Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens

2022-23 montreal canadiens

Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens. 

2022-23 Montreal Canadiens

2021-22 Montreal Canadiens

The 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens hold the title of “first team to ever finish 32nd overall”. In a season where the Habs went 22-49-11 for 55 points, positives are unexpectedly quite easy to find. The Dominique Ducharme experiment that carried over from Montreal’s 2020-21 Stanley Cup Final run proved unsuccessful, but it began the largest shift in franchise history. Martin St-Louis was brought in to coach the team into a new era, and Marc Bergevin was fired, replaced by the duo of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes. Although the team only fared a slight boost in actual performance (a 56-point pace), the team was seen in a much more positive light. Player performances improved, including amazing stretches by Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, and it’s hard to imagine any last-placed team filled with so much hope for the future.

New Management

Marc Bergevin made quite a few good moves in his tenure as general manager. The Max Pacioretty trade and the Phillip Danault trade come to mind here. He equally made some very bad moves. The Jonathan Drouin trade and Karl Alzner signing come to mind here. Ultimately, the time for a change was long overdue, and ownership made the move. First bringing in Jeff Gorton, the man behind the New York Rangers’ recent speedy rebuild, and the overseer of the Boston Bruins’ legendary 2006 draft, one piece of the two-man duo was cemented. The GM search took several months until finally Kent Hughes agreed to take the job. Hughes, a big name in the agent industry negotiated some amazing contracts on the player end – such as the massive Darnell Nurse deal. We’ve already seen the pair make some crazy moves – like the Tyler Toffoli trade, and they appear to have had a strong draft. They also brought in Martin St-Louis as a coach, which has been an all-time fan-favourite move.

New Coaches

While Martin St-Louis is almost old news at this point, his impact is felt on all levels. The players clearly bought into his system, and so did the fans. He received an incredible 15-minute standing ovation at the draft, which was a little ironic due to him being an undrafted player.

St-Louis will be instrumental in the continuing of our young players’ development, and will equally be an important public figure in making this rebuild palatable.

New Captain

With Shea Weber officially out of the picture, Nick Suzuki was named captain in August. The 23-year-old is now the team’s bonafide first-line center and will be the face of the franchise for years to come. With a supporting cast of Brendan Gallagher and Joel Edmundson wearing “A”s, the transition should be smooth.

New Acquisitions Could Be Difference Makers

In the midst of so many big moves, it’s easy to forget some of the smaller moves the Habs made. Acquiring 20-goal scorer Evgenii Dadonov from Vegas for Shea Weber, Mike Matheson for Jeff Petry, and Sean Monahan in a cap move, these players are poised to make an impact. Dadonov could slot high in the lineup, Matheson will be an offensively-minded refresh to our blue-line, and Monahan could prove to be worth something as a player once again.

Lineup Projection

Forwards

Cole Caufield – Nick Suzuki – Jonathan Drouin

Josh Anderson – Christian Dvorak – Brendan Gallagher

Mike Hoffman – Kirby Dach – Evgenii Dadonov

Jake Evans – Sean Monahan – Joel Armia

Extras: Rem PitlickPaul ByronMichael Pezzetta

Top-Six

For now, the duo of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield will most likely stay together. Unfortunately, despite Suzuki’s strong two-way game, their duo isn’t very effective defensively. Adding a player like Jonathan Drouin, who’s a unilaterally defensive player would be among the best complements for their line this season

Bottom-Six

Reuniting Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, who saw great success in Florida together a few years ago makes a lot of sense. Both goal-scorers, adding them to a line with serial playmaker Kirby Dach could become an underrated solid line. Sean Monahan and Jake Evans train together every summer and should have some chemistry. Joel Armia will be in a tough competition for a spot on that line, as the Habs have a serious log-jam on forward.

Extras

Michael Pezzetta is an immediate energy boost to the lineup. However, until the Habs sort out their forward surplus, he appears the odd-man out. Pitlick, who played on the first line at times last year, also appears to not have a solid roster spot. Paul Byron will likely start the season injured, and will be the main player rotating with Joel Armia on that fourth line. This roster assumes that first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky will begin the season with the Laval Rocket, however, a strong training camp could change that.

Defence:

Joel Edmundson – Michael Matheson

Kaiden Guhle – David Savard

Jordan Harris – Chris Wideman

Extras: Corey SchuenemanJustin Barron

Top-Four

Predicting the defence of a team with only 4 defenders with real NHL experience is difficult. Joel Edmundson will most likely begin the season injured, however, he should return in early October. Mike Matheson will be given the chance to shine on the first pairing this season, and could very well begin the campaign on the right side of the ice. Kaiden Guhle and David Savard are playing in their second training camp on the same pairing, and will likely begin the season together.

Bottom-Pairing

There is significant competition in the organization for these two last coveted spots. Training camp will be important to determine who will and who won’t crack the opening night roster. With players such as Arber Xhekaj working incredibly hard for a roster spot, nothing is a given. Jordan Harris is having a strong camp so far, and will likely be in the top-six. Chris Wideman and Corey Schueneman will most likely be rotating in the 6th and 7th spots. Finally, Justin Barron could spend some time in the AHL this season for some further development.

Goalies:

Jake Allen

Samuel Montembault

Extras: Cayden Primeau

Jake Allen will be the team’s bonafide starter this year. Although Montembault actually played in more games this past season due to injury, expect Allen to start about 40 to 45 games. Cayden Primeau signed a one-year deal this off-season and could see NHL time this season.

Players to Watch

Mike Matheson

Newly acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Matheson will be given a significant opportunity in the 2022-23 campaign. He will be on the first defensive pairing, as well as the first power play and the penalty kill. If he can harness his offensive game under Martin St-Louis’ system, the Habs could have a true gem on a team-friendly contract for the next few years.

Cole Caufield

Caufield had an incredibly difficult campaign under Dominique Ducharme. With only one goal in his time under Ducharme, Caufield even spent time in the minors. Once Martin St-Louis took over, Caufield managed to catch up on lost time and tie for first in rookie goals with 23. He played on a 48-goal pace under St-Louis and has everything going for him to explode this season.

Arber Xhekaj

Xhekaj may not even make the Habs this year, but if he does he’ll be a fan favourite. From an undrafted defenseman who could barely hold his spot in the OHL to a legitimate NHL option in only a year shows how exciting Xhekaj is. The 6-3, 238-pound blue-liner hits harder and fights even harder, and could be an X-Factor in the Habs’ future.

Prediction for the 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens

Despite all the positives presented, the Habs won’t be good this year. Even if the young players play well and Martin St-Louis excels as a coach in his first full season, the pieces simply aren’t there for a strong team. However, in a 2023 draft highlighted by Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov, the bottom of the pack isn’t a bad place to be. In a strong Atlantic division, the playoffs aren’t a realistic goal yet.

If all things go perfectly for the Habs, who were plagued by injuries in the 2021-22 season, they could finish as high as sixth in the Atlantic division, and around 20th overall. However, I predict them to finish 29th overall, with a strong chance at a top pick. Despite this, there is a significant reason to be hopeful for this team.

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