The preeminent concern for the Montreal Canadiens this off-season has been how the team plans to bolster an offence that sputtered to a first-round playoff exit. They lost a heart-and-soul player in Alexander Radulov to the Dallas Stars, and didn’t make a major splash in free agency.
Even with the loss of their dynamic Russian, there’s plenty of talent in the forward group that can kickstart the offence in the upcoming season.
There was some doubt about who was going to play centre in the upcoming year, but with Alex Galchenyuk re-signed for three years, the picture becomes more clear. If Galchenyuk is played down the middle the Habs benefit immediately, as Phillip Danault can slot into the second-line spot, and Tomas Plekanec can take more defensive minutes in a third-line role.
Galchenyuk has shown what he do when he’s at his best, and Danault had a breakout season last year. Those two should give Montreal a potent 1-2 punch in the top six.
As poor as Plekanec’s season was last year, there’s still hope that it was an aberration and the long-time Hab will rebound in the coming year. With Danault’s emergence, Plekanec can be eased out of a tougher deployment, and might do well on a line with Artturi Lehkonen and the newly acquired Ales Hemsky.
While Hemsky isn’t likely to repeat his 70-point form from his time in Edmonton, he brings a solid possession game and is good to chip in 12-15 goals a year when healthy. At a million dollars there is nothing to lose with giving him a shot to rebound after an injury-shortened season in Dallas.
On the fourth line there’s an abundance of options. Torrey Mitchell figures to be the mainstay in the middle, flanked by any combination of Peter Holland, Michael McCarron, Jacob de la Rose, Charles Hudon, and Daniel Carr. It’s a new-look fourth-line group, one loaded with skill and scoring talent that can exploit matchups against weaker competition.
Even if the centre group isn’t among the NHL’s elite, the Canadiens‘ have a strength on the wings that is among the league’s best. Max Pacioretty is a criminally underrated star in the NHL, scoring 30-plus goals every year, while also being an efficient defensive player. Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw on the right wing can drive in hard to the net, create havoc and clean up loose pucks, or finish off passing plays from their teammates. Both Paul Byron and Lehkonen became breakout stars last year, with Byron lighting up opposing teams for 22 goals, and Lehkonen himself notching 18 despite missing some time with injuries in his rookie season.
All of that is without discussing the team’s top acquisition of the off-season: Jonathan Drouin, who signed a brand new six-year deal immediately upon his arrival. He is an elite-level playmaker, and while maybe not in the same mould as the departed Radulov, he can still leave your jaw on the floor. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche.
There’s a lot of skill and plenty of firepower in the Habs’ forward group; enough so that with a good deployment they can easily roll three scoring lines, and a fourth line that is big on skill. There are currently eight players who have crested the 20-goal plateau in their career, and a ninth looms in the form of Lehkonen who fell just short of the mark in his first year.
There’s obviously concern about removing a sparkplug like Radulov from the lineup. This is a new team however; Michel Therrien is not at the helm any more, and the offensive production won’t fall on to the shoulders of one or two players.
Realistically, if Claude Julien wanted to, he could have the luxury of running Paul Byron or Ales Hemsky on the fourth line with Charles Hudon on the opposite wing. Even with the Canadiens opting to stick to a more defensively oriented blue-line group, the team can still force play the other way. There are a lot of dynamic, speedy options in the forward group, and this team isn’t going to chip and chase when they can use their skill to carry the puck in and set up shop.
Losing Radulov is a bitter pill to swallow, but when you break it down the Habs still look to be doing pretty well. It’s a new day in Montreal, and one that should be filled with optimism for the team’s offensive skill. If the Habs are truly going for it, they’re doing well to set themselves up at for a deep run once more.