Rabid Habs

The 2015-2016 Canadiens Forward Lineup

Photo: Robert Hradil

To all you die-hard hockey fans out there, you all understand the lull that the offseason brings. The excess of time has given me an opportunity to reflect on the past season, and how the Montreal Canadiens might improve their forward lineup heading into the 2015-2016 season.

After a saddening defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 2 of the playoffs, many fans used our forward lineup as an excuse as to why we underperformed. Now that the offseason is halfway over, there are still many questions as to what our Montreal Canadiens will look like in the upcoming season…

Going all the way back to trade deadline day, many of us Montreal fans have been asking for a top 6 forward, most likely to play with the likes of Max Pacioretty on the top line.

Contrary to popular belief, Montreal has many options to regulate their scoring woes heading into next season. With the arrival of Bud Holloway and Zack Kassian, along with players like Nikita Scherbak, Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon and Devante Smith-Pelly, there are many more options to solve our scoring issues than some fans realize:

 

  • Bud Holloway (RW)

Bud Holloway is most likely the biggest wildcard going into next season. He has posted impressive numbers in various European leagues after refusing a contract offer from the Los Angeles Kings in 2011. He has also shown that he has a very impressive shot, along with superb playmaking skills, all while breaking multiple scoring records in the Swedish Elite League.

On July 1st, Marc Bergevin signed Holloway to a one-year, two-way deal, which is most likely a contract that will prove whether or not he’s capable at playing at the NHL level. He’s definitely an unproven talent in the NHL at this point, but his hard slapshot could turn out to be something useful to turnaround our inefficient power play.

Last year Holloway played under Guy Boucher’s coaching, so it is not too farfetched to believe that he could  be developed into an NHL quality player. I believe that Bergevin has found another diamond in the rough and time will tell whether or not this signing will prove to be beneficial to the organization. For those unfamiliar with Holloway’s skills, here’s a video of his highlights from his time in the Swedish Elite League.

 

  • Zack Kassian (RW)

Zack Kassian will most likely be a fan favourite next year, simply due to the fact he has an exuberant personality, and is prone to be somewhat of a jokester. Unfortunately for Kassian, he still hasn’t reached the potential we were all told he had after being drafted 13th overall in the 2009 draft by the Buffalo Sabres. There is still time for Kassian to reach this potential of being a productive forward again, and as always, Bergevin worked his magic, sending enforcer Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Kassian and a 5th round pick in 2016.

If Kassian pans out, this trade could end up being a steal, especially if Kassian resigns after the 2015-2016 season. Kassian hasn’t had the career he has wanted, struggling to find his place, first on Buffalo, but then being quickly sent off to Vancouver, where everyone thought he’d excel playing with the Sedin twins. Kassian had his fair share of success, but it came in rare occurrences. In Vancouver, it was made clear that the different Canuck coaches wanted him to develop into a power forward, rather than to encourage Kassian to play the skill game that he desires. If Kassian is able to use his skill game to dish out passes to Pacioretty, I don’t think anyone will complain that he’s not becoming your prototypical power forward.

 

  • Nikita Scherbak (RW)

Nikita Scherbak has been arguably Montreal’s most hyped prospect since Alex Galchenyuk was drafted back in 2012, and with good reason. Nikita being compared to Jakub Voracek at the draft gives us great hope that one day Scherbak will become anything like what Voracek is now.

For the stat watchers out there, it may look like Nikita hasn’t developed his game whatsoever since last season, but that is simply not true. Running under Kevin Constantine’s system, and playing for the Everett Silvertips, Scherbak was able to further his understanding of the defensive aspect of the game. This is crucial if he wants to have a chance to succeed under Therrien’s defensive system.

Last year at the Habs’ main camp it was apparent that there was immediate chemistry between Galchenyuk and Scherbak, which is extremely promising for the Habs’ future. Scherbak is a very good playmaker, and having a career of dishing it off to Galchenyuk and Pacioretty is very possible, something I’m sure all of us would be dying to see. It’s almost a given at this point that Scherbak will be playing in the NHL sometime in the future due to his incredible skills, great speed and solid size, but is his career in the NHL going to start next year or will he need another year to develop in the AHL?

