Montreal Canadiens Position Battles to Watch in 2014 Offseason
The Montreal Canadiens' 2014 offseason is winding down, and general manager Marc Bergevin has made most of his moves. But that doesn't mean the final roster is set, and it certainly doesn't mean there won't be any position battles in training camp.
The Habs have some depth up front, meaning there will be some solid competition in September. There are a couple right wing spots up for grabs, as well as one on the left side.
The top five defensemen look set with five veterans ready to open the season. But three youngsters who spent most of the season in the AHL's Hamilton last year will be looking to grab that final spot and stay in Montreal.
Finally, the emergence of Dustin Tokarski has created an interesting scenario in goal.
Here are the Montreal Canadiens position battles to watch during the rest of the 2014 offseason.
Top-Six Forwards: Right Wing
The loss of Thomas Vanek has created a hole among the Canadiens' top-six forwards. Brendan Gallagher will be assured of a right wing spot, but the other position will be a battle to watch in camp.
P.A. Parenteau was acquired early in the offseason and will be considered for a scoring role on the right side. The 31-year-old had a down year in 2014, scoring just 14 times in 55 games, but he has shown in the past he can put the puck in the net.
In 2013, Parenteau had 43 points (18 G, 25 A) in just 48 games with Colorado. He also had 67 points (18 G, 49 A) the season before with the Islanders. The Canadiens would be thrilled if Parenteau can find that level of production again in 2014-15.
Another player to watch in the top-six, right wing battle is rookie Jiri Sekac. The Canadiens signed the 22-year-old Czech after he spent the last three seasons in the KHL.
Sekac's numbers weren't spectacular in 2013-14, as he scored 11 goals and 17 assists in 47 games. It is important to remember, however, that he achieved that level of production as a 21-year-old in arguably the second-best hockey league in the world.
Reviews from those who have seen Sekac play have also been glowing. Allan Walsh, his agent, tweeted this back in March:
More Red Line Report: "Our Czech scout has seen Jiri Sekac in 5 KHL games this yr, reports he's been the best player on ice in every game."— Allan Walsh (@walsha) March 25, 2014
Simon Ledsham at Habs Eyes on the Prize also put together a highlight video of Sekac dominating the Canadiens' development camp in July. Granted, this performance was against much younger and less experienced players, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Sekac and Parenteau remain the front-runners for the top-six, right wing vacancy. Currently, Parenteau likely has the edge because of his NHL experience, but a good camp from Sekac could win him the spot.
Bottom-Six Forwards: Right Wing
After the top-six battle on the right side, the focus shifts to the bottom six. Dale Weise has a spot locked up, likely on the fourth line, but the third-line position is certainly up for grabs.
Some would think that the loser of the top-six battle would automatically become the third-line right winger, but that's not necessarily the case.
Assuming Parenteau beats out Sekac for the top-six spot, there's a chance that the rookie is sent down to Hamilton rather than kept to play a checking role in Montreal. If that happens, the Canadiens would be forced to play someone out of position on the right side.
The most likely candidate to do that is Brandon Prust.
The 30-year-old native of London, Ontario, will be entering his third season in Montreal and has proved in the past that he is a versatile player who is able to play a number of different positions.
The problem is that he has also shown that his body can't hold up to a full NHL season anymore. That makes him the perfect stopgap while Sekac, if he doesn't make the team out of camp, gets some seasoning in the AHL.
The Canadiens are a little thin on right wing as they head into September, especially if Sekac isn't ready for a full-time gig in Montreal. In that case, Prust could slide over to the right side to open the season.
Bottom-Six Forwards: Left Wing
The final forward battle in camp shifts to the bottom-six left winger. Considering his flashes of brilliance in the playoffs and his contract (he has a cap hit of $3.3 million in each of the next two seasons), Rene Bourque can be slotted into the third-line role. The fourth-line spot will be one to monitor, however.
