Canadiens Still Have Many Roster Spot Battles

Canadiens training camp is halfway through, but some battles for important roster spots could come down to the wire. The Canadiens still need to find a third and fourth center along with a sixth and seventh defenceman. There are obvious choices for these roles, but some players have stepped up their game to make the options more challenging to choose from.

Canadiens Have Tough Choice to Make for Third-Line Center

The top two lines seem pretty established, with Nick Suzuki centering Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield, and Christian Dvorak in between Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. However, the third and fourth lines don’t have a guaranteed center, with Ryan Poehling, Jake Evans and Cedric Paquette competing for the fourth line spot. Due to his play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Evans may have the inside track.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even though Evans might be the frontrunner for the third line, Poehling is proving he deserves a shot as well. Poehling has played well in every game this preseason and has made a conversation for himself to be the third-line center. Paquette has an outside chance of being on the third line but will likely be a fourth-line winger or thirteenth forward. The battle will be between Evans and Poehling for the last two center spots; the disadvantage Poehling has is he is waiver exempt, so he is the easiest to send to the Laval Rocket without the threat of losing him. Come the start of the season, don’t be surprised if Poehling is on line three while Evans is centering line four.

Canadiens Romanov May Get a Chance to Play Top-Four Minutes

Alexander Romanov had a promising rookie season. It wasn’t spectacular, but he got the job done and improved steadily throughout the season. The playoffs, however, were a different story, not due to his play but because he only played four games — note that he did score in the final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. So far, during training camp, Romanov has been paired with Jeff Petry, suggesting he will play first-line minutes, but it’s doubtful that they will break up the Joel Edmundson – Petry pairing that worked very well last season.

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Edmundson is day-to-day with an injury to start training camp, which is the biggest reason Romanov is paired with Petry. However, this also indicates that he could end up on the second pairing with David Savard instead of Ben Chiarot. Chiarot was a big reason the Canadiens had such a great penalty kill (PK) in the playoffs, but he struggled through the season playing on the second line with Shea Weber. With only a year left on Chiarot’s contract and an 82 game schedule this season, putting Romanov on the second pairing and giving him more minutes is the intelligent thing to do. Chiarot will have to fight for the minutes he had last season.

Canadiens Have a Four Man Battle Royale for Last Two Defensive Spots

This season, the Canadiens went out and loaded up on bottom pair defencemen, having acquired Chris Wideman, Sami Niku and giving a professional tryout (PTO) to Cody Goloubef. They also have young prospects trying to earn a spot like Kaiden Guhle and Mattias Norlinder, and the latter announced during the rookie camp that his goal this season is to make the Canadiens. Guhle is having a stronger camp than Norlinder but will almost be guaranteed to go back to his Western Hockey League (WHL) team, the Prince Albert Raiders, where he is currently captain. Norlinder will most likely return to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and play for Frolunda if he doesn’t make the Canadiens.

Sami Niku
Former Winnipeg Jet Sami Niku is now in camp with the Canadiens.
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The prospects are probably not making the team unless Norlinder makes a huge push that leaves the final two defensive spots to Wideman, Niku and Goloubef, along with Canadiens veteran Brett Kulak. Kulak should have the inside track for at least one opening, but he is a left-handed defenceman, and the Canadiens need a right-handed defenceman if they want to balance the lines. Of course, the right side doesn’t need to be filled by a right-hander. But it does work better, as Niku and Wideman are both righthanded and are good puck-moving defencemen that give them a slight advantage over Kulak. Goloubef will have his work cut out for him if he intends to make the team.

Brett Kulak Montreal Canadiens
Brett Kulak, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With three players battling over two spots, it will come down to Niku and Wideman for the final spot. Wideman was brought over from the KHL and signed a one-year contract, while Niku signed a one-year, two-way contract. Contract-wise, Wideman has the edge. Niku is younger and a better transition player than both Kulak and Wideman, and the Canadiens need a good transition player. Wideman, so far, has looked just average. Niku just arrived at camp and hasn’t played in a preseason game yet; if he can outplay Wideman, he could steal that last defensive spot.

Battle for Thirteenth Forward Heating Up

The Canadiens signed Paquette and Matthieu Perrault in the offseason for added depth on the bottom lines. They will be extra valuable if Poehling doesn’t work out, and Paul Byron will not be able to play until December due to a hip injury. The issue — and it’s not a bad one — is that Lukas Vejdemo and Jessie Ylonen are having pretty good camps and pushing for a roster spot. Ylonen had some issues with being vaccinated, which kept him out of rookie camp games and a few practices. Vejdemo, however, has been pretty steady and pushing for a spot on the roster. He could even be considered for the fourth-line center role if they decide to put Evans as the third-line center.

Lukas Vejdemo Montreal Canadiens
Lukas Vejdemo, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Paquette and Perrault should be the extra guys on the roster due to their NHL experience, but it will be hard for the Canadiens to put Vejdemo and Ylonen on waivers to put them back in Laval. Vejdemo will probably get picked up by a team looking for a fourth-line center. Ylonen could also get claimed off waivers, but it’s less likely. If Poehling makes the team, this will make the last forward spot even tighter, and there will be four players battling for one spot unless the Canadiens go with 14 forwards and six defensemen, complicating the defensive battle.

Related: Montreal Canadiens Season Preview Articles

It is good to have competition for spots like this during the preseason because it shows that the team has good depth. The problem with it is you are almost guaranteed to lose a player or more on waivers. The only player currently waiver-exempt is Poehling. He is likely to take the third or fourth center spot, leaving Paquette and Perrault as the extra forwards. With the injuries to Byron and Mike Hoffman, the Canadiens are fine for now. But the team will need to make a move when they come back (Hoffman returns early in the season).

To avoid losing some players for nothing, Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin would be wise to make a deal before the season starts, as soon as the winners of the position battles are set, of course.

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