The Montreal Canadiens have entered training camp this year with some serious questions regarding the order of battle at the centre position, and it should be interesting to see how things play out.
Tomas Plekanec has been a stalwart presence for the Habs for the past 10 seasons. He's entering his 11th season in the NHL, and turning 33 in October. For years he has been called to play the difficult assignments guarding the top players in the league, playing critical PK minutes, and also asked to occasionally create an offensive spark. He has always worked hard and proven to be a steady presence at centre for the team. His calm demeanour on the ice is very appreciated by his teammates who look to him to control the play. Will his age take him down the pecking order amongst centremen, or will he continue to play top line?
Alex Galchenyuk is both a newcomer and a familiar face when discussing depth at centre. For his first three professional seasons he has played on the wing, but the promise of eventually playing at centre always led to the question "when?" Now we know that the answer is now. Alex will be playing centre but on what line? Will Therrien trust him enough to give him top-line minutes?
The much maligned David Desharnais takes a lot of flack for his inconsistency, but he has been the one player who Max Pacioretty prefers at centre over anyone else. In fact the majority of Max's professional career was spent with Desharnais feeding him passes on the top line first for the Hamilton Bulldogs and now the Montreal Canadiens. Desharnais has overachieved at every level he's played, but will he continue to be given the opportunity to play at his familiar position?
Desharnais isn't the only one to get frequent criticism. Lars Eller also receives a load of negative press due to inconsistent play. It needs to be noted that he was frequently saddled with ineffective wingers (i.e., Rene Bourque, Devante Smith-Pelly), who probably drag his production down. The Habs have upgraded their options on the wings, and it's quite possible that Eller will become the player that he's expected to be. It should be interesting to watch his confidence grow during training camp if the coach gives him the chance.
Torrey Mitchell was acquired at the deadline last season from the Buffalo Sabres to replace Manny Malhotra, and fared rather well with his new club. Mitchell provided Therrien with a defensive option, who took the pressure off Plekanec and also attributed to numerous face-off wins in the opponent's zone. With the proper wingers he might even be considered an offensive weapon for the coach. Obviously the management saw something in him because they offered him a brand new three-year contract, which is unusual for a fourth liner. Where will he fit in the grand scheme of things?
Gabriel Dumont has been on the cusp of the NHL for several years now. The St. John's IceCaps captain has been a call-up for the Habs four seasons in a row, but always seemed to fall victim to an abundance of options for the coach. It's quite probable that if he was on any other team in the league he would be a steady presence on the fourth line. But is this the year that he busts through, surprises everyone camp, and makes the team?
Fresh off a successful season in the junior ranks, Michael McCarron enters his first professional season a serious contender for a spot on the Habs due to his intimidating size. The first-round pick made waves with his play during the Memorial Cup, and has not hidden his desire to make the Canadiens out of training camp. He would bring an element of grit combined with stickhandling talent that would give the Habs a dangerous weapon to deploy in various situations.
Does he have a place with the Habs this year?