The March 21 trade deadline is looming on the horizon. The last-place Montreal Canadiens, despite their recent success, will be sellers. But could management also be looking to buy?
Canadiens Rumored Interest in Centers
Rumours have surfaced that the organization might be interested in young centers. If general manager Kent Hughes is interested in these players, would that make sense? It should since center depth is a constant issue for the franchise.
Here are two intriguing young centers that might fit the team’s plans moving forward.
New Jersey Devils’ Pavel Zacha
The Czechian born Pavel Zacha was a highly-touted prospect when the 6-foot-3, 210-pound center starred for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting. So much so that he was drafted 6th overall in the 2015 Draft by the New Jersey Devils.
He was advertised as a power forward and an offensively dynamic center with size, speed and skill. He had the size and the offence in junior. However, when he made the leap to the NHL, he suffered some growing pains while learning the center position on a team in a rebuild. This caused him to suffer poor performances defensively, which seemed to affect his confidence.
He seemed to have finally found his stride in the shortened 2020-21 season when he led the Devils in goals and points (17 goals and 35 points, both career highs) and has followed that up with a season where he is projected to surpass those career highs while playing a second-line center role, averaging over 17 minutes per game in all situations. It is also the second season in a row that he has passed 50% in the faceoff circle.
He is in the final year of his contract, paying him $2.25 million before the 24-year-old becomes a restricted free agent in search of a raise and term. If the Devils are willing to part with the young center, it would likely take something significant, such as a defensive prospect and/or quality picks. While he is the right age to grow with the Canadiens’ current core, unless the Devils are interested in an offensive winger such as Jonathan Drouin or Mike Hoffman as the main part of the return, the cost to acquire him doesn’t fit where the Habs are now in their renovation.
Minnesota Wild’s Jack McBain
Jack McBain is in a similar situation as the Canadiens’ defence prospect Jordan Harris. Like Harris, the Minnesota Wild’s 2018 third-round pick has not yet committed to the NHL club that drafted him, meaning they are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents by Aug. 15, 2022.
As reported on 32 Thoughts by Elliotte Friedman on March 5, the 22-year-old McBain is flirting with testing the market and does have some interest in Montreal after taking a big step forward in his development this season with Boston College.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound centerman plays a two-way game that coaches love. He uses his size and long reach effectively to win battles along the boards and one-on-one in open ice. He’s strong in the faceoff circle, has a high work ethic and plays a physical game. He has also greatly improved his skating ability, making him faster, more mobile and stronger on his feet; ideal assets for a second-line center, especially for a team in search of a big center able to play that role.
McBain is now in his fourth and final season with Boston College in the NCAA. He has 19 goals and 14 assists in 24 games and recently represented Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics, scoring one goal and one assist in five games. The tournament made him regarded highly enough to gain the attention of NHL GMs, and the asking price is rumoured to be a second-round pick.
Based on his age, Mc Bain would be eligible for a two-year entry-level contract (ELC). If Hughes is willing to let him burn the first year of his ELC by signing him and placing him on the Habs’ roster before the end of this season, that might entice him to sign and would make the cost of a second-round pick worthwhile, especially for a team that has 12 picks in this year’s draft.
While these are still only rumours, they do fit a pattern for the Canadiens under their new management. They fit an important role, as center depth is key to NHL success. Also, they are young, have size, skill and speed; all qualities Hughes has spoken as being key to his plan during his short tenure.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.