With injuries to forwards Max Pacioretty, Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust, the Montreal Canadiens were forced to dig into the farm system and call up two players from the Hamilton Bulldogs, recalling Mike Blunden and Patrick Holland on Monday.
Now while Blunden is somewhat known to Habs fans, having been on a yo-yo between the NHL and AHL on numerous occasions for the last three years, Holland is unknown to those who do not follow prospects closely. Holland was a seventh round pick of the Calgary Flames, who was included in the trade between Montreal and Calgary two years ago that was built around the Mike Cammalleri – Rene Bourque swap. While Holland was a 7th round pick, he progressed nicely after his draft year being a top scorer in his last two years in the WHL, and finishing fourth in team scoring as a 20-year-old rookie for the Hamilton Bulldogs last season
Holland is a slick player capable of playing all three forward positions. He is best known for his high skill level including good skating, and is especially strong as a playmaker. He also has a decent shot and can score if given the opportunity. Overall though, it is his creativity that has gotten him to the level he is at, playing pro hockey in the AHL and now called up for his first NHL game.
Given that resume, it would have appeared that the recall of Holland was an attempt to add some extra offence into the Habs lineup on Tuesday, due to the fact that three forwards who normally play in the team’s top nine were on the shelf. So what happened? Coach Michel Therrien played Holland on the fourth line alongside Ryan White and Blunden.
And here is where I take issue: in his first NHL game, Patrick Holland was given a role he couldn’t possibly have succeeded in. This line is a complete mismatch for a player of Holland’s capabilities. While I understand that White and Blunden have a place in the current lineup, here are two players who are being tasked with playing the “energy line” role. To play a physical game, and to not be defensive liabilities. They are not goal scorers, and this can be seen in their combined 7 goals in 192 career NHL games. Playing a slick playmaker with two guys who aren’t known for their ability to finish chances isn’t exactly maximizing his utility.
Meanwhile, a player who would fit that energy line role like a glove, Travis Moen, was used on the third line with goal scorer Rene Bourque and pint-sized playmaker David Desharnais. Yes, I know that Bourque and Desharnais are struggling right now, but even so, they are still more likely to be able to hook up with a player like Holland than White and Blunden would be able to do. Meanwhile, Moen would give White’s line the physical and defensive presence to play the role that they are being asked to do.
In his usage of these two players, Michel Therrien handicapped both his third and fourth lines tonight by putting a player on each of them who just didn’t fit the concept of what those lines should try to accomplish. He also took a rookie playing his first NHL game, called up for his offensive flair and asked him to play a role that he just isn’t suited for.
In this way, Therrien must take some responsibility for mismanaging his assets on Tuesday night and going forward. If young players are going to succeed and become productive NHLers, they must be put in positions where they can continue to use the strengths that have earned them a call-up to the NHL and not miscast in the wrong role. Anything else is cheating the player, but above all else is also cheating the team.
And that’s the last word….
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