Going into their 101st year of existence, the Canadiens have lost quite a bit of height over the off-season. However, they still possess one of the deepest forward cores in the Eastern Conference.
While the main theme of 2008-2009 was all that went wrong, not enough emphasis has been put on the blooming of two very promising French-Canadians, Maxim Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse.
The two formed a very potent line with the since departed Tom Kostopoulos, and on many nights they were the best three players in the Canadien's lineup. The natives of St. Catherine and St. Leonard, Quebec played an inspired game that brought energy to the team, as well as pitching in a good amount of goals.
It is not too far fetched to say that Latendresse has been a disappointment so far in his NHL career, but it is more of a case of advertising the wrong product. The faithful in Montreal hyped him up as one of the Hab's next great goal-scorers, a label that unfortunately stuck.
His NHL debut was also mired in controversy, as many claimed that the only reason he made the team out of camp was that he was French-Canadian. This created expectations for him that were simply unrealistic. Through all of this, he has become a decent power forward who can chip in 15-20 goals and can bring in the big hits when needed.
While Latendresse came in to the league right away after major junior, Maxim Lapierre quietly honed his craft in the AHL, playing for the Canadien's farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. During the Bulldog's run to the Calder Cup, Lapierre bloomed as one of the team's key players and leaders. After a few brief stints in Montreal, he finally stuck in 2007-2008.
However, it was not until last year where we saw just how much both players could contribute. Lapierre established himself as the second coming of Claude Lemieux, and Latendresse, while unspectacular, was effective in large part due to his improved skating, a characteristic which was always deemed a weakness in his case.
Both Habs are decent separate, but on the same line they are dynamite. Lapierre's speed and versatility complements nicely Latendresse's crash and bang attitude. What makes this combination even better is that while they are looking to grind it out and provide some energy, they can also provide some offense, as Lapierre became a regular on the shootout and Latendresse's powerful wrister always made him a threat.
With a projected top line of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta and the expected progression of Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, neither French-Canadians will be leaned on for goal-scoring, so any puck they put in the net is considered a bonus.
What will be very beneficial to both players will be the addition of Travis Moen, who is expected to fill the void left by Tom Kostopoulos. Moen will bring basically the same thing as Kostopoulos did, except with more potential to score goals, and hopefully win some fights, as I have a hard time remembering when poor Kostopolous didn't get absolutely pummeled.
While neither Lapierre nor Latendresse will evoke memories of past great French-Canadian players to don a Habs jersey, they are just entering the prime of their careers and should be mainstays in the Hab's lineup for years to come.