Following my previous article on three Canadiens players that could rebound this season, let’s continue this series by taking a look at three players who may have a breakout season this year, and who could potentially be top contributors on the team.
Despite this being the young Finn's sophomore year, he’s already displayed a knack for being a goal-scorer in the NHL. He surpassed expectations with 18 goals on 158 shots, resulting in a shooting percentage of 11.4%. These numbers look even more impressive when you see that Lehkonen started the majority of his shifts, 55% of his end-zone starts, in the defensive zone.
Another reason we may see improvement on his play this season is from his performance in the playoffs against the New York Rangers. Despite an early exit for the Canadiens, he was one of the bright spots for the team, ramping up his game and finishing with four points in the six games played.
In the following clip, Lehkonen’s strong post-season work ethic is on full display. He first strips Marc Staal of the puck before it heads towards the net, where he then attempts a shot on the rebound. He doesn't give up after the failed attempt on net, continuing to pursue it. He notices Dwight King battling with Kevin Hayes on the other side of the net and proceeds to outmuscle Staal as he skates behind the net, wrapping the puck in past Henrik Lundqvist.
One part of Lehkonen's game that really showed in the playoffs was his tenacity and strength on the puck, as well as his hockey IQ, which I feel can be overshadowed by his wicked wrist shot.
The play above displays how Lehkonen is much more than just a player with a strong shot, and this sort of play should definitely contribute to improved success in 2017-18.
Ideally at some point this season, Lehkonen would get a spot next to Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin (if the experiment at centre succeeds). As a result, this would place him on his off-wing and possibly giving him a better angle to use his shot more effectively. Another reason for this would be the overload of left-wingers, resulting in extra competition between Alex Galchenyuk, Paul Byron and Lehkonen.
Prediction: 26 goals, 20 assists
To say the pressure is on Galchenyuk to perform this year would be an understatement. The highly skilled yet often criticized forward went through a whirlwind 2016-17 season and is now placed at left wing as Claude Julien has decided to give newcomer Drouin a chance to be the number-one centre.
If Drouin doesn’t work out as the Habs’ main pivot, you might see Galchenyuk get another shot at centre. Especially after his early success last season where, at one point, he was in the top 10 in NHL scoring before injuring his knee.
Galchenyuk's season high in goals came two seasons ago with 30, but his production severely decreased last year with only 17 goals and 27 assists. Yes, this may be due to questionable coaching decisions and injury problems, but he did have considerable trouble contributing closer to the end of the season. Granted, 30 goals in 2015-16 can be considered his breakout year, but I believe his ceiling is much higher than that.
This pre-season he seems to be struggling with his decision-making, as shown by his turnover that led to a Tim Schaller goal when they played the Boston Bruins on September 18. Some may argue this is just pre-season and players are simply knocking off some rust from the summer, so I don't see it being a long-term issue, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Currently he’s placed on what seems to be the Habs’ third line along Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw, although I don't think he’ll remain on this line for the rest of the season.
Galchenyuk on his off-wing is an interesting concept. He’s been placed in that position on the power play and it has been quite effective when he gets a chance to use his powerful one-timer.
This is something we saw pretty often last year as well, as he set a Habs franchise record for the most overtime goals in a single season.
Here’s another example of that one-timer, this time against the Blue Jackets.
One more interesting pairing would be with young gun Charles Hudon. The offensive creativity both Hudon and Galchenyuk possess could really complement each other if they end up on a line together.
Galchenyuk is arguably the most important player to the Canadiens this season. His offensive output can fill the void left by Alexander Radulov and has perhaps the most skill on the team next to Drouin. Consistency is the issue, but I’m expecting a big year from Chucky this season.
Prediction: 35 goals, 30 assists
Some may be surprised to find a defenceman on this list, but circumstances may allow Jeff Petry to have his best offensive season thus far.
Following the departure of Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu, Petry becomes one of the Habs’ top puck-moving options in the back end, and will be relied on more than ever this season.
Petry is known for playing a two-way game and his strong skating ability and positioning are paramount for his success. He had his top offensive year last season, tallying 28 points in 80 games, and was a frequent contributor on the second power-play unit despite only scoring seven points on the man advantage.
He’s projected to begin the season alongside Karl Alzner, which some may see as a benefit to Petry, and some may point to parallels when he played with Alexei Emelin. Regardless, having a defensive-minded partner will give Petry more opportunities to jump into the play, carry the puck up more often, and have greater mobility overall.
He will also likely see an uptick in power-play time, where he could be paired with Shea Weber, unless Julien decides to play Weber with Drouin on the point as we've seen through this pre-season. Petry was seen alongside Victor Mete in the tune-up games, scoring against Toronto from a feed from the young blue-liner, which could lead to them seeing more of each other on the special-teams unit — pending the young defender remaining with the Habs.
In the following play, Petry uses all the tools in his arsenal to create the goal. Following the draw, the puck bounces towards the blue line, and he has the awareness to kick the puck in order to keep it in the zone. He then strafes along the boards (note his exceptional footwork), with his head up looking for a passing lane. When he doesn’t see one, he skates around the boards and rims it around to a waiting Galchenyuk.
He remains at the right circle during the cycle, hovering between the dot and the blue line as he notices that Leafs defender Miro Aaltonen is puck-watching and hasn’t noticed his presence. Once Mete gets the puck, Petry is square to the pass and blasts home the one-timer easily.
This play clearly demonstrates his offensive awareness, as he had his head up the entire play, as well as some great edge work, finishing with a rocket of a shot.
Also, don't be surprised to see Julien try a Petry-Weber pairing at some point on the season.
Regardless of where he plays, Petry will probably be asked to shoulder most of the load on the offensive side of the game, and I expect him to thrive this season with the Canadiens.
Prediction: 12 goals, 25 assists.