Bournival Bounce Back Will Button Up Habs Bottom Six

During the busiest time for roster moves on the National Hockey League’s calendar, the Montreal Canadiens have been fairly quiet. The Habs failed to land any free agent names of merit during the July 1 frenzy of signings and the only trade that general manager Marc Bergevin struck was a minor one, sending Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks for Zach Kassian and a late draft pick.

Part of the reason for the Canadiens lack of manoeuvring has been the minimal cap space that they currently hold. Montreal has eleven forwards, seven defencemen and two goaltenders signed for next season, and are left with about $7.5 million in cap space to tinker with. This seems like a lot until you recall they had three restricted free agents that needed new contracts including forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Bournival and defenseman Jarred Tinordi.

Galchenyuk is by far the biggest fish of the three RFAs, and Montreal must be cautious with adding salary to next year’s roster before finding out how much space it will take to lock up the 21-year-old and former third overall pick.

Though it wasn’t Galchenyuk, the Habs announced yesterday that they have re-signed one of their RFAs by locking up Bournival on a one year, two-way deal with a cap hit of $600,000. Though it is a two-way contract, since it has been three years since Bournival signed his first NHL contract, he will have to pass through waivers before being sent to the American Hockey League.

Bournival was taken in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, when the Colorado Avalanche snatched him with the 71st overall selection. He had a great Junior career, scoring over a point per game for three straight seasons with his hometown Shawinigan Cataractes, before winning a Memorial Cup Trophy on home ice to cap off his CHL career in 2012.

Bournival Surprisingly Cracked Habs 2013-14 Lineup

Bournival was dealt to the Canadiens in November of 2010 in a deal that sent rugged blue liner Ryan O’Byrne to the Avalanche. Bournival surprised many when he made the Canadiens 2013-14 roster out of camp, and he really impressed with his speed, tenacious forechecking ability and defensive acumen.

Bournival’s biggest strengths will always be his defensive play and ability to throw off the opposition with his incredible speed, but he showed a strong burst of offense in his rookie season as well. Early in the year when a rash of injuries hit the Habs, Bournival scored seven points in a seven game stretch on Tomas Plekanec’s wing.

The versatile player who played all three forward positions in his rookie season, finished the year with 14 points in 60 contests, but helped out on the shorthanded unit and played a responsible defensive game for a first year player. He also bounced back from a late season concussion to play 14 playoff games as the Habs made a run to the Eastern Conference Final that season.

It was thought Bournival would take another step forward in his second season, but after an injury filled campaign, he has become the forgotten one among young Habs forwards. Bournival played just 29 games with the Canadiens, while suffering from another concussion and a shoulder injury throughout the year. His inconsistent play while battling though the injuries resulted in Bournival being sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs late in the season, where he scored nine points in 12 games.

Logjam Of Forwards Means Bournival Must Prove Himself

Heading into next season, Bournival will have to prove himself all over again if he wants to crack the Habs opening night lineup. With Plekanec, Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and likely Kassian making up the top six, there is a logjam of bottom six forwards on the Habs. Lars Eller will surely center the third line, but Dale Weise, Devante Smith-Pelly, Torrey Mitchell, Bryan Flynn, Jacob de la Rose, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas give Bournival seven players with NHL experience to battle for five spots in the lineup.

Thrown in potential rookies like Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr and Nikita Scherbak and you get the picture that nothing is going to be handed to Bournival next season. The one thing that none of these other players can do as well as Bournival is skate.

In a league that continues to rely more and more on speed and skill instead of face-punching and brawn, the incredible acceleration and wheels on Bournival is a very valuable asset. Combine that with his defensive ability that was strong enough as a rookie to earn penalty killing time from Michel Therrien who is known for over-using his veterans and not handing anything to young players, and Bournival could very well prove to be a valuable asset after a very forgettable season.

Bournival is certainly not known for his offence, at least not since he played Junior hockey, but he scored three goals and five points in just 221 even strength minutes last season. It is an extremely small sample size, but only three Canadiens (Pacioretty, Gallagher and Galchenyuk) scored more goals per 60 minutes of even strength ice time than Bournival last season. He ranked 9th on the team in his rookie season, showing he may just have a bit of offense to add to his game.

When looking at next year’s lineup for the Montreal Canadiens, it is clear that a logjam occurs on the bottom two lines. With veterans like Mitchell, Flynn and Weise as well as younger players like Eller, Smith-Pelly, Thomas and even Hudon, Carr and McCarron it becomes difficult to find a place for everyone in the lineup.

However, though he had a disappointing season, don’t forget the speedy, tenacious, versatile forward from Shawinigan, Quebec who has already proven to be a valuable defensive player, and has shown impressive offensive skills in small bursts as well.

The Canadiens have had a hard time finding suitable wingers for Eller on the third line in the past, but may have had one right under their nose for two seasons. Bournival’s most frequent linemate last season was Manny Malhotra, who was little more than a face-off winning possession anchor in his one year in Montreal.

Bournival still managed to scored a few goals at an impressive rate, though Malhotra was one of the lowest scoring players on the team. It will be interesting to see what Bournival can do offensively if given a more proficient center to play alongside, and he could be the most pleasant surprise on the Canadiens roster next season.