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The Habs have made a concerted effort to add some options down the middle to address a long-standing need.  While they’ve certainly improved in that regard, there is still room to try to add to their group of centres.


Signed: Kirby Dach, Christian Dvorak, Jake Evans, Alex Newhook, Nick Suzuki
RFAs: None
UFAs: Colin White

One of the questions surrounding Suzuki was whether he would produce enough to be a number one centre in the NHL.  It’s not one anymore.  He inched closer to the point-per-game mark while crossing the 30-goal mark for the first time (albeit with a shooting percentage that seems tough to repeat).  He’s signed for the long haul and is a big part of their present and future plans.

The hope was that Dach would take a step forward in his second full season with the Habs and give them a legitimate long-term second centre.  But after a good preseason, he was injured in the second game of the year and didn’t return.  That makes him more of a wild card at this stage than someone management can safely pencil onto the second line regularly.

Newhook was one of the beneficiaries of Montreal’s injury issues when he wasn’t dealing with injuries of his own.  While his first stint down the middle didn’t go well, he got a second chance following the Sean Monahan trade and fared much better, putting up 21 points in 32 games upon his return to the lineup.  That’s edging close to second-line production although it remains to be seen if his better long-term fit is on the wing.  If the Habs want to try to run three balanced offensive lines, Newhook should be anchoring one of them.

After an underwhelming second season with the Habs, Dvorak had an even rougher one in 2023-24 as he also dealt with extended injury issues.  When he was in the lineup, he was serviceable defensively but more limited at the offensive end than usual.  At this point, it’s fair to suggest he’s not in the long-term plans for this team.  On an expiring contract, he’s a candidate to be moved either this summer or in-season.

Evans was the primary beneficiary of the injuries, getting to play higher in the lineup than he had in his first few NHL seasons.  We learned what we already thought we knew, playing him higher in the lineup isn’t ideal.  He’s a good defensive player and a bit above average at the faceoff dot which is great for someone in the bottom six but with a limited offensive skill set, he can’t be counted on to pick up the slack offensively when injuries strike.  He’s also a pending UFA and with a reasonable $1.7 million price tag, he could attract some interest if the Habs opt to move him knowing there are some youngsters in the system who could be NHL-ready in the next year or so.

White was a late-season waiver claim whose primary role was to make it that someone didn’t have to come up from Laval and hurt their late playoff push.  In that sense, he did well as he was healthy down the stretch.  But he’s not going to be in the plans for an NHL roster spot with Montreal or probably anywhere else next season.

Needs Assessment: Medium – From a depth perspective, if the Habs go into next season with the five players they have, that’s not a bad starting spot and even gives them a bit of injury insurance.  They’re still lacking a reliable second option behind Suzuki, however.  They can hope that one of Dach or Newhook plays themselves into that role over time but if they had an eye on trying to push for a playoff spot next season, they’d be looking to add here.


Signed: Owen Beck, Lucas Condotta, Jared Davidson, Brandon Gignac, Riley Kidney, Florian Xhekaj
RFAs: Lias Andersson
UFAs: Philippe Maillet, Mitchell Stephens
AHL Contracts: None
AHL Free Agents: None

Gignac got off to a strong start to his season which resulted in his contract being elevated to an NHL deal with a one-year extension being tacked on.  In Laval, he’s an all-situations top middleman, one that will play a key role once again next season.  He could make a push to play on the fourth line with the Habs as well should they move out some of their surplus depth.

Condotta’s second full professional season didn’t go as well as the first.  Despite playing in the top six somewhat regularly due to injuries, his production dropped to just 19 points in 65 games.  He’s a capable checker but with Montreal heading close to what could be a contract crunch, he’s someone who could also be on the way out if they have to clear up space on that front.

