The Montreal Canadiens currently occupy a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, just one point out of a guaranteed divisional spot. Things are going well: the top-six forward group is putting up dominant point performances game in and game out, while Jeff Petry leads a rag-tag defensive group to respectable numbers as well.
The one area where things are getting dicey is the depth in the early season. The forward group at the NHL and AHL levels have taken a beating over the opening weeks, and could use some reinforcements to help smooth things over.
They lost Jacob de la Rose on waivers, Tomas Plekanec is returning to Europe after having his contract terminated, Paul Byron and Joel Armia are both nursing injuries, while Nikita Scherbak is also limited with a lower-body injury. At the AHL level, the team lost Jeremiah Addison who opted to head to university, Nikita Jevpalovs suffered an injury in Cleveland, and top scorer Kenny Agostino is on recall.
It’s not the end of the world, but the Canadiens could use a bit of depth help to ride out this wave, or they can choose to trust their process and weather it out with their young talent.
If they’re looking to make a trade, they might want to look no further than a team they dealt with in the off-season: the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets as a whole are a team in very good shape for the near future, with a great mix of veterans and young players alike. Their issues arise from some head-scratching decisions made by head coach Paul Maurice, who seems to favour players like Brendan Lemieux and Ben Chiarot over Jack Roslovic, Nic Petan, or Sami Niku.
While Niku is an enticing defence prospect for a trade, the focus here is more on the two centremen, Roslovic and Petan, who are in and out of the lineup regularly. We’ve written about trading for Petan previously, but his value very much has changed since then. It’s more than likely he could be taken from Winnipeg with a later-round draft pick, or a fringe NHL player much like himself. The real prize would be gaining a young centre/right-winger in the form of Roslovic, who seems destined to remain trapped on the Jets’ fourth line, and is overtly frustrated about it.
Perreault's linemate, Jack Roslovic: “You don’t go out there and try to work your ass off so you get less minutes. We sat on the bench for, like, 45 minutes of time and 20 minutes of game time. It’s tough to stay warm, almost. We were up 4-1, and you wonder.” #NHLJets— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) October 19, 2018
Roslovic is currently waivers exempt, meaning Montreal can use him to ride out the injuries, and then assign him to Laval where he’d be a huge add for Joël Bouchard’s club.
Comparitively speaking, he generates similar offence to Matthew Peca, but tends do better in suppressing chances against, something the Canadiens’ fourth line has struggled with.
Peca’s speed is an asset to the team, but creating a fourth line that has Peca and Roslovic with Hudon or Agostino instead of Nicolas Deslauriers makes them a much larger threat offensively than before.
As for cost, Roslovic won’t be as cheap as Petan to acquire, but the Jets desperately need left-handed defensive help, and the Canadiens have NHL replacement-level players available. They just have to outplay Joe Morrow and Ben Chiarot, which is a low bar to clear.
Other, more skilled options are out on the market as well, with both Sonny Milano and Daniel Sprong’s names coming up in trade rumours recently. While both could have appeal, due to their status as top prospects in their organization, their cost might be too much for what isn’t a truly urgent need for the Canadiens.
Montreal can choose to do nothing through this time as well, especially if the injuries to their players aren’t serious. Should Scherbak return, the NHL club gains a highly skilled playmaker who should be motivated after his conditioning stint in the AHL
The issue isn’t on the wings however, it’s that beyond Peca, the only centres in the organization with NHL experience are Michael McCarron and Michael Chaput, neither of whom are world-beaters. The good news is that rookie prospects have begun to step up in recent games for the Laval Rocket, most notably Jake Evans.
The Canadiens have the ability to let this ride out, and keep their prospects like Evans, or the emerging Lukas Vejdemo, in roles that suit their development. Even calling them up now isn’t going to stunt them, because the coaching staff has been revamped and the impact is noticeable. No one is getting thrown to the wolves for no reason, and sheltering players is a concept that seems to be utilized every game.
Planning ahead for any unforeseen injuries is a smart move in the NHL, and, for once, it doesn’t have to be a trade. The Canadiens can either stand pat and trust their prospects in the organization, or they can trust Marc Bergevin’s uncanny ability to grab players on the outs with other clubs to make an impact in his own.
Regardless, it’s a welcome change from previous years, and having various options to solve a roster issue shows that Montreal is headed in the right direction.