waivers in training camp, not because he isn’t good enough to be on the team but rather because with three years left on his contract at $3.4 million per, he’s not getting claimed in this cap environment.
Needs Assessment: Low – With those four, if they all stay on their natural side, they’re pretty much set unless Armia becomes a cap casualty. There are several lefties that can move over as well so nothing needs to be added at this position this year.
Signed: Alex Belzile, Jesse Ylonen
AHL Contracts: Anthony Beauregard, Ryan Francis
AHL Free Agents: Devante Smith-Pelly
Ylonen had a decent second season with the Rocket and didn’t look out of place in limited action with the Canadiens either. He should be one of the first players recalled but the pressure will be on this year as he will need to show enough to management to indicate that he’s ready to supplant one of the four righties on Montreal’s roster for 2023-24 and beyond. If GM Kent Hughes isn’t sold that he can do that, he’s someone that could be on the trade block before too long.
Belzile is a capable veteran that can play in all situations with the Rocket and hold his own on the fourth line in Montreal. That’s not a particularly exciting profile but all teams should have one or two of these types of players around. He shouldn’t see much time with the Habs this season but Belzile should be a fixture in Laval’s top six, even if Montreal opts to prioritize the development of some youngsters with the Rocket. Good prospects need good veteran buffers and Belzile should be one of those.
In terms of the AHL contracts, Francis is a former Calgary prospect that signed early in AHL free agency. He’s someone that should spend some time with Laval and Trois-Rivieres next season. Beauregard will be entering his second stint with the organization after getting some time with the Rocket after his Canadian college career came to an end. He should be a regular at the top of the lineup with the Lions but he probably won’t see a lot of action in Laval barring injury.
Needs Assessment: Medium – I know there’s a fair bit of winger depth already and there is a lot of interchangeability when it comes to forwards in the AHL but an extra player or two would help. It could be as simple as signing some of their rookie camp invites like Pierrick Dube and John Parker-Jones, both of whom look worthy of a longer look.
Filip Mesar could go in the above category as he is eligible to play in Laval. I’m skeptical that the AHL is the right spot for him next season, however. The 2022 first-rounder needs to be in a situation where he gets plenty of minutes in offensive situations and that’s the OHL, not the minors. Mesar, who also can play down the middle in a pinch, is an intriguing skill winger with some top-six upside that will probably be a few years away from the NHL.
Blake Biondi had a pretty underwhelming first year at Minnesota-Duluth in 2020-21, leading some to wonder if he’d have been better off staying in the USHL for another season. However, he was much better last season as he worked his way into a top-six role and even had a brief look at training camp for USA Hockey’s entry into the summer World Juniors. He remains a bit of a project – especially when it comes to his skating – but Biondi has gone from being a bit of an afterthought to a prospect with some intrigue.
Vinzenz Rohrer barely qualified for this past draft (by less than a week). He led OHL Ottawa in scoring and spent time both on the wing and down the middle. As far as CHL players go, he’s more of a project than a lot of players are but there’s an NHL profile as a bottom-six energetic forward with a bit of a scoring touch if all goes well. He’s another particularly intriguing project.
Needs Assessment: Medium – With a potential top-six winger and a couple of projects with some upside, there’s a decent base to work with. However, there isn’t a lot of depth in the system either and with prospect attrition rates being what they are, the Habs will need to add to this group either by some acquisitions as they move some veterans closer to the trade deadline or in the 2023 draft.