 

  • Sven Andrighetto (RW)

Sven Andrighetto is a very intriguing prospect, due to the fact that he impressed many in his short stint with the big club last year. I think that a lot of fans feel as though Andrighetto is NHL ready, and while I agree to a certain extent, I don’t think that he should be our first choice as a top six winger.

Andrighetto has great puck skills, but I think that his size might be a factor in determining whether or not he can be successful at the NHL level. While we’ve seen many small NHL players succeed (St. Louis, Gaudreau, Gionta) Andrighetto still has many question marks (defensive game, power, size, etc).

It was apparent at this year’s draft that teams were valuing size more than other years, as a very skilled prospect in Mathew Barzal dropped all the way to #16. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Andrighetto isn’t given the chance many believe he should get. I’m not Andrighetto out when it comes to making the team this year, and he still has time to develop as he is only 22, but he’ll have to work hard if he wants to reach his dream of playing in the NHL consistently.

 

  • Charles Hudon (LW)

Charles Hudon is the only natural left winger on my list, although Hudon played a lot of centre in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs. I think since Montreal already has quite the logjam at centre, Hudon would have a better shot at making the team as a left winger, and that he’d have more success in the NHL at LW.

If Alex Galchenyuk moves to centre next season, there could be a hole at the 2LW position, where I believe Hudon has a great chance over David Desharnais. A lot of fans are really excited for our prospects like Jacob de la Rose, Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron, but my favourite prospect is Charles Hudon by far, for many reasons.

For one, looking at Hudon’s stats in the AHL, and seeing that he was the highest scoring rookie in the AHL gives great reason to be excited. Hudon isn’t the biggest player, standing at only 5’10” (same size as Andrighetto), but he relies more on his hockey IQ and playmaking skills to be successful, which is why I think he has an edge over Andrighetto. He’s also solid in his own end. By no means is he a defensive stalwart like de la Rose, but his hockey smarts are so high that he is very good with his stick and at reading the play.

While I think Hudon will be starting the year in the AHL, if he has a monster camp in September and avoids another injury, it’s very possible we’ll see him slotting into the lineup when Montreal faces the Leafs on October 7th.

 

  • Devante Smith-Pelly (RW)

I’m not going to say “last but not least” here because Devante (“Devo”) Smith-Pelly is probably the player that has the least chance of making an impact in Montreal’s top six next year. There was a big commotion last season when Marc Bergevin sent fan favourite Jiri Sekac for an unproven talent in Devante Smith-Pelly, as fans didn’t like the deal, myself included. But as time has gone by, I’ve started to turn around my thoughts on Devo, since he has shown different sparks of some crazy potential.

When Smith-Pelly arrived from Anaheim last year he was maybe a tad out of shape and couldn’t quite keep up with the fast pace Michel Therrien sets. But if Devo works hard this summer to get into great shape, and he continues to work on his strength, we could have a glimmer of hope that maybe he’ll reach his full potential of becoming the power forward we’ve been missing for years.

Saying all this, if I were the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, I’d head into next season with this lineup that I believe will give us the best chance of winning every game:

Pacioretty-  Plekanec – Kassian

Hudon – Galchenyuk – Gallagher

Desharnais – Eller – Smith-Pelly

De La Rose – Mitchell – Weise

With this lineup, there are three lines that are very capable of scoring goals, giving Lars Eller two players that can actually help produce goals instead of setting him up with defensive oriented players like Brandon Prust and Jacob de la Rose. Even if one of those players doesn’t work out, we still have Flynn, Holloway, Scherbak, Andrighetto, Thomas, Bournival and Carr who could all slot into the lineup sometime next year. My lineup is definitely not what Therrien will start the season with, as I don’t see Desharnais being a winger, nor do I see Smith-Pelly in the 3RW position, but one can hope, right?

Marc Bergevin doesn’t have to head out into the trade market searching for a top six winger. There are plenty in the organization if they just give them a chance. While none of the six players I mentioned are guaranteed to be a top six player, hopefully with a little bit of that Montreal luck one can develop so we can finally make that drive for 25!

Follow me on Twitter: @AGFearon