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Many fans will suggest that offence is the biggest need. And they would certainly have a point as Montreal scored only 236 goals (2.87 goals per game) good for sixth-worst in the NHL, a full 68 goals behind the league leader (Colorado with 304). But in fact, the lack of goal-scoring and offence is just a symptom. The root cause of the struggles to score and be competitive is the lack of quality centres.

A strong centre drives play, controls the middle of the ice, and is a key factor in transitioning between defence to offence. A strong centre makes his linemates better and distributes the puck to wingers in scoring positions.

Over the last couple of seasons, fans have watched the positive impact that Nick Suzuki has had on virtually every linemate as they all have very strong or career-best years (Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Tyler Toffoli, Kirby Dach, etc.).

Brendan Gallagher’s career production is another good example of the impacts of playing with different centres. As fans, we know Gallagher doesn’t change the way he plays or level of effort he gives every game. He’s a remarkably consistent player from this perspective. And we watched for years as Gallagher produced +20 and +30 goals seasons while playing on one of the best lines in the NHL with Phillip Danault.

After Danault’s departure, Gallagher’s production dropped off a cliff as he largely played with Christian Dvorak who has struggled mightily in his years as a Hab. If we break down Gallagher’s 2023/2024 season, we can clearly see the impact from playing with different centres. If he had played with Sean Monahan or Alex Newhook for the entire season, he could have scored over 20 goals once again.

All of this is to say the obvious. When a winger plays with a quality centre, they get more chances and score more points.

So looking at 2024/2025, the Habs enter the season with four legitimate scoring wingers (Caufield, Slafkovsky, Gallagher, and Josh Anderson) as they have all demonstrated they can score 20+ goals in the last two seasons. So to unlock the potential of these wingers, what type of production from centre ice do the Canadiens need and do they have it?

The following three tables list the top middlemen from the 16 playoff teams this season. We’ll focus on the top three lines as this is where the vast majority of offence is produced on NHL teams. Obviously, line-ups change frequently, so there will be valid arguments to adjust the list, but it should give a ballpark guide as to production expectations from each line at the centre position.

First Line

To the eye, there aren’t too many surprises on the list and the average of one point per game seems to make sense.

Second Line

On the second line, we see a bit more variation with Staal in Carolina scoring only 30 points and Draisaitl in Edmonton with 106 points. But overall the average of 58 points in a season or 0.77 points per game also seems to make sense.

Third Line

At this point, it’s tough to find consistent centres as the line-ups change so frequently. Most of the group seems to be in the 30-40 point range averaging just over half a point per game.

Overall, as we look to see how Montreal’s centres compare, we’ll be looking for one point per game from the top centre, 0.77 per game from a second-line centre, and half a point per game from the third line.

2024-25 Centre Options

Here are the most logical options down the middle for the Habs in the upcoming season along with their career-best offensive years.

*Dach scored the vast majority of his points while playing right wing that season

Nick Suzuki

In 2023-24, Nick Suzuki delivered a career-best season scoring 77 points, almost a point a game. He was a strong offensive contributor from all three zones. Whether it’s breakout passes to a flying winger or a back-door pass from deep in the offensive zone, Suzuki drives play and sets up his linemates well. Suzuki has continued to improve virtually every season, so after scoring at nearly a point per game last year, management has to be comfortable that this performance is repeatable. The Habs seem to have found their top centre.

Kirby Dach

It’s tough to judge Dach at centre as he really hasn’t played that position in the two years he’s been in Montreal. In 2022/2023 Dach put up a career-best 38 points, but most of those points occurred while he was playing right wing with Suzuki and Caufield. The most points Dach ever scored while playing centre was 26 in 2021-2022 while playing for Chicago.

Dach’s injury history is also a major concern. Of his five seasons in the NHL, he’s missed almost two seasons in their entirety, and 12, 18, and 24 games in the other three.

Given the comments from Habs management, they still see him as a centre but predicting his potential is extremely difficult. Looking into 2024/2025 even playing a full season while matching his previous career best (while playing centre) would likely be considered a good step forward.

Christian Dvorak

Despite getting every opportunity to play top minutes and power play time in Montreal, Dvorak hasn’t scored more than 33 points as a Hab. Chemistry with any wingers is non-existent, and in fact, anyone who plays with Dvorak has below-average years. Injuries have also impacted Dvorak as he’s missed significant time in each of the last six years.

At this point, I don’t think there’s much hope for improvement in production from Dvorak. The most one can expect is a third or fourthline centre producing 30-40 points when healthy.

Alex Newhook

Newhook put up respectable numbers (15-19-34 points) in only 55 games last season. He had two stints at centre, the first coming near the beginning of the season that didn’t go well and he was quickly shifted back to the wing. Due to injuries to everyone else not named Suzuki or Evans, Newhook got a second chance down the middle in the back half of the season and actually did reasonably well. While playing mostly with Gallagher and Armia they showed good chemistry together and Newhook put up 21 points in 31 games while his linemates also enjoyed improved offensive output.

With a career-best 34 points, it is very reasonable to expect similar production (with hope for improvement) from Newhook while centring a third line. But it would be a big risk to expect him to be able to nearly double his production to fit into a second-line centre role successfully.

Jake Evans

Evans has played for 5 seasons mostly anchoring the fourth line (with a rotating cast of depth NHLers or AHLers) and put up a career-best 29 points in 2020-21. Evans has great speed and defensive awareness but doesn’t have the offensive capability to play higher up in the line-up. He’s a strong fourth-line option for the Habs.

Future Outlook

If Habs management is realistically looking to compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season, the lack of scoring from the second-line centre position has to be a major concern. Having Sean Monahan at centre over the last two years has been a good stop-gap measure but when he was injured or after he was traded, it created a gaping hole in the offence.

The team currently has Dach, Newhook, and Dvorak as options for middle-six centres. Based on history, it’s reasonable to expect these individuals to produce at a third-line rate but it’s a big gamble to think any one of them could successfully produce enough to properly fill the secondline centre position.

If GM Kent Hughes truly wants to compete for a playoff spot this season, he likely needs to package one of these three centres (the preference being Dvorak due to age, contract status, and performance) with other major assets to go after a proven top-six centre, one who is capable of driving play and creating offence from the 2C slot.

Following this type of move, the team could enter the season with Suzuki, Caufield, and Dach as a potential first line, where they have shown good chemistry together and Dach enjoyed his career-best season. Newhook centres the third line with Gallagher and Armia who also showed strong chemistry and production together at the end of last season. The second line features the newly acquired centre along with Slafkovsky and Anderson (or another winger if Anderson continues to struggle). This type of line-up would give each of the three lines proven goal-scoring wingers, size, and speed along with an appropriately talented centre to unlock that offence.

Given the history with Hughes who has only ever made moves to acquire draft picks and young undeveloped players so far, I don’t see him making any major moves to address immediate team needs. I suspect he will see how Dach and Newhook develop and focus on drafting a top forward in this year’s draft. This will be a big gamble that I don’t think will end well and the team will be getting another high draft pick a year from now. Time will tell.