Can David Desharnais center Montreal's top line?
The Montreal Canadiens have a deep group of forwards which features a mix of veteran leadership and talented youngsters. Coach Michel Therrien will have plenty of options to consider when putting his lines together for 2013-14.
While training camp is still a few weeks away, the Habs roster is pretty much set and discussions can begin about what lines can be expected when the puck drops on October 1.
After projecting the Montreal Canadiens forward lines (with help from Bleacher Report's Ryan Szporer's depth chart and line combinations used last season), there are some major questions surrounding each unit.
Here are the biggest question marks on each Montreal Canadiens line for the 2013-14 season.
Can David Desharnais rebound in 2013-14?
LW: Max Pacioretty
C: David Desharnais
RW: Brendan Gallagher
Biggest Question Mark: Can David Desharnais bounce back?
There's no point in sugar coating it—David Desharnais was flat-out bad in 2013.
Expectations were high for the diminutive Desharnais heading into last season. The Laurier-Station, Quebec native was coming off a breakout season in which he netted 16 goals and 44 assists while developing remarkable chemistry with linemates Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.
Then the lockout washed away the first-half of the 2012-13 hockey year, and only Pacioretty decided to show up for the second-half.
Desharnais tallied just 10 goals and 18 assists last season and did not look much like the rags-to-riches star we saw two seasons ago. He also finished the season a minus-2, especially disappointing considering Pacioretty and Gallagher were plus-8 and plus-10, respectively.
It's pretty safe to say that neither Pacioretty nor Gallagher will be the problem on the top line in 2013-14. Pacioretty has led the team in scoring two years running and will likely do so again. Gallagher's work ethic is second-to-none and will push him through any kind of sophomore slump.
Coach Michel Therrien will be watching Desharnais closely to see how he starts the season. After last year's lackluster performance, a bad start to the season will certainly force Therrien to try other options as his No. 1 center.
Does Daniel Briere have anything left in the tank?
LW: Rene Bourque
C: Tomas Plekanec
RW: Daniel Briere
Biggest Question Mark: What can Daniel Briere offer to the Montreal Canadiens?
General manager Marc Bergevin's biggest move this offseason was signing forward Daniel Briere to a two-year, $8 million contract after Briere was bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's not clear exactly where Michel Therrien plans on using Briere, but seeing as Montreal is deep at center, he'll likely start the season on the wing.
What also isn't clear is how much Briere has left in his tank at age 35, as he is coming off numerous injuries and the worst statistical season of his career.
Briere has suffered two concussions in the past two seasons and also broke his wrist while playing in Germany during the lockout last season. Those injuries surely affected him last season as he stumbled to career-lows of six goals and 10 assists in 34 games.
Montreal Canadiens management obviously thinks Briere can perform at a much higher level than he did last season, and they're going to give him every opportunity to do so. They're hoping Briere can turn back the clocks and put up point-per-game numbers like he did from 2009-2012.
Briere's performance in 2013-14 is the biggest question facing the Canadiens second line as next season approaches.
Can Lars Eller be even better next season?
LW: Alex Galchenyuk
C: Lars Eller
RW: Brian Gionta (when healthy)
Biggest Question Mark: How good can Galchenyuk and Eller be?
If the Montreal Canadiens do indeed send out this trio as a line to begin the season, it has the potential to be one of the most exciting third lines in all of hockey. But potential is the key word.
Lars Eller had a breakout season last year. After two seasons of mediocre play since being acquired in the Jaroslav Halak deal, Eller responded by putting up 30 points in 46 games last season. But then his season was cut short by a vicious hit from Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba in Game 1 of the playoffs.
Eller, 24, is now 100 percent healthy and has even put on 20 pounds of muscle, as reported by Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette. In the article, Eller states he is in the best shape of his career and is excited to get the 2013-14 season started. Eller believes he can be even better next season.
Alex Galchenyuk is another talented Montreal youngster who will be playing with something to prove next season. The much-hyped teenager will be looking to prove that he was well worth the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Galchenyuk had a tough start to his NHL career, but he really looked like he belonged at hockey's top level near the end of last season. The 19-year-old scored six of his nine goals in Montreal's final 12 regular season games.
Galchenyuk is blessed with natural talent and has the potential to be a truly elite forward in the NHL. Whether he reaches that level next season or a few years down the road remains to be seen.
There is certainly lots to be excited about if Michel Therrien opts to use Galchenyuk, Eller and Gionta together on his third line next season. How good they can be will hinge on the performances of the two youngsters.
Brandon Prust is the only sure thing on the Canadiens' fourth line.
LW: Brandon Prust
C: Ryan White/Gabriel Dumont
RW: George Parros/Travis Moen
Biggest Question Mark: Who suits up on a night-to-night basis?
If the Montreal Canadiens group of forwards is completely healthy, Brandon Prust will likely be the odd-one-out who is forced down to the fourth line. He'll also be the first one to get bumped up when injuries do occur.
But again, when completely healthy, Prust is about the only sure thing to suit up on the fourth line on a nightly basis. The other two positions are up for grabs.
The Canadiens' surprised their fans by re-signing center Ryan White, who is coming off a season in which he was in Michel Therrien's doghouse on numerous occasions. He will battle with Gabriel Dumont for first crack at centering the Canadiens' fourth line in 2013-14.
White and Dumont play different styles of hockey. White is your classic fourth-line center, a grinder who plays with physicality but doesn't have much touch around the net. He can be an effective, high-energy player who can get under the skin of his opponents.
Dumont is a solid defensive forward who can also score. He finished last season tied for the lead in Hamilton Bulldogs' scoring with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 55 games. Dumont also had a goal and two assists in 10 games with the Habs.
The other fourth-line related question is how much playing time Michel Therrien will give newly-acquired enforcer George Parros.
The Habs are in dire need of physicality in their lineup, and sending Parros out on a nightly basis will serve as a reminder that opponents won't be taking liberties with Montreal's smaller forwards next season. However, it is possible that Michel Therrien will prefer to play him only when Montreal is facing the league's more physical teams.
That leaves us with Travis Moen. The 32-year-old veteran appeared in 45 games last season, but was largely ineffective. He recorded just six points, was a minus-4, and killed penalties on a Canadiens' unit that ranked 23rd in the NHL.
Moen will serve as solid forward depth for the Canadiens, but could find himself watching from the press box to start the season.