5 Habs on the Outside Looking In

The Montreal Canadiens spent the last two months of their season auditioning many of their young prospects at the NHL level to see where they are at in their development. Some have shown good promise and have potentially pencilled themselves into next year’s lineup. For others, it’s obvious they aren’t quite ready yet. This is a list of five current Habs who are on the bubble for September’s training camp.

5. Rinat Valiev

Rinat Valiev is a newcomer to the organization, coming over with Kerby Rychel in the Tomas Plekanec deal with Toronto. On a team bereft of depth on the left side of defence, Valiev has a big opportunity to secure a roster spot next season. Valiev’s ceiling is a No.5/6 defenceman, and Montreal has plenty of players who fit that description already. He can skate and make a good first pass, something a lot of the current defence struggled with this year. Considering how poorly the defence played as a unit this year, no one’s job should be safe (minus Shea Weber and Jeff Petry). He is waiver-eligible in 2018-19.

4. Brett Lernout

With all the injuries on the blueline, it prompted the eventual recall of defenceman Brett Lernout for another NHL stint. During this current audition for Lernout, he was simply okay. A right-handed shot with the willingness to play a physical game, Lernout has the tools to be a solid bottom-pairing defender.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brett Lernout
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brett Lernout (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Like Valiev, Lernout has a big opportunity in the fall to push his way on the roster with a strong camp, but he is also waiver-eligible starting next season. After three full years in the pros, it’s time for Lernout to show what he can do. A third-rounder from 2014, he has established NHL veterans in front of him and younger defence prospects pushing their way up. He has to make the impression that he deserves to stick around and be in the team’s future plans. 

3. Daniel Carr

In the case of Daniel Carr, it’s worth wondering if it’s best he moves on from the Habs. It’s not that Carr is a bad player, far from it. The organization just doesn’t seem that willing to give him a chance to establish himself as a permanent NHL player. In what was a lost year for the Habs, he showed some scoring touch and consistently played a high energy game. Even when he was playing well, he would be scratched in favour of someone else. It’s pretty hard to pin down what Carr needs to do to stick permanently. At 26, the chances of him developing more are slim. There are quite a few players who play a similar game on the team already, and Carr is often the odd man out when it comes to game time. 

2. Kerby Rychel

For Rychel, perhaps this third time will be the charm, as he is now with his third NHL organization. Rychel has been a scorer in the AHL, but his most recent stint with the Habs was his first NHL trial since 2015-16 when he got in 32 games with Columbus. Originally a Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder in 2013, he played just 37 games with them over two seasons before being shipped to Toronto. Rychel never played a game for the Maple Leafs during his two seasons with the organization.

Kerby Rychel, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Kerby Rychel has struggled to become an NHL regular since being drafted in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

For Rychel, he can score and has a mean streak. Developing his all-around game and finding that consistency will make him an NHL player. His skating isn’t the best but it doesn’t hold him back either. With Montreal, he has the chance to carve out a niche for himself, especially on a team that isn’t very good and has a lot of players with similar skill sets. As a former first-rounder, the clock is ticking for him to come around and realize his potential. 

1. Michael McCarron

The wait for Michael McCarron to go from project to permanent NHLer is still in progress. Since he was drafted, McCarron’s development was expected to be long but his growth as a player has been questionable. He took big steps forward in junior playing for London and Oshawa, and he had a very promising rookie season in the AHL. However, his NHL stints have him focusing on playing physical and fighting. The Habs seem content with him developing into a fourth-liner.

Michael McCarron (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

McCarron’s pro career started with a lot of promise and his upside at one point was a centre who could score a bit. Now? He looks a fourth-line winger at best and is nowhere near a lock for next year. Of all of Montreal’s call-ups this year, his was perhaps the most undeserving as he didn’t light up the AHL either. He will require waivers next year so the Habs need to decide on his future. With how fast the game is, McCarron’s skating still needs some improvement. His size (6-foot-6) automatically makes him stand out and even though he is still young, there is some concern that the game has already passed him by.

Earning Your Spot

In a previous article, players like Paul Byron and Phillip Danault were listed as potential bubble players in 2016, but they took steps forward to become important pieces for the Habs. Chances are at least one of these five will establish themselves at the NHL level, whether it’s for the Habs or another team. For players like McCarron and Rychel especially, the pressure is on them as first-rounders from nearly five years ago to glue it all together and become NHL regulars. As a bad team going into next season, there are a lot of spots for the taking, but it comes down to who is going to step up and earn one.