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The Habs have emphasized trying to add down the middle in recent years with the additions of Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook.  Even so, Montreal’s pool has a fair bit of depth on the left wing.

For the purpose of breaking down the wingers, it will be done by handedness.  Martin St. Louis often plays players on their off-wings so many are largely interchangeable anyway.


Signed: Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Michael Pezzetta, Juraj Slafkovsky
RFAs: None
UFAs: Tanner Pearson

This early in Slafkovsky’s career, a few months can make a real difference.  After a rough start that had many (myself included) suggesting a stint in Laval in a top role might be worth trying, the Habs had a different idea, instead moving him to the top line with them.  It worked out pretty well as he quickly took to playing with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield and once the confidence came, he took off.  Now, instead of underachieving, he looks like the top-line winger on the rise they were hoping for when they picked him first overall two years ago.

Harvey-Pinard made a big impression in the second half of 2022-23, holding his own in a top-six role.  This past season, however, nothing went right.  He struggled when healthy and wasn’t healthy all that often, hardly a good combination.  It’s possible that he still has a depth role on this team but it’s also possible that they view him as someone they might be able to sneak through waivers due to his $1.1 million contract.

Pezzetta has found a niche as a 12th or 13th forward most nights, one who can play a handful of minutes with a physical edge.  To his credit, he has cut down on the ill-timed bad penalties as well.  He has one year left on his deal and if he has an eye on trying to play a more prominent role (or even just be in the lineup every night), it’s hard to see that coming with the Canadiens.

Pearson was acquired in order to get the third-round pick that came with him while sending Casey DeSmith, a player who was likely heading for waivers, to Vancouver.  He started off strong but faded pretty quickly and has already been informed that he won’t be back next season.

Needs Assessment: Medium – They have one piece in Slafkovsky that should be part of the future plans.  Beyond that, they don’t have much beyond Newhook possibly shifting back to the wing.  Again, wingers can be used on their off-side a lot under St. Louis which is why this isn’t rated higher but their left-shot wing options are largely lacking.


Signed: Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman, Joshua Roy, Xavier Simoneau, Luke Tuch
RFAs: Filip Cederqvist
UFAs: Arnaud Durandeau
AHL Contracts: Israel Mianscum
AHL Free Agents: Gabriel Bourque, Riley McKay, Jakov Novak, Nolan Yaremko

Roy made an immediate impact in his rookie year in Laval.  He quickly landed in their top six and the top line soon after.  That helped earn him a long look with the Habs where he got into 23 games where he didn’t look out of place.  If he’s back with the Rocket next season, he should be a lock for the top line.  That said, it wouldn’t be surprising if he starts with the Canadiens unless they make some additions on the wing this summer.

Farrell was another promising rookie this season but his campaign was a bit more inconsistent.  It took a little longer for him to figure out how to adapt to playing in the minors and an injury didn’t help on that front.  That probably has him out of the mix for battling for a spot with Montreal to start next season, an outcome they likely weren’t expecting this time a year ago.  However, there is still some upside if he can find a way to stay healthy and build on his rookie performance.

Expectations were relatively high for Heineman heading into this season, to the point where some thought he’d break camp with Montreal.  That didn’t happen and he instead went to Laval where he was a bit more inconsistent than I think many hoped for.  A long-term injury didn’t help either.  He’s someone who probably is pretty close to being ready for most consistent action with the Canadiens but he also profiles as someone who will play more of a limited role in the lineup when he is up.

Simoneau’s sophomore campaign was similar to his first year, right down to the injury trouble.  He’s a spark plug with some strong playmaking skills but at 5’6, it might be difficult for him to play an energy role in the NHL.  At a minimum, he can be a key player for Laval next season.

Tuch came in late in the year, getting his feet wet down the stretch.  He didn’t light it up in college but has a fundamentally sound game that should earn the trust of his coaches fairly quickly.  From a frame perspective, he might not need a lot of time before being ready to possibly play a lower role with the Habs.

As for the pending free agents on NHL deals, Cederqvist quickly signed a long-term deal in Sweden through the 2026-27 campaign after the season ended.  That means Montreal can safely qualify him to retain his rights but he won’t be back.  Durandeau had six points in ten games after coming over in a trade just after the trade deadline but it would be surprising to see management give him an NHL deal this time around with more than 40 already being taken up.  If he’d take an AHL contract though, he’d be worth retaining.

Mianscum signed a two-year deal with Laval earlier this month so he’s someone Montreal’s management has some faith in.  At this point, however, it seems likely that he’ll start with ECHL Trois-Rivieres.

Moving onto the AHL free agents, Yaremko (German second division) has already signed overseas.  Montreal quietly relinquished Novak’s rights midseason (as quietly as they acquired them) but it wouldn’t be shocking if they offered him another deal to stay as a depth player.  McKay is a fan-favourite but with Xhekaj in the fold, there probably isn’t a regular spot for him in the lineup now.  But if he wants to come back as a spare forward, I think they’d take him.  Bourque had a rough year and it would be surprising to see them use a veteran slot on him; they can do a lot better with their veteran slots.

Needs Assessment: Low – Even if Roy starts in Montreal, they have four pretty good youngsters already in the mix while some of their centres could shift over as well.  A couple of depth players will be needed but that’s about it.

Other Prospects

Rhett Pitlick had a breakout showing at the University of Minnesota this season, tying for the team lead in scoring on a pretty deep team; 14 of their top 15 scorers were NHL draft picks.  He’s one of Montreal’s more skilled players in the back half of their system and now has a chance of getting signed, an outcome I wouldn’t have predicted this time a year ago.  It’s worth noting that he’s now four years past being drafted so he is eligible for the ‘loophole’ that could allow him to elect free agency in August if he so desires.

Sam Harris was a bit of an underwhelming pick last year in his second season of eligibility but it was understood that he was another mid-round dart throw that they often do.  He plays with a bit of an edge and potted a respectable 14 goals in his freshman year at Denver.  He’s still at least two years away from being ready to even consider signing, however.

Ty Smilanic opted to turn pro last summer, a move that was surprising considering the rough year he had on and off the ice at Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, things weren’t any better this season.  He struggled mightily with Trois-Rivieres before taking another leave of absence.  At this point, he’s not in Montreal’s future plans.

Needs Assessment: Medium – With several young options in Laval, there’s not a pressing need to necessarily back-fill things here.  However, at this point, at most one of the three is tracking toward being signed so adding one or two more options to the system would be beneficial at the draft or on the trade front.

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