Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher (left) and Lars Eller.
Even though winter is far from in the air in Montreal (unless you count through-the-roof humidity levels as some pre-frozen form of ice), the Canadiens are mostly finished tinkering with their roster for the offseason.
Currently, the Habs have a hair over $4 million in cap space left and 22 roster spots filled (including the injured Alexei Emelin and Brian Gionta). This after acquiring enforcer George Parros and signing center/winger Daniel Briere last week, leaving some wiggle room to maneuver during the season.
With depth forwards Ryan White and Gabriel Dumont qualified and/or signed outright, the Habs are—needless to say—unlikely to make any more moves barring a trade before the start of next season.
With that, taking scoring and defensive ability, experience and potential into account, here is an early projection of the Habs’ depth chart for the 2013-14 season.
All player positions taken from TSN.ca.
Montreal Canadien Tomas Plekanec take a draw against Toronto Maple Leaf Tyler Bozak.
While David Desharnais was the team’s No. 1 center last year—centering the top line between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher—Tomas Plekanec is actually the better pivot, by far. He’s also the team’s best center, despite the progress of still-developing players like Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk.
Desharnais is actually arguably the team’s fifth-best center, taking all aforementioned factors into account. However, all is not lost for Desharnais as Galchenyuk and even the newly acquired Briere might find themselves on the wing to start the year.
In fact, despite Desharnais’ inability to play in all situations, he could still find himself on the top line due to his chemistry and history with Pacioretty.
Think Toronto Maple Leaf Tyler Bozak with Phil Kessel for just one example, minus Bozak's prowess in the faceoff circle, defensive awareness and, amazingly, even more nonsensical contract.
White, Dumont and 2009 first-round pick Louis Leblanc round out the centers fans are most likely to see next season, with the former two getting the edge over the player with the bigger pedigree due to Leblanc’s struggles last year in Hamilton (18 points in 62 games).
Assuming last year was an aberration and Leblanc plays like the guy who got in 42 games with the Habs the year before, look for him to leapfrog over a few people and perhaps even Desharnais eventually.
Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty cuts between two New Jersey Devils.
Max Pacioretty has developed into quite the star for the Montreal Canadiens and—bringing size and scoring ability to the team’s first line—is arguably the most important forward to the team’s Stanley Cup hopes, at least in the short term. However, Galchenyuk, who plays the wing in addition to center, is not far behind.
It remains to be seen just where head coach Michel Therrien opts to play the 2012 third overall pick. However, his 2013 season (27 points) showed great promise for the future and may be an indication it's only a matter of time before he and Pacioretty find themselves on the same line.
Rene Bourque, despite generally playing on the team’s second line whenever he was healthy last year (27 games played), really has a skill set more reminiscent of a third-line forward, especially with his lack of consistency. While he admittedly showed signs of life last year after a lackluster first year with the Habs, he shouldn’t be guaranteed his second-line spot back.
From there, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, George Parros and Michael Blunden will jockey for position with the last few spots up for grabs on either wing.
Blunden will likely spend most of his time in Hamilton, and Moen needs to show more of the effort that earned him a four-year deal last summer. While tough-guy Parros won’t likely draw into the lineup every game, Moen risks being a recurring healthy scratch for very different—and worse—reasons.
Prust meanwhile, despite being paid an exorbitant $2.5 million per year, has been a pleasant surprise and plays bigger than his 6'0" frame and 195 pounds.
Having started last season playing with Galchenyuk and Rookie of the Year runner-up Brendan Gallagher without losing a step, he offers a lot of intangibles that could see him move up the lineup in a pinch.
Montreal Canadien Brendan Gallagher.
Brian Gionta (injured)
Speaking of someone who played bigger than their actual size, few expected the 5'9" Gallagher to contribute the way he did last year (28 points), let alone get nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
He and the newly acquired Daniel Briere have similar styles of play. Despite Briere’s impressive credentials (659 career points), Gallagher gets the edge on the depth chart due to his upside as well as the fact that Briere’s career is on the downswing.
Similarly, captain Brian Gionta has slid significantly in terms of his play since being acquired back in 2009. Arguably the team’s fourth-best option on the right side despite initially being signed to play on the team’s first line, his numerous injuries have undeniably hurt him in more ways than one.
With Gionta currently out with a biceps injury for the second straight year, Briere could potentially take his spot on the second line to start the season at least, while Prust, Moen and Parros again make up the most likely candidates to fill the remaining two right-wing spots.
Alexei Emelin (injured)
Norris Memorial Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban leads a defensive corps whose best days clearly lie ahead. That admittedly is in part due to the unfortunate fact that the Habs allowed 34 goals in the last 10 games of the regular season and it can't get much worse.
Overall, though, the Habs allowed a decent 2.63 goals per game over all 48 games and merely showed an inability to adjust properly following the loss of Alexei Emelin in early April. An entire summer of reflection should work wonders to working out the kinks, even with Emelin projected to be out until November.
The 6’6” Jarred Tinordi, who appeared in eight regular-season and five playoff games, is almost a lock to get Emelin’s spot on the roster in the meantime. Look for the coaching staff to keep a close eye on him in the early going to see how he progresses with added responsibility.
Should he not be up to the task, seventh defenseman Davis Drewiske could step up if not the highly touted Nathan Beaulieu or the slightly less-heralded Greg Pateryn.
All three saw action with the Habs last year with varying degrees of success. Beaulieu didn’t look out of place, Pateryn did somewhat and Drewiske didn’t really look like much of anything…other than the spare-part seventh defenseman he is.
However, should Tinordi prove himself, Emelin’s return may not necessarily translate into a demotion to the American Hockey League. Either Francis Bouillon or Raphael Diaz could potentially be destined for the press box instead.
Montreal Canadien Carey Price.
Despite the recent struggles of goalie Carey Price and potential starter Zachary Fucale being selected in the second round of this summer’s entry draft, the former is still head and shoulders above every other netminder in the Habs’ system in terms of talent and ability.
Peter Budaj is similarly the team’s undisputed backup barring injury, in which unfortunate case the recently re-signed Robert Mayer and current restricted free agent Dustin Tokarski will battle it out for the chance to get an exciting front-row seat to an NHL game on the Habs’ bench...but probably right behind an inconveniently placed stanchion (and in full gear).
Tokarski is projected to be the better goalie of the two. Though, if getting called up means losing a potential start for the Hamilton Bulldogs simply to ride the pine in Montreal, the Habs may opt to temporarily promote Mayer instead.
For the record, Fucale doesn’t make this list merely due to the fact that he is likely a few years away from NHL action. In terms of sheer potential, he currently places above Budaj at least.