The Montreal Canadiens have to pre-season games remaining, and only 29 healthy players in camp.
They seem to have pushed the major decisions relating to their forwards down the road. Paul Byron was largely not expected to be ready for the start of the season, but the injury to Joel Armia seems to have provided just enough breathing room for the Canadiens to not have to place any more forwards on waivers.
There are currently 16 forwards in camp who are expected to be healthy enough for opening night, including Nick Suzuki. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylönen — both waiver exempt — going down to the Laval Rocket leaves them with 14 forwards and guarantees everyone stays in the organization.
Of course, there is the chance that Juraj Slafkovsky goes to the AHL and they keep Harvey-Pinard or Ylönen, but the end result is that Michael Pezzetta wouldn’t need to go on waivers. The decision could be different if Armia is ready to go on October 12. The Athletic reported that Emil Heineman is expected to be returned to Sweden once he is cleared, which moves him out of the picture as well.
There are still things to play for among the forwards, as only 12 of the 14 will play any given night, and ice time will be distributed unevenly as well. If the Canadiens choose to claim someone off waivers, that can also leave someone without a roster spot.
That leaves the defence, where there are 12 healthy players on the roster for seven spots. Joel Edmundson’s injury will allow another player to make the team who may not have otherwise made it.
I think there are four clear locks for the opening night roster: Mike Matheson, David Savard, and Chris Wideman are the veterans with a spot and I am willing to declare Kaiden Guhle will make the NHL roster.
That leaves eight players battlling for three spots. One of those spots will be an extra spot so you can expect veterans like Corey Schueneman, Madison Bowey, or Otto Leskinen to get that spot rather than a youngster.
Leskinen, who I said was under-the-radar heading into camp has played himself into a very good spot. He is a left-shot but has played both sides at camp, meaning he has multiple chances to earn a spot.
Bowey and Schueneman, unlike Leskinen or any of the others battling for a spot, would both require waivers to go down to the Laval Rocket. It is probably unlikely that either would be claimed, but that could play a factor in the final decision. Both were considered in the driver’s seat for a spot, but Schueneman has been outplayed by Leskinen, and Bowey started camp with an injury and has only played one pre-season game so far. He is slotted next to Arber Xhekaj for Thursday’s game.
I think there’s only enough room for one of them (at most) on the opening night roster.
Xhekaj, Jordan Harris, and Justin Barron are battling for at most two spots. Barron has improved throughout camp, and Harris has been solid throughout camp playing both sides. Xhekaj has also played well, and brings something that the other two don’t: physicality. He has been out of position at times, and I think it may be better for him to play big minutes in the AHL to start the season.
Barron was expected to be among the players to be on the team’s shortlist simply because he was one of the few right-shots in camp. His improvement in camp is good for him to gain some confidence, but I’m not sure it is enough for him to claim a spot. I have Harris slightly ahead. Barron is essentially battling with Leskinen to see who ends up next to Matheson on opening night.
There is a lot to play for among the Canadiens’ blue-liners with only two pre-season games to go before the decisions are required.
The good news for the young players who do end up getting sent down is that nothing is written in stone. Ten games into the season, things may change and it can be re-evaluated when needed.
In goal, Jake Allen will be the team’s starting goaltender, leaving the backup spot up for grabs between Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau. Considering the Canadiens want Primeau to play and he doesn’t require waivers, I think that he’s the obvious choice to be sent down especially since Allen is expected to get most of the playing time in the NHL.