HabsWorld.net -- 

June 1st is an important date on the calendar for many teams and prospects as it represents a signing deadline for several players to be signed.  The Habs have four of those players but only face a hard decision on one of them, Jared Davidson.

The 21-year-old was one of the more intriguing rookies to join Laval this season after coming off an impressive couple of seasons with WHL Seattle.  While not every major point-getter in junior becomes a big scorer in the minors, Davidson’s all-around game gave him a chance to be a contributor fairly quickly.

That didn’t exactly happen, especially at the beginning.  Head coach J-F Houle isn’t exactly known for giving prospects big minutes early unless they’re a top-six player right away (like Joshua Roy was, for example).  Instead, Davidson was limited to sporadic duty early on, almost exclusively on the fourth line.  Add to that an early-season upper-body injury and 13 healthy scratches and things weren’t looking up early on.

However, as has often been the case throughout his career (this is a player who was cut several times at the lower levels early on and went undrafted in the WHL), Davidson eventually got his chance and made it count.  At midseason, he became a regular player and also moved up into the middle six, slowly earning the trust of the coaching staff.

In mid-February, Davidson turned the corner, scoring six times in a dozen games.  Unfortunately, those were his final appearances of the season before another upper-body injury shut him down.  He would have had a chance at coming back had Laval made the playoffs but as we all know, they weren’t able to win their final two games to get in.

As a result, Davidson’s full-season numbers don’t exactly jump off the table.  In 38 games, he had 11 goals and five assists along with 84 shots.  Considering the lower-end role he had a lot at the start, the overall result looks respectable.  But did Davidson do enough to earn an entry-level contract?  The fact he hasn’t been signed yet would suggest management isn’t convinced that he has.

One of the challenges that comes from having a particularly deep prospect pool and a lot of draft picks to come (including 12 in each of the next two years) is that you can’t sign them all.  In the past when the cupboards weren’t as full, I think Davidson would have already been signed.  Now, it’s not as easy of a decision.

Montreal has 38 contracts on the books for next season already.  Arber Xhekaj, Justin Barron, and maybe Jesse Ylonen will be brought back as restricted free agents.  Laval will also be bringing back some of their veterans or replacing them with players who will need NHL two-way contracts so that will take up a few more slots.  And who knows, perhaps the Habs dip into the UFA market this summer or swing a trade to bring in another player.

As things stand, there are no non-counters for next season.  Owen Beck and Filip Mesar are now pro-aged so their deals will officially start.  David Reinbacher is eligible to have his deal slide next season but his contract will count against the 50 next season if he’s in Laval.  Add to that the fact they’ll want to keep a few spots open for in-season flexibility and things are starting to look pretty tight.

It’s worth noting that Davidson will only be eligible for a two-year entry-level deal, not the standard three due to his age (he turns 22 in July).  I think that actually helps his case as if he were to sign and things do not go well, the shorter-term deal lessens the risk.  But that doesn’t just apply to Montreal; I suspect there are other teams that might be inclined to sign him to an NHL contract with that in mind if he’s let go, not unlike Pierrick Dube (undrafted but on an AHL deal with Laval) last year.

Personally, I lean toward signing him even if it creates a bit of a crunch.  There should be enough time to try to navigate around opening up a spot somewhere in the coming months if management feels they want to leave an extra spot open.  Do Kent Hughes and company feel the same way?  We’ll find out in the next few weeks.

For the record, the other three prospects who need to be signed by June 1st are forward Cedrick Guindon and defencemen Petteri Nurmi and Miguel Tourigny. 

Guindon struggled as the season went on with Owen Sound and didn’t join Laval after being eliminated so it’s a safe bet they’re leaning toward not signing him.  I think Nurmi has a bit of upside but they have a lot of blueliners already and can’t sign them all while Tourigny was hit or miss in the ECHL.  He might be worth keeping in the system a little longer on an AHL contract, however; it doesn’t seem likely that another team would give him an NHL deal as a free agent.