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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Tomas Plekanec

A model of consistency in the Habs organization, Tomas Plekanec will once again be leaned upon to provide a balance of scoring and defensive responsibility.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Much has changed within the Montreal Canadiens organization over the course of the past decade. General managers, head coaches, team captains, and star players have all come and gone. In fact, precious few things remain in place. One thing that has, though, is Tomas Plekanec.

Plekanec is entering his 11th season with the Canadiens, surpassed only by Andrei Markov on the active roster.

His 761 games played with the Habs is 25th all-time, and he's on track to pass the beloved Saku Koivu to move into the top-20 this season, provided he remains healthy.

Some have questioned whether or not the Kladno native will be a member of the Canadiens at this time next year, as he enters the final year of a six-year contract signed in 2010. The doubt stems, of course, from affordability much more than it does from his playing ability.

A model of consistency, Plekanec has been relied upon to do much of the heavy lifting for the Habs for many years. Despite a revolving door of wingers and a heavy load of defensive usage, Plekanec continuously finds himself near the top of the Habs scoring list. Perhaps one of the truly underrated players in the league,  Plekanec – in all of his turtle-necked glory - has been the heart of the Canadiens forward core for some time now.

2014-15 Season Review

Plekanec was once again a leader on a mostly anemic offense; his 60 points coming second only to Max Pacioretty. The 26 goals he scored this year were also the second most of his NHL career, and the most since 2007-08 when he found the back of the net 29 times.

Plekanec 10-game CF% condensed

2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Desharnais on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On IceCharts created by Spencer Mann.

In terms of possession, Plekanec has an up and down season, with his season average Corsi For % coming in narrowly above the team average. This, of course, has to be considered in context. Plekanec started play in his own defensive zone more than any other forward on the Habs roster this past season in terms of raw numbers, which would of course have a negative effect on his possession.

It is worth noting that both Lars Eller and Manny Malhotra started a larger percentage of their own shifts in the defensive zone than Plekanec, but that also goes to show the versatility Plekanec possesses. The Czech national was heavily leaned upon when it came to killing penalties as well. He led Habs forwards in time on ice when shorthanded and also put up two points on the season while down a man.

Plekanec had more than a defensive deployment to overcome last season, though. He also had the issue of an assortment of different wingers to deal with, which has become something of a theme for him during his time in Montreal.

Alex Galchenyuk was his most common linemate, but Plekanec also saw a considerable amount of ice time with each of Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Dale Weise, and P.A. Parenteau. In truth, it’s a better group than many of the line combinations Plekanec has seen in the past, but the ever-changing nature of his line is certainly not conducive to building chemistry.

For that reason, his consistency is worthy of applause. Plekanec went longer than three games without finding the score-sheet only once all season, on his way to a 60 point (or more) campaign for the third time in his career.

2015-16 Season Preview

While some media may drum up talk of a trade for the unrestricted free agent, Plekanec will – as always – be focused squarely on the ice.

projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic GalaminiCalculation procedure

We can actually expect Plekanec to be leaned upon a little less this season, with his time on ice beginning to lower slightly per game. This is to be expected with the maturation of Alex Galchenyuk, who we now know will be making the transition to centre. It will be interesting to see exactly where Plekanec will play to begin the season.

All signs from training camp point towards Lars Eller moving to the wing, though it was primarily Eller and his defensive prowess that allowed Plekanec to pass on some of the burden in the first place last season. If it is indeed Eller staying on the wing and Desharnais remaining in the middle, we can probably expect a more defensive deployment this season for Plekanec.

Plekanec should be good for roughly the same number of goals this season, which should come as no surprise. He has scored no fewer than 20 goals in any given year outside of his rookie season, with the exception of the lockout-shortened season in which he was on pace to score 24 goals in 82 games.

We could see a downtick in both assists and points, but this will largely depend once again on whom he finds himself playing alongside. Plekanec could return to the first line with Max Pacioretty and – likely – Brendan Gallagher, which should see his point totals remain near tops on the team. If, however, he is relegated to an even more defensive role on the "third" line, it may be more difficult to match this past season’s offensive numbers. The same goes for his possession stats, as even for all of his defensive might, Plekanec will find himself in tough situations given that Desharnais and Galchenyuk should both be used as primarily offensive weapons.

Regardless, we already know what to expect from Plekanec in 2015-16 and that is consistency. The man is a calming presence on the ice and will no doubt continue to be once again, no matter what role he finds himself in come October.