The Montreal Canadiens’ roster is fairly locked into place this year, with a positive start and a lineup that seems to be meshing into place. The steady alignment means that a young skilled forward, Nikita Scherbak, is currently sitting on the sidelines hoping for a chance to step in. He could very well do that should injuries arise, or Claude Julien want to keep his roster fresh for the long grind of the NHL season.
The issue is that there very well could be even less space for the young Muscovite in the coming month. Jacob de la Rose is still on the Injured Reserve list after suffering a cardiac episode, but he has been practising with his teammates, indicating that he is likely to rejoin the team soon. Also coming off the IR will be Nicolas Deslauriers, who has been out of the lineup after suffering a facial fracture in the Canadiens’ first pre-season game. As of practice on Wednesday, Deslauriers was roughly 10-14 days away from returning, according to Claude Julien.
So where exactly does that leave Scherbak?
At practice, he’s been lining up with de la Rose and Tomas Plekanec as the “fifth line,” so he’s not exactly pressuring anyone for their lineup spot right now, and that’s fair given the way Montreal has played thus far. However, with Deslauriers’s return looming, and how he endeared himself to Julien and the fans last year, Scherbak could be the odd man out.
There are options available, but it should be noted that none of these are reported rumours, or confirmed news, just a few ideas of what the Canadiens can do with their young player.
The simplest option for the Canadiens would be to trade Scherbak to another club, and recoup prospects or future assets. He is just 22 years old, with 29 games of NHL experience total, so he’s still cutting his teeth at the highest level of hockey.
It looks like a tough road for Scherbak to be a full-time NHLer on the right wing. Ahead of him on the depth chart are Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Andrew Shaw, and Joel Armia. Three of those players have term on their contracts, while Armia has just one year left. Both Gallagher and Byron are relied on as leaders for the Canadiens on and off the ice, while Shaw is someone Claude Julien and Marc Bergevin both like when he’s on his game. Scherbak’s skill set isn’t one that lends itself to heavy defensive work, so he would thrive best in an offensive role, but that looks to be hard to find in Montreal right now.
Sending him to a team that is in need of a skilled playmaker could net a solid return package for Montreal. The downside of trading him is that there is not much depth down the right side on the wing in terms of prospects. Will Bitten was traded to Minnesota, Antoine Waked was just sent to the ECHL, and Alexandre Alain is in his first pro season in the AHL. Beyond them the only right-winger under the Canadiens umbrella is Jesse Ylönen, and he likely won’t be in the NHL in the near future. That could be Scherbak’s saving grace, as he’s far and away the most NHL-ready replacement on the right side of the depth chart.
Send him to the AHL
The obvious answer is to waive Scherbak, hope he clears the early-season waivers, then assign him to the Laval Rocket. The risk is apparent: by waiving Scherbak, the Canadiens could lose him for absolutely nothing to a team who claims him. Losing a 22-year-old, first-round pick who is on the cusp of unlocking his potential is a tough blow for any team, especially if they’re rebuilding on the fly like Montreal is.
However, should Scherbak clear — and he very well could as most teams’ opening rosters are full, and there may not be room for him for the time being — he can join a Laval team that looks to be entirely revamped under Joël Bouchard, giving them a dynamic playmaker to go along with their noteworthy AHL scorers.
He could also be recalled and sent down without waivers for the rest of the year, assuming he plays fewer than 10 games, or spends less than 30 days with the NHL team during said call-up. That would give him added versatility for the organization, and could allow him to play big minutes in an environment where he took a huge step forward last year.
Trade or waive someone else
The Canadiens could also choose to just move out someone else. The obvious pieces are the two players competing for spots in the same role: Jacob de la Rose and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Neither has the talent or potential of Scherbak. They’re much more traditional bottom-six options who eats up minutes and throw their body around. Deslauriers in particular had a career year last season for Montreal with 10 goals, and given his hard-nosed style, teams may see a ton of appeal in him. As for de la Rose, he’s got plenty of speed, and forechecks hard, something a coach sees a ton of value in for a bottom-six kind of player.
For the Canadiens, trying to slide one of de la Rose or Deslauriers to the AHL may also go a lot smoother. They don’t have the same top-end potential that Scherbak does, which could allow them to sneak through. That could possibly be the best move for de la Rose, as his best professional work and growth has happened in the Habs AHL system, where he was a versatile centre for the St. John’s IceCaps.
There are plenty of options. Claude Julien said it would not be an easy decision on what move to make, and he’s correct. There are multiple pros and cons for each move, but in the end it all depends on how heavily the Canadiens may rate some of the risks invovled.