It’s trial by a very calm fire for the fringe guys

The future is unapologetically being shoved into Martin St-Louis’s lap, whether he’d like it or not.

When the Montreal Canadiens announced yesterdaythat Cole Caufield will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury that needs repairing, a season which was already put on standby was suddenly thrust into full punt mode.

We knew from the start that this would in all likelihood be yet another season in whicih the Canadiens would struggle to make a significant impact. Instead, it was a year where young guys would get more time to prove themselves as NHL players, and veterans would get to show that they either want to be part of the rebuild or that they have another big contract in them somewhere else in the league.

With 35 games left to play before the sweet relief of draft and free agency is upon us, we can see all the signs pointing to Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton not being willing to risk the team’s future for the odd win here and there.

Instead, just like a year ago, coaching staff and management have taken the high road by allowing players to sit out for as long as they need to rehabilitate lingering injuries. The approach seems to be that there is no reason to risk anything now that the team has very little besides honour to play for.

Recent injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Juraj Slafkovský and the aforementioned go(a)lden boy Caufield meant that the Habs yesterday had to field a team with just 11 forwards, and this was after having already called up Laval captain Alex Belzile.

In a matter of months, Rem Pitlick has gone from being out in the cold to now playing top-six minutes and firing rivalry-game winners. Samuel Montemeabult had 25 NHL games under his belt when he came to Montreal as a waiver pick-up last season. A year later, he has added 57 more to his resume, while continuing to show strides to be a full-time NHL goaltender.

Jesse Ylönen has gone from being a productive player in Laval to getting a real chance at demonstrating that he can be more than a supplemental NHL puzzle piece. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard has just eclipsed 100 total points in his AHL career. Now he will have his opportunity to shine in a Canadiens jersey as well.

We have already seen an entire class of defencemen take its first Bambi steps toward being NHL pillars. Now, Colorado acquisition Justin Barron will in all likelihood get his real shot to become established as well, thereby joining Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Johnathan Kovacevic, and Jordan Harris as potential long-term members of the blue line.

As we approach the trade deadline, we can assume that Hughes and Gorton are looking to add to their cabinet of draft picks by offloading even more of the established players who they deem to be misfits for a future Montreal roster of the more competitive sort.

Players like Drouin, Paul Byron, Evgenii Dadonov, and Sean Monahan are all on expiring deals. Meanwhile, Mike Hoffman and David Savard are on longer contracts, but considering their age, they may prefer hunting for trophies.

An already depleted roster will inevitably be even more so in a couple of months. I do understand that this will take its toll on coaching staffs in both Montreal and Laval, but, if we choose to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, it will also give them a chance to evaluate more of their players in an NHL environment.

Who knows? A few months of heavier minutes and you might end up with one or two of the fringe players not only pushing for a roster spot, but pushing to be used in more than complementary roles.

Last night’s win against the Toronto Maple Leafs demonstrated the competitive spirit of having something to compete for. The team as a unit may have very little motivation until next September, but these young men are getting their opportunity to carve out future NHL careers.

Maybe there is reason for us Habs fans to be enticed, if not excited, during the remainder of this season after all?

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