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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
A lot of attention has been paid to defencemen by the Canadiens in these past few seasons. The NHL blueline has nearly entirely been made over in recent years while no fewer than eight defencemen have been selected by Montreal in the past three drafts. Despite that, there are still some holes on the back end that need to be addressed by the organization in the not-too-distant future.
The defence corps was much maligned towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs but it does have its strengths. Subban, the reported Norris Trophy winner, provides a sound all-around game while Markov and Diaz bring above average puck movement and offensive skills to the table. (So too does Kaberle but he's likely going to be bought out.) As a result, the Habs have one of the top bluelines when it comes to production. Weber, if he returns, would also add to the offensive depth but he probably has played his last game with Montreal.
Unfortunately, production isn't everything when it comes to playing defence. This isn't the biggest nor the most physical group out there and there were too many defensive zone lapses for anyone's liking towards the end of the year. Jarred Tinordi (who appears in the next section since the bulk of his year was in the AHL) should be able to help in that regard but he alone won't cure these woes. Emelin, their lone true physical d-man, will miss a good chunk of 2013-14 recovering from a knee injury, further exacerbating that weakness.
Needs Assessment: Medium - The team already has a full complement of defencemen signed for next year but it's pretty clear that they still need to add. In particular, a defensive minded physical rearguard would fill a variety of needs and also potentially allow Tinordi to spend some more time honing his skills in the minors which would be beneficial for him. With nearly $20 million committed to the defence corps though (assuming Kaberle gets the second compliance buyout), how much more money with Marc Bergevin want to spend on the blueline?
This is a very young and very promising group of signed defencemen that has a little bit of everything. Like Montreal's squad, offensive skills are highly prevalent. Beaulieu wound up leading the Bulldogs in scoring and will be able to rely on a pair of newcomers, Dietz and Nygren, to take some of the weight off of his shoulders. Ellis demonstrated in junior that he has the capability to contribute on that side but will need to pick up that part of his game after a mediocre rookie campaign.
Also similar to the Habs is the lack of defensive minded and physical blueliners. Pateryn and Tinordi are the only pure stay-at-home players of the group while Tinordi and Dietz are the lone physical ones. The most glaring hole is the lack of veterans though. St-Denis isn't likely to return; he wants a shot at playing in the NHL and he's far enough down the depth chart to know that chance will have to come elsewhere. In terms of age, the 'veteran' of the group is Pateryn who is all of 22 years old.
Needs Assessment: High - The talent is there, all of the six defencemen under contract have legitimate NHL potential but Bergevin needs to avoid making the same mistake in not providing them with a veteran anchor or two (that's still capable of playing regularly) to ease some of the burden off the youngsters. Players like Beaulieu, Ellis, and Tinordi were thrown to the wolves last year and still managed to progress to varying degrees. Give them some help in the form of a veteran or two to learn from and they should take big steps forward in 2013-14.
With Dietz and Nygren signing recently, this isn't an overwhelming list but there still are some decent prospects in the system. In college, Mac Bennett continues to improve steadily while Josiah Didier is a punishing physical defenceman that the organization could use more of. Colin Sullivan also recently completed his first season and ideally should have a larger role next season. At the CHL level, it was a down year for Dalton Thrower but his mix of skill and grit make him a prospect worth signing. As he has completed four years of junior hockey, he is eligible to play in the minors in 2013-14 but has not yet inked a contract.
Needs Assessment: Medium - In theory, all of these players could turn pro in a year from now (Sullivan won't but he is eligible to) so there is a need to add some more blueliners to the system. After going forward-heavy in the 2012 draft, I would expect that one or two of the Habs' first six picks will be defencemen to keep the pipeline flowing.
- Assessing the Depth: Goaltenders posted by B. La Rose