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The most discussed area up front for Montreal is the centre position. Talent wise most feel the depth is there, it's just the size (or lack thereof) that's a concern. This position is also an area the Habs have focused a lot on in recent drafts and as a result seem to be in good shape moving forward.
There were a lot of negatives in the 2011-12 season but Desharnais was one of them. He shattered his previous career highs across the board en route to a pleasantly surprising 60 point campaign which placed him third on the team in total points. Statistically speaking it was a down year for Plekanec whose 52 points were his lowest in three seasons although in his defence he played more of a shutdown role and, especially late in the year, had mediocre wingers to work with on the best of nights. As for Gomez? I think we all know the story there by now, he followed up a sub-par 2010-11 season by putting up as many points as his number. Though signed, most expect he won't be with the team come October.
As for the RFA's, Eller still figures to be part of the team moving forward. His offensive game improved as did his defensive efforts although consistency is still a concern. With Michel Therrien now behind the bench, that doesn't bode well for Eller if he can't turn it around. His size (the lone one over six feet tall) does work in his favour at least. Nokelainen was brought in to give the team some extra depth last year and that's about the only thing he was good for. Although he is projected to be a restricted free agent, I'd guess there's a good chance he goes unqualified.
Needs Assessment: Medium - Production wise, Plekanec and Desharnais aren't a bad 1-2 tandem to have down the middle. Of course, it would be nice if one of the top two centres had better size but there are 29 other teams who feel the same way; the odds of adding one this year are low (even if they draft one, that player likely won't put up second line production). Grit is an area that can stand to be addressed, something Marc Bergevin can look to fill via trade or free agency. If both Eller and Desharnais stay at C, that fourth line player may be the only newcomer next season.
There are quite a few players here with NHL potential although none of them figure to be big producers at the NHL level. Bournival and Holland both had good years offensively but the early reports on them is that both are more likely to be two-way forwards at the pro level. As both are heading into their rookie seasons in Hamilton, there will be some early growing pains. Dumont, who played with the Habs late in the year, gets by with a never-say-die attitude and all-out effort, qualities that surely will endear him more to Therrien than a 24 point sophomore AHL season.
The RFA's are all filled with question marks - will they be back? I have to believe the Habs will want to keep Engqvist around to be a veteran leader and defensive specialist with the Bulldogs while being a callup option if injuries arise. However, he has fielded multiple offers out of Sweden and may choose to go back home. Fortier showed offensive improvement last year but also (yet again) missed a big chunk of the season. Although I'd like to see him qualified, there's a case to be made that he could be let go as well. As for Slaney, he was mediocre at best after being acquired in the Hal Gill trade, it's highly unlikely he gets a qualifying offer.
Needs Assessment: Low - You can assemble pretty much any combination of the above names and feel somewhat comfortable about the centre position in Hamilton. As is always the case, a veteran scorer would be nice to have to take some pressure off the young guys but that's about the only true need. Converted wingers such as Joonas Nattinen and Louis Leblanc (if not up with the Habs) could help shoulder some of the scoring load as well. There aren't really any gritty players out of this group but they play enough of a tenacious game to hold their own in the physical department.
It has been previous years that the Habs have focused on drafting players down the middle so the class of players here is a little thin. Daniel Pribyl is the most prominent of this group. He earned a spot on the Czech Republic's World Junior team although injuries forced him to play a very limited role. He also spent some time in the top Czech league which is encouraging for an 18 year old 6th round pick. His combination of skill and size is certainly intriguing. The same can be said for Dustin Walsh who finished his third season in college. He averaged over a point per game but the bad news was that injuries forced him to only play in ten contests. That's ten more than Michael Cichy who was forced to sit the season after transferring to Western Michigan. There is certainly offensive potential with all of these players but there are big question marks with all of them as well.
Needs Assessment: Medium - With a pair of rookies moving to the AHL this season, the situation for young centres isn't as grave as it would appear to be. There certainly isn't a blue chipper among the group nor even a safe 'organizational player' which is a little concerning though. We all know the top centre options in the upcoming draft, picking up one of them would make this a lot better but even if they go a different route, a second or third round pick that has upside as a bottom six forward would add a missing element to this section of the Habs' prospect base.
- Assessing the Depth: Left Wingers posted by B. La Rose
- Assessing the Depth: Goaltenders posted by B. La Rose