Predicting Which Montreal Canadiens Will Take a Huge Step Forward in 2013-14

Ryan SzporerContributor IIISeptember 8, 2013

Predicting Which Montreal Canadiens Will Take a Huge Step Forward in 2013-14

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    As a whole, the Montreal Canadiens took a huge step forward in 2013 after a third-to-last-place finish in 2011-12.

    Breakout seasons from such players as Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller and of course Norris Memorial Trophy winner P.K. Subban helped set the stage for an improbable Northeast Division title.

    Here are the top five players, either in the pipeline or the actual organization, that are poised to take similar next steps in their development in 2013-14.

5) Michael McCarron

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    To be clear, 2013 first-round pick Michael McCarron is still a few years away from the NHL at least. He makes this list, however, because of his decision to forgo a collegiate career at Western Michigan University in favor of joining the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.

    It’s definitely up for debate as to whether or not the move will help his development as a hockey player (not so much his development as an academic—it won’t). In a way he’s essentially choosing one former NHL head coach (Dale Hunter) over another (Andy Murray).

    However, defenseman Jarred Tinordi entered the same program with many question marks regarding his potential. Seeing as he exited it to become almost a lock to make the Habs either this season or next, McCarron’s decision looks to be a good one.

    Also, Hunter’s reputation as a tough, but skilled NHL player seems to indicate McCarron has more to benefit from him than Murray, as well.

    At 6’5” and about 230 pounds, most people with eyes know where McCarron’s strength lies. One of his major weaknesses is his skating and getting in a full season at the OHL level will likely help him out in that regard.

    Of course, McCarron’s discipline has also come into question and a full season under the tutelage of this guy may not to the same degree.

4) Raphael Diaz

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    Defenseman Raphael Diaz had an up-and-down year last season that ended on a sour note.

    He started (very) well out of the starting gates with eight assists in his first six games, serving as a great complement to Andrei Markov on the power play when P.K. Subban was still unsigned. He then suffered a concussion and missed 25 games due to injury.

    He happily returned just in time for the playoffs, but was promptly accused of having a hand in teammate Lars Eller getting concussed by Ottawa Senator Eric Gryba.

    There’s little questioning Diaz’s puck-moving ability, but there is definite uncertainty regarding his defensive awareness and hockey sense in general. This is the year he will have to put any doubt in his game to bed, because he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

    With just two seasons under his belt, it’s easy to forget that Diaz is 27 years old and, like former Detroit Red Wing Damien Brunner, could end up on the outs almost as soon as his NHL career began.

    With Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu nearing the starts of their full-time NHL careers, the pressure is definitely on to a certain degree. However, considering the Habs have just one defenseman (Josh Gorges) signed past this year, there’s a good chance that the team does reach out to him.

    Here’s betting he brings his A-game in order to maximize any offer, whether it be from the Habs or another team come next July. Here’s hoping it’s actually good enough.

3) Louis Leblanc

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    Admittedly, the main reason prospect Louis Leblanc is poised to take a huge step forward in 2013-14 is because he’s pretty much run out of room to go backward in his development.

    After playing in 42 games in the NHL in 2011-12, he fell behind Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher on the team’s depth chart up front last season and didn’t make it out of the American Hockey League.

    What’s even worse is he scored a horrible 10 goals and eight assists in 62 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. To put that total in the proper perspective, the previous season when in Hamilton, he played just half that amount of games but scored 11 goals and 22 points.

    Needless to say his development took a hit in 2013, but he’s still an 18th-overall pick (2009). Sure, first-round picks turn out to be busts all the time, but they usually still have the talent to make it and just don’t for lack of other intangibles.

    It’s kind of up in the air right now as to which intangibles Leblanc possesses and which he lacks. However, that first-round skill he has should at the very least enable him to rebound considerably in the minors if not with the Habs themselves.

    With two roster spots reportedly up for grabs up front to start the season, according to TVA Sports, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Leblanc gets another shot to prove himself with the Habs this year. If he doesn’t, he’s still bound to play better with the Bulldogs relative to last year.

    It’s kind of impossible for him to play any worse.

2) Alex Galchenyuk

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    While it’s definitely a possibility Alex Galchenyuk falls victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, it’s more likely to get the better of Brendan Gallagher than him.

    Whereas Gallagher plays top-line minutes with more pressure to contribute offensively, Galchenyuk did what he did last year (nine goals, 18 assists) in largely a more defense-oriented role. Tempered expectations as a result could realistically translate into greater success.

    It’s definitely unlikely that in a span of one season and at just 19 years old Galchenyuk becomes a point-per-game player, but it’s very possible he takes on more responsibility and ice time at the same time.

    For example, considering Brian Gionta enjoyed 2:57 of power-play ice time a game and he’s likely injured to start the season, those minutes need to go somewhere. Galchenyuk (who played just 1:02 with the man advantage per game) could very well be the recipient of at least some of that time (and the points to come with it).

1) Carey Price

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    Much like Louis Leblanc, goaltender Carey Price has little room to go but up.

    He may not have exactly hit rock bottom like a certain other supposedly top-level goalie who is now pretty much being forced to seek actual professional help (not the type from a coach, in case that wasn’t clear). That being said, Price arguably wasn’t far off by the end of this past season.

    After Price gave up 13 goals in four playoff games, failing once again to be a difference maker in the postseason, he has been placed firmly behind the eight ball. Thankfully, there’s almost every reason to believe Price will rebound in 2013-14.

    Everyone knows Price is capable of being an elite goalie in this league following his 2010-11 season. Put simply, after two straight below-average seasons since then, he’s due.