After Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet extended by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a quandary. General manager Marc Bergevin can either match the offer and hope Kotkaniemi becomes the center he drafted him to be or let him walk and fill the second-line center hole with someone else, either from within the organization or via a trade. Here is a look at players that Bergevin could use to fill the second-line role if he doesn’t match Carolina’s offer.
Poehling, the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick, burst onto the scene by scoring a hat trick in his first and only NHL game of the 2018-19 season. The next season, however, wasn’t what anyone thought it would be. He was cut from training camp and sent to the Canadiens’ farm team, the Laval Rocket, where he struggled, scoring 13 points in 36 games. He was called up to Montreal as an injury replacement, but he didn’t fare any better, scoring two points in 27 games.
Of course, those numbers don’t make him a candidate for Kotkaniemi’s replacement. But, last season in Laval was different for Poehling: he had a slow start but was nearly a point-per-game player. He scored 11 goals and 25 points in 28 games before his season ended with a wrist injury. A good season with the Rocket isn’t enough to promote him to second-line center, but if Bergevin doesn’t match the offer and can’t swing a deal, Poehling is the best option right now, even if it’s unlikely to happen.
If Poehling is the best option to replace Kotkaniemi within the organization, another option is to look elsewhere via trade. If Bergevin doesn’t match the Hurricanes’ offer, the Canadiens will have two first-round picks at their disposal to help net them a bonafide second-line center. One possibility is San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl. He is a solid two-way player who averages 24 goals and 52 points a season. He had a career-high 34 goals and 74 points in 2018-19 before being plagued with injuries the following season.
Hertl had 19 goals and 43 points in 50 games last season, and if he can keep up an almost point-per-game pace, he could be the Habs’ first-line center. At 27 years old, Hertl and Nick Suzuki could provide the Canadiens with two top-end centers for years to come. However, Hertl has a $5.6 million cap hit, and his contract ends after next season, so unless the Canadiens sign him to an extension, this wouldn’t be an excellent move.
Christian Dvorak of the Arizona Coyotes has been the most talked-about center involving the Canadiens this offseason. Since last season ended, Dvorak’s name has been mentioned in nearly every rumour involving the team’s search for a center. Now that they may need to replace Kotkaniemi, Dvorak is again at the forefront of trade rumours. He would provide the team with a steady, big-bodied, two-way center who can play on the power play.
The best thing about Dvorak is his age. He is only 25 years old with five NHL seasons of experience under his belt and is signed through the 2024-25 season at $4.45 million. He has a 51.2% career faceoff record, which would put him at the top of the team ahead of another 25-year-old center, Jake Evans, who leads the Habs with a 50.3%. Dvorak seems the most logical choice to fill the second-line center role if Kotkaniemi is no longer an option.
Sean Monahan has been rumoured to be leaving the Calgary Flames for a couple of seasons now. His drop in production the past two seasons could be a huge reason for that. Yet, despite that, he is still an annual 20-goal scorer. His 82-point season in 2018-19 could be an outlier since he is more of a 60-point player.
Monahan would be a good addition, but if Bergevin is worried about paying Kotkaniemi $6.1 million, Monahan’s $6.3 million cap hit isn’t much better. The only difference is that Monahan’s proven offensive production could justify the cap hit. But if Monahan continues to decline, the Canadiens would be better off matching the offer and hoping Kotkaniemi’s potential becomes a reality.
There are other options, like disgruntled Buffalo Sabre, Jack Eichel, which seem unrealistic and come with a host of other issues. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Dvorak coming to the Canadiens, and if Bergevin can get him without giving up a first-round pick, then he will win this whole offer sheet ordeal.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.