Montreal Canadiens Off-Season: Forwards

Over the past few seasons, the Montreal Canadiens forwards have failed to be reliable offensively, with a system that has depended heavily on reigning MVP goalie Carey Price. With Price missing all but 12 games in the 2015-16 season due to injury, the Habs forwards were expected to produce more.

Price’s injury wasn’t the only one that severely hurt the Canadiens in late November, as Brendan Gallagher went down with two broken fingers after blocking a shot on November 22nd, forcing him to miss five weeks of action. The team was unable to find someone who was capable of replacing Gallagher effectively on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. This lead to a downfall in scoring overall on the team.  It didn’t show right away but once grinders like Dale Weise and Devante Smith-Pelly couldn’t keep up with the skill of Plekanec and Pacioretty on the top line, it quickly hit the Habs hard.  Heading into December 3rd, the Canadiens were leading the league in overall points with a 19-4-3 record and 41 points through 26 games.

Montreal Canadiens Off-Season: Forwards

Then came the ultimate collapse offensively and the team was unable to score on the powerplay.  On December 3rd, the Canadiens had 23 powerplay goals along with the 4th best powerplay in the league, but the Habs’ powerplay fell all the way down to 25th in the league and only scored 19 powerplay goals in the remaining 56 games of the season.  While Price’s absence was a huge part of the team’s sudden collapse, the team’s lack of production on the powerplay surely was too.

Throughout the season, coach Michel Therrien used players like Lars Eller and Weise in offensive roles on the top two lines or on the powerplay. These players are limited offensively and played key parts in the Canadiens forwards struggles to find the scoresheet. Eller plays best in a third line shutdown centre role but can also throw in the occasional goal. However, it isn’t enough to play a role on the Canadiens top six.

Top Six Forwards:

As it stands right now the Canadiens currently only have four legitimate top six forwards in Pacioretty, Alex GalchenyukBrendan Gallagher and Plekanec. The rest of the spots were filled in by depth players. Some of these players were successful like rookies Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighettowho both showed they belong in the NHL. However, they both haven’t done enough to prove that they are good enough to play in the top six on a consistent basis. Expect one or both to play an offensive role on the Habs third line next season.

If there was one bright spot from the Canadiens forward group last season, it would be that Galchenyuk has finally seemed to have emerged as the #1 centre. Galchenyuk was tied for the team lead in goals with 30 with captain Pacioretty and they formed a great duo in the last 17 games of the season when the former was appointed back to centre after being removed 21 games earlier.

Galchenyuk had a rough start to the season in terms of off-ice incidents but he quickly bounced back with 11 goals in his final 16 games and emerged as a star on the Canadiens. In Price’s absence,  he was the player who stood out the most from February onwards and was the 2015-16 recipient of the Molson Cup, which is given to the player who had accumulated the most three-star selections in terms of point totals  (five points for first star, three points for second star and one point for third star). The future is very bright for the 22-year-old centre, as he will likely start next season as the team’s top centre, barring a big acquisition for a more proven number one centre in the summer. He will also be trying to play for a big raise next summer.

While Pacioretty had yet another 30-goal season, his play didn’t seem to be at the same level it had been the two previous seasons. Some fans believe that being named captain may have resulted in Pacioretty’s drop in goal production, but really his shooting just went cold. He finished third behind Gallagher and Galchenyuk in terms of high danger scoring chances/60 mins with 13.57 scoring chances/60.  In the 2014-15 season,  he finished with 12.35 scoring chances/60.  This proves that Pacioretty had a very unlucky season,  struggling to capitalise on his scoring chances, shooting significantly under his career average of 11.1% at 9.9% during the 2015-16 season. Expect Pacioretty to hover more around 12-13% next season, which has been his average over the past few seasons.

Gallagher, who will likely be the crash and banger on the top line with Galchenyuk and Pacioretty next season, had a great on-ice performance in the games he played, putting up 19 goals and 40 points in 53 games. However, he missed one-third of the year battling injuries. If he had played all 82 games, Gallagher would have scored 31 goals, which would have been tops on the team.Gallagher gives his all, game in and game out, and his mix of effort and skill make up for what he lacks in size. Expect him to continue to bring the grittiness that gets him, the in close goals that he is best known for. Gallagher will also be the player that will get his linemates going when everyone is struggling. The Habs know exactly what he will bring and that is why he’s so valuable,  nobody can replace him and make nearly the same impact he makes.

Plekanec will be entering the first year of his new two year, $12 million deal that he signed earlier in the 2015-16 season. However, last season his goal total fell dramatically. He had 26 goals in the 2014-15 season, and last season only scored 14. Now that’s not to say he’s no longer an effective top six forward but it does suggest he would be better if a more playmaking role and could use a good two-way  goal scorer alongside him to create offense. General Manager Marc Bergevin should be looking hard to find the right fit for Plekanec’s wing.

If the Canadiens want to improve on the 216 goals that they scored last season, they will need to find at least another top six talent via trade or the free agent market. A prospect or two could surprise to take a role in the top six but it would safer to go out and acquire a proven talent in order to assure the offensive production that would require the team to no longer rely on Price’s spectacular goaltending.

Bottom Six Forwards:

As it stands right now there is an overload of bottom six forwards on the Habs current roster. With just six spots to fill the Canadiens may need to trade a forward or two in the off-season to avoid having too many in the NHL.

For players  like Jacob De La Rose and Stefan Matteau, they will likely start the year in St. John’s. For both these players, their auditions with the big club in an injury-plagued season proved very underwhelming. However, the injury-plagued season might have played a key part in De La Rose’s struggles as he was just starting to heat up offensively in the AHL when he got called up. If De La Rose wants to play in the NHL he will need to improve his offensive game.

Then there are guys like Brian Flynn who don’t seem to fit anywhere on the roster because of the depth that has surpassed him. He could find his way on another team in the off-season if there are takers for the speedy penalty killer.

For third line centre, the organisation will need to make a decision on whether they would like a more defensive player in Eller playing in that role or whether they would like the more offensive David DesharnaisBoth are not top six forwards, and they both thrive in third line centre roles. Therefore, one of the two centres has to be moved. Moving one would also free up space to get a good top six forward in the process.

If things turn out well for the Canadiens this off-season, the team’s third line wingers could easily be the more offensive duo of Carr and Andrighetto.

As for the fourth line, Torrey Mitchell should be the one centring that line with speedster Paul Byron and defensive forward Phillip Danault on his wings.

The 13th forward could be Lucas Lessio, who had a decent audition with the Canadiens last season.

Top Forwards in the Pipeline:

Charles Hudon, 22

Nikita Scherbak, 20

Arturri Lehkonen, 21

Martin Reway, 21

Mike McCarron, 21

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