The right side of Montreal’s back end has been an issue in recent years and with both Shea Weber and Jeff Petry gone, it will continue to be an issue for a while. However, they do have some prospects in the system that will provide some hope for the future.
For the purpose of breaking down the defence pool, it will be done by handedness.
Signed: Justin Barron, David Savard, Chris Wideman
When Marc Bergevin knew that Weber wasn’t going to be playing last season, he decided to try to at least replace his defensive presence and added Savard on a four-year deal. The hope was that he’d replace his physicality and kill some penalties and, to be fair, he did that. However, he struggled considerably, especially in the early going. At this stage of his career, the 31-year-old is best utilized as more of a fourth defender. However, with Montreal’s current back end, he’s on the right side of their top pairing.
Barron is one of the prospects that will provide some hope for the future. The centrepiece of the trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to Colorado at the trade deadline, the 20-year-old got into five games with the Habs before suffering an ankle injury that ended his season early. He has just seven career NHL contests under his belt so it’s quite possible – if not likely – that he sees some time in Laval but Barron looks like he’ll eventually be a quality core piece on the back end for the Canadiens. He might a chance to be in that core role as soon as this season.
Wideman returned to the NHL last season after playing the year before in the KHL. He was basically the same player he was in his first stint in North America – a player that is capable of chipping in offensively but gives that back and more on the defensive side of things. He’s on a two-year deal at the league minimum in both seasons and fits in well as a seventh defenceman that can fill in when needed. He may get a bigger role than that to start with Montreal not having a lot of offence with the rest of their blueliners.
Needs Assessment: Medium – From a long-term perspective, they absolutely have to address this. But with 2022-23 looking like a rebuilding year, this isn’t something they have to do for next season. Adding a player that could make it easier to send Barron to the minors would be nice. Speculatively, I could see a right-shot defender being added on waivers in training camp with the Canadiens having top claiming priority.
Signed: Madison Bowey
AHL Contracts: Santino Centorame, Tory Dello, Alex Green
AHL Free Agents: Terrance Amorosa
Well, there’s not a whole lot to go through here. Bowey will take the place of Louie Belpedio as the veteran anchor on the right side of the back end and gives Laval a true all-situations player after he led Abbotsford in ice time last season. Technically, he has to pass through waivers unclaimed to get there but that shouldn’t be an issue. With the Rocket opting for a less experienced roster next season, he may not be their number one defender but Bowey is going to play a veteran important role for them.
Dello largely flew under the radar last summer after signing. Considering he was 24 and only had 20 games of pro experience, he was pegged as a depth piece. Instead, he became a key consistent part of Laval’s third pairing. He rarely moved up in the lineup but he was good at even strength and took a regular turn killing penalties. For a player on a minor league deal, that’s a nice return and it’s no surprise he was one of the first players to re-sign. With so many NHL-contracted blueliners on the left side though, Dello’s spot might not be as secure when everyone is healthy.
Green was a recent signing on an AHL contract after spending the last couple of years in Tampa Bay’s system; he played a limited role in the opening round of the playoffs against Laval this spring. He basically played the same role with the Crunch that Dello had with the Rocket. His addition is a bit of a redundancy in that sense but with the lack of organizational depth on this side of the back end, it should be a worthwhile one. Centorame, meanwhile, is likely ticketed for Trois-Rivieres.
Needs Assessment: Low – With at least one (and probably two) NHL-contracted prospects shifting over to the left side, Laval can get away with being a little thinner on the right side compared to the left. Another player that could start with the Lions would be nice but otherwise, they’re in decent shape here.
When Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins drafted Logan Mailloux, they thought they’d be getting a core part of their future back end, the off-ice stuff notwithstanding. Unfortunately, last season was another wasted developmental season as he was limited to just 12 games which is actually seven fewer than he had in the year the OHL didn’t play. The raw talent is there for him to be an impactful player but he has lost so much development time already. It’s quite possible that he has a big year and earns a contract but it’s also possible the new management team opts for the compensatory late second-round pick if there aren’t significant signs of progression in 2022-23.
From there, things thin out rather quickly. Dmitri Kostenko fared a little better in his second crack at the VHL (Russia’s second tier) level but is still very much a project. He has a couple of years left on his contract and at that point, he might be ready to come to North America. If all goes well, he profiles as a depth defender down the road. Fellow countryman Daniil Sobolev had a rough transition in his first year in the OHL and while he got a bit better down the stretch, he’s someone that doesn’t appear to be projecting towards a contract.
There are also a pair of seventh-round selections in the system. Miguel Tourigny continued their recent trend of drafting older local prospects with an eye on not needing to beat out teams to sign them in free agency. He’s the same size as Lane Hutson and has some impressive offensive ability. If nothing else, he’ll give them a test run at developing a similar player before Hutson turns pro but an undersized 20-year-old isn’t going to be classified as a likely NHL player at this point. Then there’s Arvid Henriksson who was drafted in 2016 and hasn’t done much since then. He hasn’t been invited to organizational gatherings for a few years now, a clear sign he isn’t part of their plans for the future. His rights will be held until his college career ends.
Needs Assessment: High – To say this is a big organizational need would be an understatement. Mailloux panning out and giving the Habs two quality young righties (with Barron being the other) would help but even if he did, there’s still a need for good options behind him. It’s quite possible that none of the other four ever sign entry-level deals; even Mailloux isn’t a guarantee after all the time he missed. As trade talks occur for the rest of the summer and into next season, expect Montreal to be putting in some effort to try to add another good young right-shot defender or two. This is a very important area for them to address.