Can Max Pacioretty Provide What the Montreal Canadiens Need?

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 22:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the New Jersey Devils during their NHL game at the Prudential Center on January 22, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Canadiens defeated the Devils 3-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the Montreal Canadiens get ready to face off against the streaking Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the Bell Centre, Habs' fans' hopes are high.

Not so much because they are confident about tonight's game or because they feel the Habs can beat the Flyers, but more because of a young man named Max Pacioretty who will be making his 2010-2011 NHL season debut tonight.

If you've been hiding under a rock for the last few years, Pacioretty is a player the Habs drafted 22nd overall in the 2007 NHL entry draft. When he was chosen by the Habs' head of amateur scouting, Trevor Timmins, he was described as the prototypical power forward. That Eric Cole-type player who was very difficult to trade for but which all teams covet.

To date, while there have been flashes of brilliance from MaxPac, he has yet to achieve anything resembling his draft appraisal, at least at the NHL level.

In the 2008-2009 season, Pacioretty played a total of 34 games as a call-up, scoring 11 points (3G, 8A) and a minus-three rating. Last season, however, he was looked at as part of the core of the team and the hope was that he could grab one of the top six spots on the team. But playing 52 games, largely on the third and fourth line, MaxPac lost his confidence and was often a visitor to the press box. He put together 14 points (3G, 11A) and a minus-five rating while making himself a frequent guest in Jacques Martin's doghouse.

It was around this point that Timmins had to be wondering whether the diamond he thought he plucked was actually a lump of coal.

This season has been different for Pacioretty, however, starting with a solid NHL training camp before being sent down to Hamilton to start the season. It's seems like the Habs might have learned the errors of rushing far too many prospects through the system, and realized that playing more time in the AHL is not a bad thing.

For MaxPac, he has rediscovered his game playing under the two Randys in Hamilton. He currently trails only former Habs' prospect, Corey Locke, by one point in the AHL scoring race. With 32 points (17G, 15A) in 27 games, it is fair to say that Pacioretty is dominating at the AHL.

And, at the end of the day, that is exactly what you want from a prospect: to dominate. The best way to develop a player is to put them in a position where they can dominate at every level before moving up to the next.

By all indications, Pacioretty has gotten his confidence back and is ready to seize his opportunity. More importantly for the Canadiens, bringing up Pacioretty now will give them almost two months to see what he can do and if he is ready to step into the top six. That two-month timeline is not insignificant, because it moves the team closer to the trade deadline.

If Pacioretty is the real deal, the Habs can instead focus on looking for a defenseman through the trade market instead of looking to trade for, say, a Dustin Penner-type.

If he doesn't work out, then the Habs know that they will need to start looking outside of the team for answers. That is unless they actually believe the Travis Moen is a top six player, which seems unlikely.

Tonight will be Pacioretty's first game of the season and what better challenge for the 6'2" 208 lbs winger than playing against the big, hulking Philadelphia Flyers?

Will he continue to go to and crash the net like he has done so effectively in 27 AHL games this season? Can he compete at the same level against NHL competition?

Only time will tell.

But if he does, Pacioretty might be ready to become that crease-crashing, goal-scoring power forward that the Habs have been missing since John LeClair played his last game on the team.

All eyes will be on Pacioretty tonight and I would offer a simple word of caution that is that he is still young and people should not go off the deep end if he doesn't score three goals tonight. Conversely, they shouldn't lose their minds if he does score three goals either!

Pacioretty looks like he has all the tools necessary to succeed in the NHL. All that is needed is a little patience from the coaching staff and the fan base. If people can give this kid room to breathe and come into his own, I think that he will end up turning out to be the diamond that Timmins felt he found three years ago.

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