There is certainly a lot of initial trepidation headed into next season, given that three big pieces for the Montreal Canadiens will start the year on the Injured Reserve list. Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron, and Shea Weber are all expected to miss some significant time.
Training camp should be very interesting, as there are now a few positions available for the taking. Some 45 NHL-contracted players will arrive at training camp to challenge for roles, but obviously only 23 can make the squad on opening night.
Right off the bat we can select 16 players to make the team (assuming they're all still here):
- Eight forwards: Jonathan Drouin, Max Pacioretty, Phillip Danault, Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Charles Hudon, Artturi Lehkonen, and Tomas Plekanec
- Six defencemen: Jeff Petry, Karl Alzner, Mike Reilly, Jordie Benn, Noah Juulsen, and Victor Mete
- Two goaltenders: Carey Price, Antti Niemi
That would leave seven open spots on the roster to be won in training camp.
Let’s immediately assume that the following 10 players will be destined for Laval for opening night: Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, Daniel Audette, Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta, Jeremiah Addison, Will Bitten, Antoine Waked, Hayden Verbeek, and Alexandre Alain. These players don’t need waivers, and can be assigned to the AHL with ease.
Further assumption allows us to presume that the Canadiens will want to hold 13 forwards and eight defencemen on their opening-night roster.
Pick five forwards: Jacob de la Rose, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia, Matthew Peca, Nicolas Deslauriers, Nikita Scherbak, Michael McCarron, Kerby Rychel, Byron Froese, Lukas Vejdemo, Kenny Agostino, and Michael Chaput.
For starters, all of these players, save for Kotkaniemi and Vejdemo, are waiver eligible. Nikita Scherbak, Matthew Peca, Joel Armia, Jacob de la Rose, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are, in my opinion, the most likely to be retained.
- In the case of Kotkaniemi, I think that the team will want to see what they have in their new prize acquisition. He will eventually see some AHL and/or Liiga action, and take part in the World Junior Championship, but to start the year I think he slots in as 13th forward.
- Bergevin already stated that he sees Peca starting the season in Montreal, so my inclusion of him is a bit of a cheat.
- Scherbak is too high of a risk to be exposed on waivers, so he will probably make the squad, and hopefully slot into a top-six role.
- Armia looks like he can be a force on right wing behind Gallagher and Scherbak.
- The final pick was the hardest, but I chose Jacob de la Rose, who will likely be destined to centre one of the two bottom lines, alternating with Tomas Plekanec.
Pick two defensemen: David Schlemko, Xavier Ouellet, Rinat Valiev, David Sklenička, Michal Moravčík, Brett Lernout, and Matt Taormina.
From this list only Sklenička and Moravčík are not waiver eligible, so they should be assigned to Laval with ease to acclimatize. Schlemko should get one of the spots, and the other one would go to Lernout because the Canadiens will be short on the right side due to Weber's injury.
Having done this roster-building exercise, the following players therefore would have to go on waivers in order to be assigned to Laval:
- Nicolas Deslauriers
- Michael McCarron
- Kerby Rychel
- Byron Froese
- Kenny Agostino
- Michal Chaput
- Xavier Ouellet
- Rinat Valiev
- Matt Taormina
Now of course this is simply a look at one possibility for the team come October. A lot of things can still change before then, including trades of those waiver-eligible players or ones projected to be on the roster, or new signings forcing some new decisions. There is also the possibility of someone disrupting plans at training camp, like an Evans, Deslauriers, or Ouellet, forcing the coaching staff to make difficult choices.
Certainly it feels like there are more options and depth this upcoming year than there have been in the past. The list of those projected to go on waivers contains several good players, and if everyone were to clear, they would make the Laval Rocket a highly competitive and exciting team to watch.