Grading the 2016-17 Canadiens: Our community’s evaluations of the forwards
The results of our user polls on the performances of Habs attackers.
In the first part of the community season reviews, we looked at the goalies and defencemen and how you ranked their play this season. The overall opinion was a positive one for the defensive personnel, with no major criticisms.
The opinions were fairly positive about the forwards who played major roles this season as well, with the most impressive being those who showed top-six potential for the first time in their career. But there were also some players who didn’t meet their expectations.
There was a lot of excitement when the season started with a top prospect joining the team from the Swedish league and a Russian star bringing his offence back to North America. However, it was a man who had played a minor role with the Habs the season before who stole the show in 2016-17.
After being claimed off waivers from the Calgary Flames, Byron had a decent 2015-16 season, scoring 18 points in 62 games. While there was hope for improvement, no one could have guessed how great his second year in Montreal would be.
Byron exploded for 22 goals and 43 points, both double his previous career highs. He used his speed as a weapon to create his own chances, pulling away from defenders to get some open space for chances, and was able to convert on a large percentage of them. He went from a run-of-the-mill third-liner to a top-six offensive performer, and that earned him the highest possible grade from 53% of voters.
Radulov was coming off a string of great seasons in the KHL, and became a fan favourite right off the bat with his energy and playmaking. It didn’t take long for him to move onto the team’s top line, and he fit right in alongside Max Pacioretty.
He was only on a one-year deal, and it’s not known if he will receive an extension, but it seems most here would like to see that happen.
With how his SHL career had gone, everyone was confident Lehkonen could earn a spot out of training camp, and he proved to be an NHL-ready player right away. He worked hard along the boards, had the hockey sense to get into shooting positions, and possessed the shot to be able to turn them into goals. He’ll be a key player for the Habs for many years, and the first of them was regarded a rousing success.
It took him a while to get going, and his lack off offence forced a lineup shuffle early in the year, but eventually Pacioretty’s goal-scoring came back to him. He ended with yet another 30-plus-goal season under his belt; his fifth consecutive full-schedule campaign reaching that plateau.
Some questioned his leadership and desire when the Habs were knocked out in the first round, but the majority believe he performed very well this season.
Like Byron, Danault was mostly a bottom-six player last season, coming from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline. The early-season shuffle moved him to the top line to see how he’d fare with Pacioretty, and he performed rather well in that promotion, quadrupling his point total from the previous season.
That sophomore production was a major surprise, and earned him a lot of praise from our members. He probably isn’t the long-term solution to centre the first line, but he did the job in 2016-17, and did it well.
Scoring at a 30-goal pace in an injury-shortened season last year, it appeared that Gallagher was poised to seize the role as the team’s top right-winger. Instead he posted the lowest goal total of his career, and finished just one point better than his rookie season.
His underlying numbers were good, and he began to refind his net-front game toward the end of the season, so there is hope for a turnaround, but the overall result was a disappointing year for the Habs’ sparkplug.
Galchenyuk ended last season scoring seemingly at will, with multiple two-goal games in the final weeks. It looked like the breakout of an NHL star, and (finally) an end to the neverending search for a top-line centre.
He picked things up where he left off at the beginning at the year, sitting in a top-10 spot in the NHL scoring race, but a freak knee injury placed him on the sidelines for an extended period of time, allowing Danault to settle into the top-line role, and he was never able to regain his previous form once he returned.
Mitchell was one of several players to come out of the gate on an offensive tear, but his numbers dropped to more typical values soon after the team’s great start came to an end.
What he did do is settle into a spot on the fourth line, moving up in the lineup when injured necessitated a temporary promotion, and his speed allowed him to do so seamlessly. With the team bringing in multiple bottoms-six options to join the many that were already present, Mitchell was generally the top performer of the group, and that was enough to earn him a good rating.
Shaw was added at the draft for the two picks the Canadiens held for the second round and was signed to a six-year contract soon afterward. His play in the first half of the season left a lot to be desired, with emotional outbursts tacking misconducts onto what was already a high penaty-minute total.
His offensive game began to come around at about the midway point, and Claude Julien played a role in reining in his discipline issues. He only finished with 29 points, but a good second half likely boosted his grade a rank or two.
Plekanec was signed to an extension to hold a middle-six centre role for the next two seasons, but the first of those was a fairly major disappointment. He put up 10 goals and 18 assists for just 28 points — less than even his rookie season back in 2005-06 — and that’s not good enough for a $6 million salary.
His performance is one of the main reasons why the Canadiens’ centre depth is under so much scrutiny. The lack of a true top-line centre wouldn’t be such a major issue if the team had three #2 centremen, but Plekanec’s play wasn’t up to that standard, and his grade reflects that.
Flynn is the prototypical 13th NHL forward: good enough to step in when needed but not offering enough to earn consistent ice time. But Flynn did get regular time this year, being inserted into the lineup on 51 occasions, and contributing a paltry 10 points in that time.
That all came at the expense of young players who have been desperately searching for an opportunity to earn NHL ice time in recent years. Sven Andrighetto (who had almost as many points in about half as many games) and Michael McCarron spent large portions of the year watching Flynn and the Habs play instead of getting that chance themselves. While you can’t pin that aspect on Flynn, you do have to factor the potential performances of the other candidates to play his role into the ranking, and the result is the lowest grade of the 11 forwards profiled.