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Les Canadiennes season preview: Hilary Knight and Marie-Philip Poulin lead an elite group of forwards

Led by some of the best talent in the world, Montreal goes into the season with four strong lines.

Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

Les Canadiennes get their season underway on Saturday evening against the Calgary Inferno at Place Bell. To lead up to the season and to get to know the players a little more, Habs Eyes on the Prize will provide capsules on every player on the Fabs roster.

We start today with the forwards, and then we will get to the defence and goaltenders on Friday.

#2 - Olivia Atkinson - Age (as of October 1) 21

Atkinson was Montreal’s pick in the ninth round of the most recent CWHL Draft. Atkinson is coming from McGill University where she had 25 goals and 24 assists in 59 U Sports games. The Oakville, ON native had a solid pre-season, and even had a game next to Melodie Daoust and Marie-Philip Poulin. She will likely be in the fourth line rotation to start the season. You can tell she has talent, but you can also tell she is the youngest player on the roster.

#9 - Kim Deschênes - Age 27

Deschênes is entering her fifth CWHL season after being the team’s first-round pick in 2014. Her best season came in the 2015-16 season when she had 13 goals and 20 assists in 24 games and finished third in CWHL scoring. She is one of the taller players on the team and she uses that size to her advantage but she has skills, too.

Her role on this team won’t be in a top-six spot to start the season, but she will likely be part of a very talented third line with Karell Emard and Katia Clement-Heydra which may be the perfect spot for her. She will get some great matchups due to the talent in the top six.

She is a real estate agent in Montreal.

#11 - Jillian Saulnier - Age 26

Saulnier was acquired this summer by Les Canadiennes as she returns from her first Olympic appearance in PyeongChang where she had a goal and an assist in five games for Team Canada. In 42 CWHL games with the Calgary Inferno, she has 23 goals and 17 assists. She is insanely skilled in the offensive zone and will usually do something to make you jump out of your seat. She played on a line with Sarah Lefort and Hilary Knight in pre-season and will be a big part of the team’s offence.

#15 - Mélodie Daoust - Age 26

Daoust starred at McGill University and has been a part of Team Canada for the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. Daoust was the team’s first-round pick in 2017 but missed last year for the Olympics. She had three goals and four assists in five games en route to being named the MVP of the tournament.

She also did this in the shootout of the gold medal game against the United States:

Yeah, Daoust is pretty darn good. In 79 games at McGill University, she had 71 goals and 96 assists (167 points). When you watch her play, you see vision and puck skills that rival Marie-Philip Poulin. In pre-season, she made me audibly cackle several times.

She became a mother over the summer and played with Poulin at the Olympics. They will likely start the season together.

#16 - Sarah Lefort - Age 24

The first thing you should know about Lefort is that her teammates call her “Snipes”, and there’s a very good reason for that. She has one of the best shots in women’s hockey. Last year, she had a five-goal game and I have personally witnessed her scoring four goals in a pre-season game (and she hit the cross bar for a fifth).

Her release from a standing snap shot is outstanding, and is a true weapon from anywhere on the ice.

She had 18 goals last season, and has 27 career goals in 50 CWHL games. She has added 19 assists. She has been playing at centre of Saulnier and Knight so she will have a big opportunity. She also was re-added to Team Canada’s national program and attended their summer camp.

#18 - Geneviève Bannon - Age 23

Bannon was Les Canadiennes’ first-round pick in the most recent CWHL draft, and has professional experience playing in Sweden last season. She had 18 goals and 15 assists in 34 games, leading her team Göteborg HC in scoring, and finishing 15th in the SDHL. She had a great career at Clarkson University where she had 49 goals and 101 assists in 160 games.

She had a solid pre-season, scoring a few goals and getting used to her teammates. She may be starting lower down in the lineup, but that’s due to the depth the team has.

Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

#19 - Katia Clement-Heydra - Age 28

Clement-Heydra has been a solid centre for Les Canadiennes since entering the CWHL three seasons ago. In 76 games she has 23 goals and 36 assists but it is her goal to open the scoring in the 2017 Clarkson Cup that may be the biggest goal of her time with the team.

She is a top-six talent in this league but looks to start on the third line this year.

This is not a knock on her. She may very well be the best third-line centre in the entire league. She had 13 goals and 14 assists in 28 games last season.

#21 - Hilary Knight - Age 29

There’s not much to say about Hilary Knight that hasn’t already been said. She’s one of the top talents in the world, and will be playing her first full season in Montreal.

