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For years, the right side of Montreal’s back end has been a trouble spot.  However, the team has reloaded at that spot in recent seasons and in time, it could become one of their organizational strengths.

For the purpose of breaking down the defence pool, it will be done by handedness regardless of whether or not they can play the opposite side.


Signed: Johnathan Kovacevic, David Savard
RFAs: Justin Barron
UFAs: Chris Wideman

Savard has played a key role since coming over three years ago to replace the injured Shea Weber.  You could make a case that he has played too big of a role as he has averaged over 20 minutes a game each year.  He’ll be 34 early into next season and in a perfect world, this would be when they could lower his minutes a bit.  However, with the future options at that position not quite ready yet, Savard will be asked to log some tough minutes next season unless they shift Kaiden Guhle to his off-side again on the top pairing.  Many have suggested that he could be trade bait at some point but that might come in-season when some of their youngsters are a little more seasoned.

Kovacevic wasn’t as impactful this past season as he was in his first year with the Canadiens where he quickly became an every-game regular on the third pairing.  They tried to play him a little higher early on but he struggled and never truly found his footing after that.  Still, he’s someone with a cap hit below the league minimum once again for next season and at 26, he’s young enough that they could plausibly consider keeping him around for another couple of years if the price tag is right.

Barron was expected to play a regular role for Montreal in 2023-24 but it didn’t quite go according to plan as he wound up with an extended stint in Laval once again.  (That won’t be an option moving forward as he’s now waiver-eligible.)  Considering they parted with Artturi Lehkonen to get him (and a second-rounder this year), GM Kent Hughes felt he will be a part of their long-term plans.  He’ll need to show more moving forward but unless he’s a piece in a trade for a prominent player, Barron should be back on a short-term bridge contract.

Wideman missed the whole year with a back injury and his playing days are over.  He’ll take up a spot on the 50-contract limit for the rest of the month and that will be that.

Needs Assessment: Medium – Looking at the roster as it stands, pretty much all three players have a question mark attached to them.  Will Savard be around much longer?  Will Barron be part of the future plans?  Will Kovacevic be there past next season and is he just a number six guy or could he be more?  They could start with these three and get away with it but if there’s a chance to add a longer-term piece, it wouldn’t surprise me if they at least look into it.


Signed: Logan Mailloux, David Reinbacher
RFAs: None
UFAs: Brady Keeper
AHL Contracts: None
AHL Free Agents: Miguel Tourigny

Mailloux had a very impressive rookie season.  He was one of the top-scoring defencemen in the AHL.  Not among just rookies, but everyone.  Defensively, it was rocky for a while but he certainly made considerable strides as the season went on.  There’s still room for improvement on that front but he’ll be among the first defencemen recalled next season if he doesn’t break camp with Montreal.  I’d lean towards having him in Laval to start but it wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes with the Canadiens.

Reinbacher didn’t have a great post-draft year with Kloten in Switzerland.  He battled an early injury and a pair of coaching changes with his team struggling mightily.  But he still played an important role and logged good minutes at the professional level.  This wasn’t a write-off from a development standpoint.  He also got into 11 games with the Rocket down the stretch and while they weren’t putting him in the toughest situations, he certainly didn’t look out of place and made some big plays as well.  Ideally, they probably want him on the second pairing next season, giving him a bigger workload but still having some protection around him.  I’d be surprised if he gets more than a handful of games with the Habs if all went well.

Keeper was brought in to play the role that David Savard should be playing in Montreal.  Specifically, kill penalties and play the tough matchups to allow youngsters like Mailloux and Jayden Struble to ease into things.  However, he was in and out of the lineup early and then suffered a season-ending lower-body injury in December.  It’d be surprising to see him return.

Tourigny’s NHL rights were recently lost by the Habs but he was on an AHL deal for this past season where he played exclusively in the ECHL.  I could see Montreal offering him another minor league deal but it would surprise me if he accepted.

Needs Assessment: High – For whatever reason, the Habs have whiffed on their last two veteran free agent defenceman signings for Laval in Keeper and Madison Bowey.  They can’t have that happen again.  If they’re going to deploy Mailloux and Reinbacher (not to mention having Adam Engstrom and probably one of Lane Hutson or Jayden Struble), they will want to get a key veteran right-shot option that can make an impact.  They also should add two or three depth options on AHL contracts so there’s some work that needs to be done.

Other Prospects

Bogdan Konyushkov was one of Montreal’s more intriguing picks last draft.  An undersized 20-year-old doesn’t really move the needle much but when you consider he was playing 21 minutes a night in the KHL, that changes things.  He played even more this year, going past the 23-minute mark (and up past 26 in the playoffs).  He’s a decent all-around defender although his skating isn’t the greatest which is something that could be an issue in North America.  That said, he’s signed for two more years in Russia so there is time to work on that.  If all goes well, the Habs could have an NHL-ready option a couple of years from now.

After playing 2022-23 at the KHL level, Dmitri Kostenko didn’t see a second of action there this season, instead playing in the second-tier VHL.  He didn’t play well early on and wound up getting loaned to Yugra where he took off offensively, hovering near a point per game in the second half.  The tools are there for him to make it down the road but three years after being drafted, he’s still more of a project than a true prospect.  Having said that, his rights are held indefinitely so they can be patient.

Then there’s Daniil Sobolev.  He didn’t do much in his first couple of OHL seasons but did fare better this year in his final major junior campaign.  He has generally been a defensively sound player but the offence has been next to non-existent.  He already has signed in the VHL for the next two years and barring a breakout year from him, he won’t be signed by next June’s deadline.

Needs Assessment: Low – While Konyushkov might not be a high-end prospect, it looks like there’s some NHL potential, giving them someone coming up behind Barron, Reinbacher, and Mailloux in a couple of years.  That eliminates any immediate need but it would be good to see them add at least one more to the pool – preferably a nearer-term CHL option – to start building up the supplemental depth as most of the top options are already signed.

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Left Defence