Prust will certainly be involved in this battle if Sekac makes the team out of camp, but assuming Prust takes the right wing spot like previously discussed, the likely candidates become Travis Moen and Michael Bournival.
Moen has been with the squad since the 2009-10 season, so the Canadiens know what they're getting when he steps on the ice. The 32-year-old plays a gritty game, excels on defense and the penalty kill, and will drop the gloves from time to time.
But speed and offensive creativity aren't his strong points, which is why Bournival has a great chance to beat out Moen for the final left wing spot.
The 22-year-old Bournival played in 60 games as a rookie last season, chipping in with seven goals and seven assists in limited minutes (10:19 per game). But he brought an element of speed to the lines he played on, which is something Moen can't provide.
The left wing position on the fourth line will be a training camp battle, and one that will probably stretch into the season. Expect to see Bournival, Moen and even Prust play the position at times, with the youngster getting the majority of the shifts there.
The Montreal Canadiens' top five defensemen are pretty much set heading into training camp. P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver will dress on opening day, barring injury.
But that still leaves one spot open for some youngsters to fight over in camp.
Nathan Beaulieu would appear to be the favorite after his solid performance in the playoffs last season. After appearing in just 17 regular-season games, the Canadiens decided he gave them the best shot to win in the playoffs. Beaulieu ended up appearing in seven playoff games and played quite well, chipping in with a pair of assists.
Another name to watch in this battle is Jarred Tinordi. The hulking 6'6", 227-pound defenseman has already appeared in 30 career games with the Habs but hasn't yet been able to nail down a permanent job. He'll be given a hard look in training camp by Michel Therrien and his coaching staff.
The dark horse for the sixth-defenseman battle is Greg Pateryn. The 24-year-old played well enough in his second AHL season to become Hamilton's most trusted defenseman, at least according to Michael Sardano and Andrew Berkshire at Habs Eyes on the Prize.
Pateryn appeared in 68 games for the Bulldogs in 2013-14 and scored an impressive 15 goals and 19 assists. His 34 points gave him seven more than Beaulieu on the season, although the latter played in 11 fewer games.
The Canadiens will have a battle for the sixth defenseman in training camp. Beaulieu probably has the early edge due to his playoff performance, but Tinordi and Pateryn will both be looking to sneak in and grab a permanent roster spot in Montreal.
Assuming Carey Price is healthy come training camp, the Canadiens will have a very tough decision as to who will be their backup goaltender: Peter Budaj or Tokarski.
If Price didn't get hurt in last year's Eastern Conference Final, there would be no battle. Budaj, who has a year remaining on his contract, would resume his backup duties.
But Price did get hurt. Budaj was then passed over for the starting role, and Tokarski came in and played spectacularly, making a name for himself in the hockey world in the process.
So now the Habs have three NHL-calibre goalies on their hands and can only carry two. Price will obviously be one of them, meaning either Budaj or Tokarski won't be on the Canadiens' opening-day roster.
This battle will probably be a bit different, however, in that it won't necessarily be the better goalie on the ice in camp who earns the spot. Instead, this battle will probably be decided by the management team.
Bergevin will likely be trying to move Budaj or Tokarski before the regular season begins. While most other teams are currently set at goaltender, things will change in September. Injuries always occur during training camp and the backup-goaltender market could heat up.
It will be interesting to see which goaltender is more coveted, however.
Budaj is a proven backup who is a great leader in the locker room. Yet he is 31 and owed $1.4 million in 2014-15, a figure some teams might consider too high for a backup goalie.
Tokarski is very cheap at $562,500 for the next two seasons. He is also just 24 years old and has a much higher ceiling than Budaj, meaning Bergevin would be looking to get much more in return for Tokarski.
It appears that the Canadiens will enter training camp with Price, Budaj and Tokarski on their roster, but it would be surprising to see all three of them still there on October 8 (opening night). Budaj or Tokarski will likely be moved.
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