Help Wanted: Habs Positional Needs

It’s rare to find an NHL team that is well stocked at every position. Most rosters have at least a few positions where they have depth. The Montreal Canadiens are no different. They have a few positions where they have depth from the NHL to the minor leagues, while other positions are in dire need of an upgrade. Here’s where the Habs stand.

Goalies: Good From Top to Bottom

This is the position where the Habs are the most stacked from top to bottom. With Carey Price at the top as one of the best in the NHL (despite a rough year), he will continue to get the lion’s share of the starts in net. Antti Niemi has posted solid numbers in Montreal but the re-signing of prospect Charlie Lindgren to a three-year, one-way deal likely indicates that he will be Price’s new backup.

Carey Price
Carey Price (Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Below them is Michael McNiven and Zach Fucale. Both have struggled this year for different reasons. McNiven is only 20 and he is making the jump from junior to pro, which can be difficult for goalies. Fucale is in his third year of minor pro and has yet to really break through. Consistency continues to elude him and he still has many of the same technical issues he’s had since junior hockey.

In college, Hayden Hawkey has progressed nicely and is a solid prospect with one more year of NCAA hockey. However, there is no doubt that the goalie who’s had the best season within the organization this year was Cayden Primeau. The freshman at Northeastern University backstopped his team to their first Beanpot championship in 30 years. He has been excellent since taking over the crease in November. Considering he was a seventh-round pick in 2017, his rise as a prospect has been something to watch.

Defence: Right Side Is Good…Left Side Needs Help

The right side on defence is pretty set for the Habs with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry holding the fort. Noah Juulsen has impressed since being called up and the 2015 first-rounder is pacing to stay in the NHL. If Juulsen continues to rise, he could be pencilled in as an NHL regular next season. Prospect-wise, they have Brett Lernout, Josh Brook and Cale Fleury on the right side.

Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen
Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s the left side where the organization lacks depth. Right now, Victor Mete, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko and Mike Reilly fill the spot. The Habs recently called up Rinat Valiev, the defenceman that came over in the Tomas Plekanec deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the minors with Mete injured. Reilly is 25, but has shown some promise in a very small sample size  and is looking like an upgrade over the others.

Without Andrei Markov and after trading Mikhail Sergachev,  the team has some big holes on the left side that have yet to be filled. Mete looks like he could be a top-four defender but the Habs need more than just him. For prospects, they have Jarret Tyszka and Scott Walford in junior as the most promising candidates. The others like Simon Bourque and Casey Staum are long shots at this point.

Forwards: Help Wanted…Desperately

The left-wing position for that Habs at the NHL level is actually a very solid group. They have Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon while Jonathan Drouin, in an ideal world, would return to the left wing. What’s worrying, is that the depth on the left side drops considerably after these names, with no junior-aged left-wingers and the ones in the AHL don’t have a ton of upside with the exception of maybe Kerby Rychel.

The right side is a little shallower. Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron and Nikita Scherbak are the best the organization has on the right wing. In the AHL, Will Bitten is the only true prospect on the right side. This is an area that needs a little more focus. 

Will Bitten, Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL
Montreal Canadiens prospect Will Bitten (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

At the centre ice position, alarm bells are ringing. In the NHL, the team only has one true centre and that’s Phillip Danault and, ideally, he is a second or third line player not in the tier of the other top centres in the league. Drouin is not a centre and while Andrew Shaw can play both on the wing and at centre, he is probably stronger on the wing.

With the way the draft is looking, it is very unlikely the Habs will pick a centre with their top pick and if for some reason they did, the chances of that kid being ready to step into the NHL next season are very slim.

In the AHL, Michael McCarron is playing centre but has mostly been a winger in the NHL. Prospect-wise, they have Ryan Poehling, who is developing nicely in college but his upside has yet to be determined. Either way, the Habs shouldn’t pin their number one centre hopes on Poehling. Jake Evans and Lukas Vejdemo are centres but their upside is in the third-line range. 

Needs for Habs Present and Future

This summer looks like it will be a busy one for the Habs. Having 10 picks in the draft will be a huge help in restocking the prospect cupboards at some key positions. However, draft picks won’t provide immediate help, which they need. That’s where trades and free agency could help. The Habs’ needs are well known and what they have right now is nowhere close to enough. There are some good pieces to work with but those players need help too.