Being a professional hockey player isn’t easy. It’s even more difficult to be one who can constantly contribute at the NHL level.
Last year the Montreal Canadiens had a number of players who underperfomed, whether it be due to lengthy injuries, a lack of discipline, or just downright horrid luck over 82 games. The good news is that all bad things come to an end at some point, and there is reason to believe the previous seasons for a few forwards are ones that aren’t likely to be repeated.
For Gallagher, he has suffered through two hellish seasons, having the same hand broken twice; once on a Johnny Boychuk slapshot, and again on one from his teammate, Shea Weber, this past year. This, coupled with (or perhaps resulting in) a lower shooting percentage, hampered Gallagher’s production after his 24-goal effort in the 2014-15 season. He managed just 10 goals last year, his lowest total since his rookie season.
Last year is a significant outlier in Gallagher’s career thus far, and he himself said the injury had affected the way he had to shoot the puck, among other things. Despite his hand having to be fully repaired for the second year in a row, he was among Montreal’s best possession forwards yet again, clocking in at an impressive 55.7% Corsi-for percentage. Even if he isn’t producing goals, Gallagher is driving play in the right direction for Montreal.
He is a prime target to rebound in the upcoming season, and the departure of Alexander Radulov means that he will very likely return to the top of the lineup. The 20-odd goals that Gallagher is capable of will be a major boost for Claude Julien’s offence, both at five-on-five and on a power play that struggled mightily at times without Gallagher buzzing around the crease.
There’s no other way to phrase it: Plekanec did not have a good season last year. He was snakebitten and struggled to find any way to match his hefty new contract.
Much like Gallagher, last year is well outside the norm for Plekanec, just to a much larger extreme. With just 28 points in 78 games it was his worst season in over a decade in terms of production. It’s easy to be critical with Plekanec sporting a $6 million cap hit this upcoming year, but when we look at his overall career it’s hard to think that the Czech centre won’t rebound this year.
He still has plenty to offer in the starting lineup, from being a crucial piece on the penalty kill to handling key defensive minutes. It’s highly unlikely that Plekanec magically finds his old 60-point form, but it’s very possible that he can post a solid 40 points or so while also taking on a relatively tough deployment.
Shaw didn’t have a bad season in his first year in Montreal. He did exactly what he’s known for: playing hard-nosed, physical hockey, while chipping in the odd goal. The issue wasn’t so much his production or his ability to play. In fact he was one of Montreal’s top forwards in terms of possession statistics. The problem was that for a good portion of the year Shaw was out of control on the ice, and it was drastically impacting his effectiveness for his new team.
He missed games with suspensions, limiting how useful he could be, and spent a large amount of time in the penalty box, not only not contributing, but directly hurting his club by forcing them into short-handed situations.
When he toed the line and focused on creating offence, Shaw became a valuable piece for the Canadiens late in the season. Under Julien, Shaw’s discipline issues were reined in, and should that carry over to 2017-18 he should thrive in the head coach’s first full season.
Finally there’s a player who isn’t quite an NHL regular, but is just on the cusp — if the team can figure out what role to slot him into in the NHL.
McCarron had an extremely promising rookie season in the AHL, and didn’t look out of place in his NHL call-up. This past year however, he wasn’t quite as dominant, but looked right at home in the AHL, which is fine for a prospect of his calibre.
The problem he faces is that at the NHL level he became a fourth-liner who fought more than he scored, which isn’t what fans expect to see from a first-round pick. He has the talent to be a useful forward, with good hands around the net, and plenty of skill to be more than just a bottom-of-the-lineup player.
To get the best out of McCarron this year, letting him play top minutes in the AHL might be a preferable option over him playing minimal minutes in a shoehorned role.
There’s a lot to like about Montreal’s forward lineup this upcoming season, with plenty of skilled players, and Claude Julien will ensure the team gets the most out of the new-look defence. When we take into account that last year was likely an aberration for some key players, there’s a very good chance we could see Montreal have a better season than the last.