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Projecting the 2016-17 Montreal Canadiens lineup: The Forwards

There are some new faces up front this year for the Canadiens. What will the forward group look like for the season opener?

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have a pretty good idea of who exactly Michel Therrien will have to choose his lineup from this coming season, it is time to start projecting. There are some new faces coming over up front, so there should be a pretty different look on opening night than we saw last year.

Conversely, some staples in the lineup are still around, and we can probably expect them to step right back into their already defined roles. So without further ado, let's get started on projecting the forward lines for next season.

The first line

The odds are that Michel Therrien will elect to stick with the group that ended last year in this position. If it ain't broke, right? Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, and Brendan Gallagher were great in that role. It was a small sample, but based on what they accomplished, it is very worth exploring further.

In just over 60 minutes of even-strength ice time together, they were lights out. They posted 56.92% Corsi for, 57.14% shots for, 3.96 goals for per 60 minutes, and 57.14% goals for. They are a dominant offensive line, and it makes sense to see how that pans out over a longer stretch.

The only way I can see how a different configuration up top would be worth it is if they want to try the new guy there. Alexander Radulov could feasibly take over Gallagher's spot, which would add a bit of a different dynamic to the line. Radulov is a great playmaker, and they could very feasibly put up similar numbers or better.

There isn't really a statistical argument, since we do not yet know who Radulov will gel with. It would however allow Brendan Gallagher to move down to the second line, reuniting him with a certain centreman with whom he has seen great statistical success.

The second line

The only thing that seems to be a lock for this part of the lineup is that Tomas Plekanec should be playing centre. Defensively speaking, it would be hard to argue that the Canadiens possess a better talent at the centre position, and he brings some offence too. Who he should play with is a tougher question to answer.

On the left, I like one of Daniel Carr or Artturi Lehkonen to slot in. Lehkonen more than proved himself in the SHL last year, and I think he stands a great chance to make the team. Carr proved himself with the Habs before a knee injury forced him out for a good while. These two should duke it out for a spot in the top-six.

On the right, it figures to be one of Gallagher or Radulov. As mentioned, the former had some serious success with Plekanec last year. Just take a look at their numbers together with two different players on the left side.

Trio ES TOI CF% SF/60 SA/60 SF% GF/60 GA/60 GF%
Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher 422.67 59.05% 37.19 27.40 57.58% 3.41 1.85 64.86%
Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Gallagher 117.59 53.16% 31.64 31.13 50.41% 4.08 0.51 88.89%

Naturally they had two pretty good players skating with them on the left side, but either way they put up great numbers. Give them one of the two youngsters, and you could confidently expect that trend to continue.

Things were a little better with Pacioretty playing his natural position on the left, but both Carr and Lehkonen are natural wingers who shoot left as well. Plekanec mitigates the need to shelter them, so whoever you put on the left walks into a very advantageous situation.

The third line

Here, things continue to get trickier to predict. Injuries permitting, this is where I feel that David Desharnais should be placed, unless of course Michel Therrien really wants him back with Max Pacioretty. We do know that is not the best way to use him, so for now I'm going to pencil him in here.

Newly acquired Andrew Shaw stands a pretty good chance of skating on the right side. He actually posts pretty good defensive numbers, and that would allow him to make up for some of the shortcomings that Desharnais has been known to have in that regard.

I do however like Sven Andrighetto to make some noise for the spot on the right side of this line. In just over 60 minutes of even-strength ice time with Desharnais (and Stefan Matteau) last season, they posted 55.17% Corsi for, 54.84% shots for, and 66.67% goals for. They were deployed in a rather offensive role, but it could be worth exploring further depending on how they want to use that third trio.

On the left, again I think this will be one of Lehkonen or Carr, whoever doesn't find their home in the top-six. Obviously, I believe that both of these players should be making the Canadiens next year.

The fourth line

This one is even harder to predict. As for the centre position, I check Torrey Mitchell as the frontrunner, but give an outside shot to Phillip Danault, if of course he gets a deal signed. Either player boasts the defensive ability to handle the role

Paul Byron I would say is almost a lock for the left wing spot, but you never know if Stefan Matteau could usurp the veteran for that spot. On the right, I think it will be One of Andrew Shaw or Sven Andrighetto, but Brian Flynn is the dark horse I think has to be mentioned at the very least.

And you never know, there are a number of guys who spent most of last year in the AHL or elsewhere that might just force their way into the conversation.

The wild cards

I don't see any of the following players as having a real shot at the top-six, but they will get extended looks for roster spots at the very least. Martin Reway, Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, and Brian Flynn will all be present, and they will make things interesting. All but Reway suited up for the team last season at some point.

If any one of those players has a great camp, they could open the eyes of the coaching staff and earn a spot. This will be a very competitive year in camp for the Canadiens, so you have to be open to the possibility of someone doing the unexpected.

In the end, barring any surprise runs at a roster spot in camp, I believe we're looking at a lineup that looks something like this.

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Max Pacioretty Alex Galchenyuk Brendan Gallagher/Alexander Radulov
Daniel Carr/Artturi Lehkonen Tomas Plekanec Brendan Gallagher/Alexander Radulov
Daniel Carr/Artturi Lehkonen David Desharnais Andrew Shaw/Sven Andrighetto
Paul Byron/Stefan Matteau Torrey Mitchell/Phillip Danault Andrew Shaw/Sven Andrighetto/Brian Flynn

At no point could I even come to a consensus with myself. After last season, it is incumbent on the coaching staff to consider all options that may improve the team. These are the forwards that I believe will be on the roster when the season starts, but some of them will be sitting up in the press box.

The Canadiens have options, and it should be quite interesting to see what they end up with for that opening game lineup. What do you think the lineup will look like? Let us know in the comments!