First, thanks to all the EOTP contributors. This has been a great sight for Hab’s fans. And thanks to the EOTP community.
It is always perilous to update the Hab’s rebuild status before major changes occur, like a trade deadline, since some moves could change the discussion. So take this as only a casual assessment of the Montreal Canadiens future based on the current situation.
Defence is what wins championships. Montreal’s biggest need is a top RD. We hope Mailloux or Barron surprise to the upside, but while they can be integral to team success, neither projects to be a #1 RD. Unfortunately, the upcoming 2023 draft does not have this type of player, so the high pick (anywhere from 3rd to 9th) will not fix this hole. A major trade would be needed to land such a player. This could be a prospective #1 RD instead of a proven NHLer, based on the premise that the ceiling uncertainty presumably lowers the acquisition price of a prospect versus veteran. If that #1 RD can be obtained then Mailloux and Barron could slot in as above average #2 and #3 RD, to go along with a solid LD (Guhle, Matheson, Xhekaj) that will add a dynamic element once Hutson is ready to tear up the league!
A great goalie is the next biggest requirement – primarily because having star goalies seems to be part of the Hab’s DNA. Montambeault is a great story but the team will have more success if he plays in tandem with a better goalie. Fortunately, there are goalie prospects available in the 2023 draft, so it is anticipated the Hab’s could use a 2nd round pick (or late first, if obtained) on one of these goaltenders. Otherwise, after surprising many last year our best bet could be 6’5 Jakub Dobes who continues to play well and could turn pro next year.
The centre position has long been Montreal’s Achilles heel. The previous management was unable to develop, obtain, or keep top centreman either from drafting (unlucky draft years) or through trades (arguably because there was a lack of assets to give in return). But this summer at the draft HUGO (after lots of video gaming!!) pulled off one of those surprise trades and brought in a skilled 6’4 Kirby Dach who was only 21 years old. The previous regime’s stockpile of capable LD was finally mature enough to put into good use.
Now centre has gone from a position of perennial weakness to potential strength. The captain Suzuki is an effective two-way centreman and Dach is that centrepiece with both size and skill that Montreal has been desperately seeking. A story that will remain a hot topic until he signs with Montreal is PLD (Pierre Luc-Dubois). His addition to the team in 2025, hopefully as a free agent, will add a point-per-game big centre to the line-up with only the loss of cap space. No need to lose a valuable prospect or draft pick (or both).
However, like Dach, PLD is not particularly great at face-offs. This is where Owen Beck’s face-off skills hopefully transition into the NHL as this will be a welcome addition to the team’s capabilities (in 2025…). Add Riley Kidney, who has taken a big step forward in his development, Oliver Kapanen, and the fact Montreal is positioned to add another decent centre in this year’s draft, then by 2025 Montreal will have a richness of centres.
The future at wing is also brighter. Caufield is proving to be one of the leagues’ premium scorers and while Slafkovsky won’t produce goals at a similar pace, he is skilled and combines size and strength. He could become one of the better power forwards. Sean Farrell, an elite player of smaller stature, and Joshua Roy, both have the capacity of becoming top-6 wingers despite some people’s reservations. Filip Mesar is another who could challenge for that top-6 role eventually. Factoring in that both PLD (after 2025) and Dach can play wing, for the first time in a long time we can foresee at least two good offensive lines - something that should help that woeful powerplay.
Future versus Now:
It should be noted ‘future’, ‘potential’, ‘hopefully’ are all the operative words being used. Montreal is not a good team this year and because of its youthfulness it won’t be that much better next year (and could even take a step back after a few veterans leave). This season half of the defensemen, and at times more, were rookies. Next year they could see a collective sophomore slump. The aforementioned Mailloux will be a rookie, if he plays in the NHL, as it is possible, he and some of the other rookies like Roy, Farrell, Kidney, etc… spend parts if not all of the season in Laval.
And that leads to the issue with prospects… they are prospects. Their NHL ceilings are unknown but most of the positive views of Montreal’s future are based on the fact many of the players in the system continue to visibly progress and are among the most promising players in their age group.
The most important aspect Habs fans need to keep in mind is that rebuilds take time. Luckily, although we will still have to wait a couple of years before seeing playoff hockey, all signs are pointing that Montreal is in the final phases of the rebuild rather than at the beginning. The foundation is set. The Hab’s top offensive lines outlined above did not have to factor in the two 1st round picks of the 2023 draft, or even contemplate about how the 2024 draft will change the team. While any new elite players will be welcome additions to improve the team further, an exciting line-up is already foreseeable in a couple of years. For sure the Habs still need to add that #1 RD and a dominant goalie tandem (and PLD) but these needs pale in comparison to the holes in the lineup that were being faced as recently as a couple of years ago.
Go Habs Go!