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For years, the Habs have lacked a go-to scorer at left wing.  Max
Pacioretty took several strides forward in 2011-12 with a 33-goal campaign but
the depth behind him isn’t anything to get excited about.  Unfortunately
for Montreal, the same can be said at all levels of the organization, this
position is a big area of need.

As quite a few wingers in the organization can play both sides, their
positions for the purposes of this series will be based on the position listed
on our depth


Signed: Max Pacioretty, Rene Bourque
RFA: Blake Geoffrion
UFA: Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche

It’s safe to pencil in Pacioretty as a bonafide top-two left winger while
Bourque at least has the potential to be one if his effort and consistently
levels can improve under new coach Michel Therrien.  Given his past though,
that’s far from a given.  Geoffrion didn’t exactly make the most of his
late season promotion either; there are more questions than answers as to what
role, if any, he could fill with the Habs in 2012-13.  I think the club
will want to keep both Moen and Darche but as I noted in Moen’s
, the market is weak enough that he may price himself out of their
price range.  Darche demonstrated a considerable amount of flexibility as
to being able to play different roles

Needs Assessment: High – It’s not entirely farfetched to suggest that
there could be more new left wingers on the NHL roster than returnees next
season.  In a perfect world, Bourque would be a third liner with some
scoring upside which means another top six winger is needed.  One of the
vacancies needs to be filled by a physical player while there is also a vacancy
for the prototypical ‘checking forward’ that draws assignments against
opponents’ top lines.  It’s not entirely uncommon to put recently drafted
centres on the wing to allow them to ease into an NHL role, the third overall
pick could be an option to fill one of these spots as well.

Minor Pro

Signed: Phillipe Lefebvre, Joonas Nattinen
RFA: Andrew Conboy, Dany Masse, Hunter Bishop
UFA: Brian Willsie

And you thought the depth looked bad in the NHL, didn’t you?  To be
fair, the Bulldogs often played multiple centres on the left wing which skews
this assessment a bit but even with that it looks bad.  Lefebvre, in a
perfect world, doesn’t start the season in Hamilton but instead is ECHL bound. 
Nattinen seemed to be in the doghouse for the early part of the year but became
a go-to player for Clement Jodoin as the season went along, often slotting in as
a front liner.  There is some upside with him but he is still a couple
years away.  Conboy is still an intriguing prospect but at best he’s a third line forward. 
Bishop missed all of last year with a preseason concussion and in all likelihood
will go unqualified, the same fate could be waiting for Masse.  He has
improved each year and frankly merits a contract offer but with all the rookies
coming in, quite a few regulars from last year will be shown the door.

Needs Assessment: Very High – Even with a couple centres sliding over
as anticipated (I think Michael Bournival may
see time there in 2012-13), help is still needed on the left side. 
For starters, a veteran is needed, one that can play in the top six (preferably
the top line).  With the incoming youth infusion as other positions and the
inevitable struggles during their adjustment period, a scoring left winger (if
not two) would really go a long way in helping Hamilton get off to a strong
start.  Like with the NHL squad, there isn’t the defensive shutdown forward
although one of the centres shifting position could possibly fill that role; a
minor league defensive forward usually isn’t a position that teams seek to fill
via the free agent market.

Unsigned Prospects

Things will be a bit better here if the top two pan out.  Mark MacMillan
(who also plays C) is a long-term project but had a very encouraging freshman
season at North Dakota.  Olivier Archambault (who also plays C) is
one of the more raw prospects in the organization but has strong offensive
tools, it’s the rest of his game that needs to come together.  The only
other left wing prospect currently is Maxim Trunev (and he spends a good chunk of time on
the right side) whose development has stalled in the KHL.  He has been
loaned to Yaroslavl for next season and it doesn’t appear likely he’ll ever come

Needs Assessment: High – Of the listed unsigned prospects above, none
are actual true left wingers, they just play there sometimes.  As much as
the Habs haven’t had a lot of draft picks in recent years, it’s still quite
surprising that there isn’t really a true left wing prospect in the
organization.  I think it’s safe to say that needs to change.  It’s
one thing to shift centres to the wing to try and aid/expedite a players’
development but doing so out of necessity is far from ideal.  I’m not
saying the Habs have to go use the #3 pick to get one but spending one of their
second rounders to get one with NHL upside wouldn’t be a bad way to go.