HabsWorld.net -- 

A cursory glance at Montreal’s potential roster for next year shows there’s still one more vacancy inside the top six up front. Could new acquisition Andrew Shaw potentially fill that void?

I’m sure some of you are already thinking, “Not another grinder in the top six, haven’t we seen enough of that already?” Fortunately for those who, like me, have not-so-fond memories of the days of Brandon Prust and Dale Weise playing on the top two lines with regularity, Shaw is a class above those players.

From a production standpoint, he looks the part of a borderline #6 forward. Speaking very generally here, a top six forward should have a points-per-game rating inside the top 180 league wide (30 teams x 6 top sixers per team). Last year, 180th in points-per-game (filtered by those who played at least half the season) is 0.45 PPG; interestingly enough, David Desharnais finished exactly at that rate. Shaw came in at 0.44 and was at 0.49 two years before that. His career rate is 0.43, so suffice it to say, he’s at least in the vicinity of being a top six forward in terms of production.

Granted, Shaw spent a lot of time with Jonathan Toews last year and he’s a premier forward.  To be thorough, these were his five primary line combos at even strength last season, courtesy of Dobber Hockey:

Frequency Trio
46.3% Andrew Shaw – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
18.6% Andrew Desjardins – Marcus Kruger – Andrew Shaw
13.4% Bryan Bickell – Dennis Rasmussen – Andrew Shaw
11.1% Ryan Garbutt – Jonathan Toews – Andrew Shaw
10.5% Andrew Ladd – Jonathan Toews – Andrew Shaw

Yes, Shaw spent almost 68% of his even strength time with Toews but also spent 32% of it on what could only be called a third line at best if not a fourth (with Bickell and Rasmussen).  It’s not as if Shaw simply rode Toews’ coattails all year long and only had 34 points to show for it, including power play time.  The not-so-good linemates have to be taken into account a bit as well.

For the Habs, even though they don’t have anyone of Toews’ calibre, Shaw playing in the top six would play with two of Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Alex Radulov, Tomas Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher.  No, they’re not Toews, but they’re not chopped liver either; they’re all legitimate top six forwards.  It’s hard to foresee there being much of a drop off based on linemates and when you consider that Shaw averaged 14:39 per game last season, which is below average for a top six player, a TOI boost for him if he was to be a regular top six forward would likely result in him picking up a few more points.  That right there would offset most of a potential drop off from not being with Toews.

I’m not going to sit here and suggest that Andrew Shaw is an ideal top six forward for the Habs.  In a perfect world, he’d be a third liner that moves up when injuries inevitably arise.  But if they don’t add anyone else between now and the end of training camp and none of the younger players step into that role, Shaw should be able to hold his own and be at least passable in the top six.  It’s far from Plan A but they could do a whole lot worse, especially if they foresee one of the youngsters taking that step later in the season.