Kidney and Davidson had their first professional seasons with mixed results.  Kidney had a regular role but was largely limited to playing in the bottom six which isn’t the best mix for the way he plays.  However, he wasn’t playing well enough to warrant moving up the depth chart either.  Ideally, he’ll play himself into a more prominent spot next season but it’s not a given with some of the depth they have.  Davidson, meanwhile, was limited early on before pushing his way into a bigger role closer to midseason before being injured.  He still received his entry-level deal late last month but he could be a bubble player as well depending on what else they do.

Assuming Beck doesn’t crack Montreal’s roster (the likely outcome at this point), he should be earmarked for a top-nine role to start; throwing him on the top line right away probably isn’t the best way to go.  He has a chance to play both special teams roles and make an immediate impact.  Xhekaj, meanwhile, will get his first full-time taste of the pros next year after getting his feet wet down the stretch.  He’s someone who has the frame to make an immediate impact but given his development curve over the last few years, it makes more sense that they’ll ease him in which means bottom-six duty is in his future.

Among the free agents, Andersson has already signed in Switzerland, taking away one of Laval’s better scorers from this season.  Meanwhile, Maillet was their second-leading scorer after coming over from the KHL.  Having said that, he underwhelmed relative to expectations so it wouldn’t be shocking to see management try to add someone else to fill that spot.  Stephens held his own on the fourth line with the Habs for a bit and was a quality two-way player in Laval.  It’d be useful to bring him back although with just eight remaining available contracts (including RFAs that need re-signing), they don’t have many slots to work with to do so.

Needs Assessment: Medium – In terms of NHL-contracted options, they’re not in bad shape although they’re lacking a true number one option (Gignac would be better off on the second line in a perfect world).  They haven’t gone this route often but a pricey AHL contract for a prominent middleman would make sense here.  Beyond that, two or three centres that could start with ECHL Trois-Rivieres would also be useful as injury insurance.

Other Prospects

Oliver Kapanen didn’t have a great start to his year but was more involved offensively as the year went on, resulting in a bump in playing time.  Then the playoffs came and he took off, tying for the league lead in points in the process.  He elected to sign in the SHL for next season, giving him a chance to play at a slightly stronger level.  While he has also signed with the Habs (allowing him to come to training camp), the fact he has the deal in Sweden takes Laval off the table as an option; he’ll either play with the Canadiens or with Timra.

One of the concerns I had for Eriksson heading into the season was that his solid defensive play could pigeonhole him as a depth player in the SHL.  On the one hand, it’s good that he could play regularly at their top level as a teenager.  On the other, it’s hard to develop playing nine minutes a night on the fourth line.  He was eventually sent down to the second-tier Allsvenskan where his ice time jumped to nearly 20 minutes a game, allowing him to play a much bigger role and he was much more successful.  Eriksson is probably heading back for a limited role with Vaxjo in the SHL next season but hopefully he can get a bit more playing time.  He’s one of the more intriguing under-the-radar prospects in Montreal’s system.

Alexander Gordin has played all three forward positions and it really hasn’t mattered which one he’s at when it comes to the level of his play.  Since being a productive MHL scorer in his draft year, his stock has dropped.  To his credit, Gordin had his best VHL showing this season but the fact he’s not even getting a sniff of KHL action is telling.  Montreal holds his rights indefinitely so they can be patient but he’s a prospect on the fringes at best.

The same can be said for Jack Smith.  Drafted out of high school four years ago, Smith has basically just worked his way into being a depth centre at Minnesota-Duluth.  He still has two years of eligibility left so there’s time to turn things around but at this point, it looks like he’s quite unlikely to get an NHL contract.

Needs Assessment: High – While Kapanen has legitimate NHL upside, it’s probably in the bottom six.  Eriksson’s profile is that of a checker as well while the other two aren’t likely to amount to anything.  With Kidney scuffling more than they’d have liked in his rookie year, there aren’t many options in Montreal’s system with top-six potential.  Maybe Beck and that’s about it.  If there’s a chance to check that box at the draft, it’ll be hard to pass up.

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