2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 11. Montreal Canadiens

Part 21 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks, #13. Toronto Maple Leafs, #12. St. Louis Blues

2016-17 Recap

Record: 47-26-9 (103 points) 1st in Atlantic Division (7th Overall)
GFPG: 2.76 (15th)
GAPG: 2.44 (4th)
PP%: 19.57 (13th)
PK%: 81.12 (14th)
Corsi for %: 51.3% (7th)

The Canadiens are coming off of what was a pretty impressive year from a regular season standpoint, capturing an Atlantic Division title after improving 21 points on their 2015-16 season total. This was largely because they received excellent performances from Carey Price throughout the entire season following a year he only managed to make 12 starts due to injury. This just goes to show how important Price is to this team, and frankly, how he is the only reason they have a chance at success.

Max Pacioretty once again had a quietly excellent season as the Habs offensive leader, as number 67 accounted for 67 points – 35 of which were goals. 2016-17 was also the debut of Shea Weber in a Canadiens uniform, who provided a stabilizing presence for their blueline and was relied upon for 25:04 per game, three minutes more than any other skater on the team. Due to the superiority of the Metropolitan division last year, the Canadiens drew a playoff matchup with the 102-point New York Rangers who fell into a wild-card position, and ultimately lost to them in the first round in 6 games.

Shea Weber

 

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Jonathan Drouin, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Victor Mete, Ales Hemsky

List of Key Departures: Alexander Radulov, Nathan Beaulieu, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Mikhail Sergachev, Nikita Nesterov, Steve Ott

As a Leafs fan, it’s hard to produce an unbiased look at this team due to my deep-rooted hatred for them, but I’ll do my best to remove my personal feelings from this.

The offseason saw the Canadiens get a bit thinner on defense with the subtraction of steady veterans like Emelin and Markov, but they were able to make moves to patch those holes well enough. And Jonathan Drouin will look to fill expand on the role Alex Radulov played last season. The Alex Galchenyuk situation will be an interesting one to watch, he’s a good talent, but they’ve really made a mess of deciding where he fits on their team. All in all, this team doesn’t look drastically different from last year. While they don’t have the scoring depth to scare people, they did manage to overcome that last season.

The fear the Canadiens should have is while they may not have gotten worse, the teams behind them are getting better. Teams like the Lightning and Maple Leafs are going to push harder this season, and while the Canadiens deserve a degree of respect, they certainly shouldn’t be considered favourites to capture the division again. That being said, this group will still be in the playoff conversation.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Carey Price

Carey Price is the best goalie in the world, there isn’t much else you need to say. The Canadiens live and die with Price, and in recent years you can say they’ve been pretty lively because of how good he’s been. In the last three seasons (2014/15-2016/17) Price has posted a .929 Save Percentage and 2.09 Goals Against Average, both are best among NHL starting goalies in that time. He’s a five time All-Star, he’s won the Vezina trophy, Hart Trophy, Olympic Gold, World Cup etc…the guy is good. The knock on the Habs has always been their lack of size and scoring depth up front and inability to produce consistent offense, but Price has single handedly been able cover up those blemishes. Simply having Price in their net gives the Canadiens a chance to win against any team on any given night, a player doesn’t get more valuable than that.

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Team’s Strength: Goaltending

See above. Price is the man. Also, Al Montoya is a quality backup. The 32 year-old put up a respectable .912 Save Percentage in 19 starts last season for the Canadiens and can be relied upon to put up decent performances to spell Price.

Team’s Weaknesses: Scoring

No shocker here. Although Max Pacioretty has been a consistent contributor for years now, the Captain can’t do it all on his own. The loss of Alexander Radulov to the Dallas stars hurts as he was the team’s second highest point producer last season. It’s unlikely that we’ll see another 22 goal season from Paul Byron, so the goals are going to have to come from elsewhere. Can Galchenyuk get back to 30 goals? 25? Can Brendan Gallagher stay healthy enough to push for 20 again? Is there anyone that can step up and exceed expectations? All of these questions regarding the Canadiens’ offense is what led to the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning. It cost them promising defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev in order to get the deal done, so there is a great deal of pressure on Drouin to provide the spark this team is desperate for.

Rookies/Farm:

The rookie class for the 2016-17 Canadiens is represented by 19 year-old defenseman, Victor Mete. Mete was the Canadiens fourth round pick in 2016, but has appeared to already have found a home on the top pairing with Shea Weber. Standing at only 5’9”, 184lbs, Mete has provided a much needed injection of youth, mobility and puck moving into the Canadiens defense corps. Mete’s progression from fourth round pick to teenage rookie in the NHL is very encouraging for Canadiens fans. It looks like they have something in the former London Knight.

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As for the prospects still in the system, Noah Juulsen is a notable name. Juulsen is a defenseman that was the Canadiens 26th overall pick in the 2015 draft who played for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL last season. Juulsen also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships last winter. He’s set to begin his first pro season with the Canadiens new AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, and is one to watch for should the injury bug hit the Canadiens blue line.

In the most recent draft, the Canadiens selected Ryan Poehling 25th overall out of St. Cloud State University. Poehling is a 6’2” centre, and given the organization’s thin depth chart down the middle at the NHL level, the Canadiens hope Poehling can help fill that need for them sometime in the future.

Key Player: Jonathan Drouin

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Jonathan Drouin’s drama filled end to his tenure in Tampa Bay is a topic for another day, but it’s important for him to leave those events in the past and answer the bell for the Canadiens this season. Drouin is still just 22 years old, but his offensive talent is undeniable. The French-Canadian is going to be expected to be one of the offensive leaders this season and create chances for this Canadiens team. Drouin is going to be chewing up big time power-play minutes and while he’s better suited as a left-winger, will also be forced into playing centre from time to time as well. This reality is where the pressure is applied most for Drouin. He’s being placed in a situation that is relying on him to produce offensively more than he’s ever had to in his young NHL career, but he’s also going to need to be able to play a sound enough defensive game if he’s going to be trusted with top-line centre assignments. Drouin set career highs in both goals (21) and points (53) last season, and he’ll be given every opportunity to build on those this year with his new club. Drouin most definitely has it in him to do it, and the Canadiens need him to perform in order to succeed.


Our Rankings

  1. Ballantyne: 10th
  2. Burgess: 12th
  3. Waind: 10th

This is a placement in our rankings where I feel a team has the potential to really underperform their position (and that’s not my inner Leafs fan talking…or, maybe it is). But when you have the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price on your side (while healthy), you always have a chance. The Karl Alzner and David Schlemko adds to the back end don’t wow anyone, but they’re something at least.

The questions for the Canadiens this year really lie in the offense as it’s clear they’re banking on Jonathan Drouin to provide a major jolt. This brand of today’s NHL hockey is more skilled than ever, so it may be tough for this team to keep up at times. But, if the collective unit can chip in and provide some offensive support for Price, this team will always have the ability to make the playoffs. I wanted to rank this team lower, but I couldn’t justify dropping the Atlantic Division champs of a year ago much further. They’ve had a brutal start to 2017-18 so maybe we were too generous with our original rankings. But one things for sure, I’d rather be wrong than see this team succeed. 

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