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The Montreal Canadiens invited an astounding number of players to the main camp this year. 75 participants are trying to make a case for themselves by showing to the brass why they should be given an extra long look at camp and cement themselves on the opening night roster. 

Throughout training camp, there has been a consistent usage of line combinations so that we, the spectator, might be able to glean some insight into the thinking of head coach Martin St. Louis. 

Caufield – Beck – Hoffman
Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher
Drouin – Evans – Armia
Pitlick – Dach – Heineman/Slafkovsky

Guhle – Savard
Matheson – Barron
Schueneman – Wideman


While it is still early going in camp, the above line combinations have been used throughout the start of camp and through the first preseason game and there are a few things to note. 

The highly-touted first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky has been predominantly used along with players many believe to be destined for the AHL or CHL this season. Owen Beck and Rafael Harvey-Pinard have been the two players playing with the towering Slovak the most before Monday’s preseason game. All three players have played very well in the rookie tournament, but why is Slafkovsky (many consider the heir apparent to play alongside newly minted captain Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield) not being showcased with more NHL-proven talent? Does management believe familiarizing Slafkovsky with other AHL veterans is the best course of action knowing that they intend on sending him to the minors for an extra year of development? It certainly has value given the log jam of NHL forwards already on the roster. 

Barring another trade from Kent Hughes, the Canadiens boast a deep crop of NHL-contracted forwards who need to be showcased to facilitate a trade that will net the Canadiens a good return. It’s something Hughes has explicitly stated he intends to do – buy low, sell high. The downside is that the fans would not get to see the next great hope play for the Canadiens in the immediate future. The upside is that extra seasoning playing in the minors on North American Ice without the astronomically bright spotlight shining will only help Slafkovsky shine that much brighter when there is eventually room on the roster. He would also continue to work with Filip Mesar should the Canadiens decide to keep him with the Rocket instead of sending him down to the OHL, further developing their already apparent chemistry both on and off the ice. Not a terrible way to be introduced to the world of professional sports in Hockey Mad Montreal. The key here: Development. 

Speaking of showcasing NHL talent for trades, the Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher line is intriguing. This line has all the potential to be a very effective 5-on-5 line. Dadonov was perhaps one of the best players for the Golden Knights toward the end of last year scoring at a near-point-per-game pace. Dvorak had new life after the coaching change last year, putting up more points than most in the home stretch of a miserable season. Was that a mirage or was it a sign of him taking the next steps in his once-promising career? Gallagher looks like the Gallagher of old through the intrasquad games – playing a plucky, hard-nosed, net-driving, buzzard of a game. He only knows how to play the game one way. By all accounts, he is the healthiest he has been in a few years and he is out to prove to all of those people who believe in him, that they are correct for doing so. If this line can click, it will only increase the value of both Dvorak and Dadonov before the trade deadline next year. 

The same can be said for Hoffman being on a line with Caufield. Assuming Mesar and Beck, who have already stood out early on, are filling in for the injured Suzuki, Hoffman could find himself in the best possible position to succeed and by default, facilitate a trade to free up some much-needed cap space. Can the coaching staff get the most out of Hoffman at 5-on-5 going up against the toughest competition the NHL has to offer, as well as helping him to regain his power play effectiveness, to entice another club to trade for him? Time will tell. 

Drouin on a line with Evans and Armia shows that the Canadiens still believe in Armia and his skill set. Drouin has the ability to move up and down the lineup given his talent. Allowing him time to rediscover his rhythm without being thrown out on one of the top two lines to start is sensible given his well-documented struggles with mental health and the pressures that were heaped on him as the next great French Canadian star upon being acquired by Marc Bergevin years ago. 

The defence is a whole other ball of wax. Right out of the gate, we learned that Joel Edmundson is injured again and out indefinitely which brings back memories of last season. Should he be out for a significant amount of time, the three open slots on defence will have to fall on the shoulders of young and inexperienced hopefuls barring any additions from waivers or on the trade market. 

Kaiden Guhle and David Savard look to already be building a budding mentor/mentee relationship and by all accounts, the former 16th overall selection is impressive with his calm demeanour and sound play on the ice. 

Jordan Harris is playing his off-side and has been paired with Arber Xhekaj for most of the early going in camp and the 21-year-old has shown he is more than just an intimidation factor. He could make it very hard for the coaching staff to bypass him as a legitimate option to start the season despite the fact he has yet to play in the pros. The fact that these two have seen some time together indicates where the brass feels they can be deployed and be counted on for strong play in the offensive and defensive zones. 

Justin Barron has been given the best chance possible for success playing alongside the new quarterback of the blue line – Mike Matheson. Lastly, Corey Schueneman has been paired up with Chris Wideman after impressing the coaching staff last year with his reliable play when injuries struck. 

Knowing that a handful of players in the lineup above will be sent down to the minors to make way for injured players coming back, here is my projection for the starting lineup come October assuming the injured players make their return and no one is injured between now and then:

Caufield – Suzuki – Hoffman
Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher
Drouin – Evans – Armia
Monahan – Dach – Anderson

Guhle – Savard
Matheson – Barron
hekaj – Wideman
Schueneman – Harris


(Price, Byron, and Edmundson on IR to start)

Of course, with a few weeks left between now and the start of the season and that forward surplus still there, we could see a move or two made in the next little while as well.  There will be plenty to keep an eye on over the coming weeks including watching to see if any of these new-look lines can develop some quick chemistry.