In 69 career professional (NWHL/CWHL games) she has 52 goals and 58 assists (110 points). She has two Clarkson Cups, two NCAA championships, an Isobel Cup, seven World Championship gold medals and one Olympic gold medal.

Her strides are ridiculous and she is a skilled power forward who can beat you with her shot, her playmaking, or by driving the net.

One of the more notable goals she has scored was at the 2017 World Championships when she scored in overtime to win the gold medal after the team threatened to boycott the tournament in a bid for equality.

She is a huge asset for this Canadiennes team. She had two goals an an assist at the Olympics, and played in one regular season game and two playoff games with Montreal. She did not get a point.

The full pre-season will give her a great opportunity to start the season off on the right foot, ironically against the team she made her Fabs debut against last year.

#22 - Maude Gelinas - Age 25

Gelinas was an 11th round pick by Les Canadiennes this year, but made the team and will fight for a spot on the fourth line this year. She only had six goals and 11 assists in 39 games at the University of Montreal but she impressed me in the pre-season and didn’t look out of place.

She also showed some offensive ability and it will be interesting to watch how much ice time the fourth line will play with the depth above them.

#24 - Ann-Sophie Bettez - Age 30

Bettez is already one of the best players in CWHL history. She is fourth all-time in goals and points, and has a chance to move into third spot all-time in points with another solid season. Bettez has finished in the top-five in scoring in each of her six CWHL seasons, whether she was playing with Olympians or not, before and after Poulin joined the team.

She has 215 points in 144 career CWHL games. She isn’t the biggest player, which may be why she never made Team Canada. She is undoubtedly the best player in recent history to not make the National team, and it isn’t really particularly close.

Bettez has a combination of skill, speed, and determination that makes her hard to stop. The goal that stands out in my mind is one that she scored two seasons ago. She passes the puck off the boards that looked like a typical clearing attempt. But she beat the defender to the bounce of the boards and scored.

The worst aspect of the CWHL not getting the attention is that players like Bettez and the recently-retired Noémie Marin (all-time #1 in goals, and second in points) don’t get the respect and notoriety they deserve.

Bettez is a financial planner.

#29 - Marie-Philip Poulin - Age 27

If Knight didn’t need an introduction, neither does Poulin. Her resume is well known at this point. She has the gold medal-winning goals from the Olympics in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. She is a two-time CWHL MVP and the only thing stopping her from making it three in a row was the Olympics.

She is probably the best player in the world. She has every skill you would want from a player, and has been Team Canada’s captain for the last four years. She had three goals and three assists at the 2018 Olympics. She has two Clarkson Cups, two gold medals and one World Championship. She has six World Championship silvers plus an Olympic silver medal.

Despite playing only 67 CWHL games she is tied for 10th in all-time scoring with 134 points (2.00 points-per-game). With 21 points, she will move into fifth spot all-time.

#76 - Karell Emard - Age 30

Emard is entering her fourth CWHL season, but her third as a forward. Her rookie season was spent on defence as Les Canadiennes had holes to fill on the back end. Emard was a forward throughout her hockey career.

She played with Bettez at Dawson College before heading to the NCAA at St. Lawrence University. Following her four year NCAA career, she actually went into coaching, spending three years as an assistant at Colgate University before coming back to play with Montreal.

Emard is a reliable forward with flashes of skill and the ability to move up and down in the lineup without any issue. She has 21 goals and 30 assists in 75 career games. Last season, she had seven goals and 14 assists in 27 games.

She is part of the coaching staff at Concordia University.

#78 - Tracy-Ann Lavigne - Age 26

Lavigne is a player that instantly earned the trust of Canadiennes coach Dany Brunet last season. In a forward group that had a lot of young players at the bottom of the lineup, Lavigne was usually the first one to get promoted when spots opened up ahead of the fourth line, and improved greatly throughout the season and into this year’s pre-season.

She works hard, and never lacks effort which makes her a good option in the bottom of any lineup.

Lavigne missed only one game last season, a testament to the fact that she was trusted by the coaches, and should start this year as the centre on the fourth line. She had two goals and three assists in 27 games last year.

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
15- Mélodie Daoust 29- Marie Philip Poulin 24- Ann-Sophie Bettez
21- Hilary Knight 16- Sarah Lefort 11- Jill Saulnier
76- Karell Emard 19- Katia Clement-Heydra 9- Kim Deschênes
2- Olivia Atkinson 78- Tracy-Ann Lavigne 18- Geneviève Bannon
22- Maude Gelinas