HabsWorld.net -- 

Many would agree that centre is the most important of the three forward
positions and fortunately for the Habs, it’s an area that has some depth and
talent.  As was the case on the left wing though, the same can’t be said
for their minor leaguers and unsigned prospects.  As a result, finding some
more talent down the middle is probably going to be an offseason priority for
Marc Bergevin.

As quite a few forwards in the organization can play in multiple spots, their
positions for the purpose of this series will be based on the position listed
on our depth


Signed: David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Tomas Plekanec
RFA: Ryan White (RW)
UFA: Jeff Halpern

Offensive talent at centre is a strength for Montreal, something that we
haven’t been able to say consistently over the past few years.  Plekanec
isn’t a true #1 but consistently puts up the points, Eller took several strides
forward in 2012-13, and Desharnais is only a year removed from a 60 point
campaign.  There’s also Alex Galchenyuk who will probably start on the wing
next season but will move back to his natural position before too long.

Unfortunately for the team, none of these players are particularly gritty
although Eller took his physical game up a notch or two at the very least. 
This is why White, despite his repeated instances of going over the edge, should
get a qualifying offer and another chance to prove his worth.  He was also
the lone Hab that spent the entire season with the team with a faceoff rating
better than 51%.  It’s that lack of team success on faceoffs that I’d like
to see Halpern re-signed (in more of a depth role) although I don’t think that
will happen.

Needs Assessment: Low – Plekanec-Desharnais-Eller provide the Habs
with a competent 1-2-3 punch.  Two of the three are quality defensive
players and production wise, they’ll put up a points total that should be
comparable to the top three centres of a lot of teams so this isn’t a glaring
hole that needs to be filled.  If Bergevin wants to supplement the depth, a
two-way centre that’s good on the draw is always a nice piece to add and would
allow for greater roster flexibility.  Adding another tough fourth line
centre option to push White is another reasonable possibility.

Minor Pro

Signed: Michael Bournival, Joonas Nattinen
RFA: Gabriel Dumont
UFA: Petteri Nokelainen

On the surface, it doesn’t look to be too dire of a situation but every one
of these players has a question mark.  Dumont was the highest scoring of
the group but he needs to clear waivers next year to return to the team. 
Is there a role for him with the big club and if there isn’t, will he clear? 
Bournival had a strong second half to his rookie campaign but can he be counted
on to be a top two centre for the full season after spending a lot of time on
the wing?  Nattinen was playing well before suffering a season-ending
injury.  Will he be able to not only return but take on a much greater
role?  As for Nokelainen…well, he’s not coming back.

Needs Assessment: High – Regardless of what happens with Dumont, a top
line centre is a must-add for Bergevin.  A veteran that can shoulder some
of the offensive load would make life a lot easier in Hamilton; finding one that
could be a potential callup would be an added bonus (instead of just a career
minor league veteran).  A physical and energetic centre that can kill
penalties is another area of need but that can likely be filled through AHL free

Unsigned/Junior Prospects

For an organization that seems to draft a lot of centres, this is not an
impressive group.  Brady Vail, Montreal’s 4th rounder last June, is the
best of the bunch.  He got off to a great start with Windsor before cooling
off significantly in the second half.  Part of that can be attributed to
the fact he spent over half a month as a regular defenceman.  His defensive
smarts and versatility make him a quality prospect in a bottom six role. 
Dustin Walsh is the next best on the list but barring a change of heart from the
organization, he’ll be released on August 15th.  He has size and skill but
can never stay healthy.  Michael Cichy returned to action in 2012-13 after
having to sit a year due to a transfer.  He played a minor role despite
being a veteran and will need a monster season to even be considered for a
contract at this time in 2014.

Needs Assessment: Very High – Vail is the only prospect of the three
that will be signed so the pipeline needs some restocking.  Whether it’s
top six guys, defensive specialists, hitters, fighters, etc, there is a need for
pretty much everything.  With eight selections in the draft, at least two
will likely be centres.

The fifth and final part of this series will focus on right wingers and will appear later this