The Montreal Canadiens Have a Logjam at Centre

Win the middle, win the game. The centre-ice position is critical for any team looking to contend and the Montreal Canadiens are no different. With the recent acquisition of young centre Phillip Danault, the Habs are even more crowded up the middle so something has to give as the team has Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, Danault and Torrey Mitchell as the centres with Alex Galchenyuk on the wing and David Desharnais injured.

What do they bring to the team?

All of these players bring something different to the table. Plekanec is the most complete player of them all both offensively and defensively and has been a consistent presence during his career with Montreal. Eller brings strong defensive play, good puck possession and size. Danault is still young but he brings a good work ethic and is strong on the forecheck and backcheck. Mitchell is strong on faceoffs and can chip in the odd goal. Galchenyuk is the most offensively gifted with amazing hands and an underrated shot. Desharnais works better in a smaller role where he can create more offense against lesser competition.

Desharnais is the most expendable centre on this list as he doesn’t produce often enough to warrant his role and his defensive game lags behind the others. His advantage is the coaching staff continuing to play him in a significant role, frequently with captain Max Pacioretty. Mitchell too is also expendable as younger players could soon push him aside.

In contrast, Eller has had a shorter leash and has been involved in trade rumours for several years. However, he is much more valuable as a player than Desharnais. Eller’s defensive game alone makes him valuable but combine that with his size, skating and ability to create offense when playing with better players in a bigger role, he is not easy to replace.

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Opportunity and Development

Drafted to be the franchise’s No. 1 centre, Galchenyuk has never really been given the opportunity to seize that role. This season, he spent the first half of the year at centre only to be shifted back to the wing. This time, he has spent most of his time on the wing with Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher where he has looked very good. The troubling thing is head coach Michel Therrien does not give Galchenyuk the ice time he deserves. Most nights, he is among the team’s best offensive threats but will only play 13-14 minutes a night. Montreal needs to make up their mind with Galchenyuk and commit him to that position. Most importantly, if this team wants to win, he needs more ice time.

In addition to Danault, the Habs have other players being groomed to play centre. Michael McCarron, at 6 feet 6 inches, was drafted as a right winger but got converted to centre during his last season of junior and has continued to play that position in the AHL. McCarron remaining a centre would solve Montreal’s need of having that big centre who can score but also provide that intimidation factor. Jacob de la Rose is another one who can play centre or wing. As of late, he looked better at centre but had a good game on Danault’s wing in the game vs. Toronto.

Who stays and who goes?

The Habs have some hard decisions to make on who stays and who goes. Centres are valuable players and Montreal needs to decide who is the present and future of this franchise although the salary cap could help decide that. The No. 1 centre position is still wide open and the team has enough centres in the bottom six. If the Habs want to win, they have to choose which players give them the best chance to do so.

Featured Image was provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers