The Montreal Canadiens made an effort in the off season to boost their offense by acquiring Zack Kassian and signing Alexander Semin. In addition, the team has several offensively gifted prospects looking to push for a spot in the NHL such as Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr and Christian Thomas.
The top two lines are interchangeable as most of Montreal’s best offensive players have played together before. The bottom six is a little more crowded as there are several players who will be fighting for minutes. Below are line projections for the upcoming season.
First line: Max Pacioretty-Tomas Plekanec-Brendan Gallagher
Head coach Michel Therrien loves to juggle his lines so the probability of any line that isn’t scoring staying together is slim. This potential first line has Montreal’s best offensive threat in Pacioretty, its best centre in Plekanec and the heartbeat of the forward corps in Gallagher.
After suffering a knee injury in the off-season, it is still unknown if Pacioretty will be ready for the start of the year. If he is, he will be a threat to score 40 goals while continuing to be a fixture on special teams and be a strong possession player. He has become more consistent with his maturation as a player and carries a heavy burden as Montreal’s top scorer.
Plekanec is Montreal’s most well rounded centre and despite the desire to put Alex Galchenyuk in this spot, Galchenyuk has just spent the last three seasons as a winger so putting him as a top line centre taking on other team’s best lines might be too much at this point. Barring any unforeseen drop off, Plekanec will continue to be a solid two-way player and be a pillar for Montreal up front.
Gallagher earns the top line right wing spot with his work ethic and solid offensive game. 30 goals and 50 points is well within reach for Gallagher as his game continues to evolve. He will work for every inch of ice and he is a big part of making a line work with his ability to grind it out and frustrate teams.
Second line: David Desharnais – Alex Galchenyuk – Alexander Semin
Desharnais is finally moved to the wing in this scenario, taking him away from frequent linemate Pacioretty. Desharnais is criticized for being in a role not meant for him but it’s hard to complain about him being a top six winger. He possesses good offensive skill and he began to shoot the puck more when he was separated from Pacioretty. He carries the puck reasonably well and has enough creativity to be a centre but since he isn’t better than Plekanec and Galchenyuk needs a chance, Desharnais lands here.
Galchenyuk is finally put at centre on a line oozing with offensive skill but he and Plekanec can switch lines if necessary. His playmaking ability down the middle could be lethal alongside Semin. As the second line centre, he doesn’t have to face any heavy defensive assignments but he is still getting good ice time in a more challenging role.
For Semin, he is on a cheap one-year deal looking to prove himself after a bad year in Carolina that ended with him being bought out. In his prime, Semin was one of the best goal scorers in the league and the hope is any wrist issues are behind him so he can score some goals for an offensively starved team. If Semin is going to succeed, he needs to play in a top six role with offensively minded players and Semin could benefit immensely here lining up with two players who love to pass.
#Habs Therrien on how to motivate Alexander Semin: "It's not like the old days when it was 'my way or the highway'" 1/2
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) August 11, 2015
2/2 MT says keys to motivating Semin are communication, the athlete's own pride and peer pressure, citing how committed #Habs already are.
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) August 11, 2015
Third line: Jacob de la Rose – Lars Eller – Zack Kassian
De la Rose impressed in the back half of the season, showing a defensive acumen that belied his young age. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game but he could find himself in critical defensive situations this season. As a favourite of Therrien, it’s hard to envision De la Rose going back to the AHL. To really make a difference, hopefully De la Rose is able to add more of an offensive bent to his game to make himself more of a threat.
Eller will continue his role as the third line centre and is a good bet to chip in 30 points this season. Inconsistency is an issue with Eller so it is why he is a third line centre as opposed to a top six one. His defensive game and possession stats continue to be strong but his offense leaves people wanting more. Perhaps playing with better players this season will help.
Kassian is the X-factor on this line. A big player who plays a finesse game, Kassian has a ton of tools but is running out of time to glue it altogether. His previous teams tried to turn Kassian into a big mean power forward who plays physical but he just isn’t that kind of player. Kassian is a player who likes to make plays and score goals. If Kassian can iron out his inconsistency issues while receiving a fair shot from the coaching staff, he could turn out to be a steal for the Habs.
Fourth line: Devante Smith-Pelly – Torrey Mitchell – Dale Weise
Smith-Pelly came over from Anaheim and failed to make much of an impression. Smith-Pelly can be a wrecking ball who is capable of scoring the occasional goal when he is on his game. But he fails to bring it on a regular basis and his inconsistency is frustrating. He will get a fresh slate in training camp but he needs to show he is worth taking a chance on. Other players could easily be in Smith-Pelly’s spot but Montreal management will be wanting to see what they have in him first.
The hometown boy Mitchell comes back on a three year deal to be the fourth line centre. He brings experience and speed to the bottom six and is an upgrade on Manny Malhotra.
Weise has made a name for himself in Montreal as a jack of all trades player who can play up and down the lineup. He inexplicably found himself on the top two lines too often last season but with new depth at right wing, it won’t be a problem. He has more of an offensive knack than most fourth liners but that’s what makes Weise a valuable player. He has also shown an ability to score big goals for Montreal in the playoffs.
Honourables Mentions and Potential Surprises
Some of the forwards on the outside looking in are Michael Bournival and Brian Flynn. Bournival went from a player who looked like a third line lock to the doghouse to the minors in a short period of time. Injuries didn’t help his case and with a one-year contract in his pocket, he will be looking to push his way onto the roster. Flynn was acquired from Buffalo and signing him was a depth move. He is at a disadvantage already despite having a one-way contract. He doesn’t bring anything special to the table to warrant the team keeping him on the roster when that spot could be given to someone younger.
Some of the aforementioned prospects Thomas, Hudon, Andrighetto and Carr could force Montreal’s hand and start the season in the NHL. Nikita Scherbak could surprise in training camp as he looked good in spurts alongside Galchenyuk. Michael McCarron had a very good season in junior after winning the Memorial Cup but barring an outstanding camp, he will start the season in the minors.
No doubt the lines Therrien has in store will likely look different than these ones or Bergevin can make a trade that will throw the lines completely off. However, these combinations have the potential to be very good for Montreal. A lot of the forwards have already played alongside each other before (new faces aside) so it’s a matter of chemistry and putting players where they belong best. Hopefully the freedom exists for more players to use their talents to their advantage.