Time To Put Up or Shut Up For Habs’ Hopefuls

HabsNeedChange

North America, both in Canada or in the United States, is known as the land of opportunities. This is where people are entitled to dream. Where people can hope to make it big, whether it be in business, on the movie screen, in pro-sports. While in most environments, opportunity can come knocking at any time in one’s life, the same cannot necessarily be said in hockey, a league already known for giving chances to younger and younger players each year, or so it seems. For some of them, the window is already starting to close before they will have to make important decisions when it comes to their future in hockey… or elsewhere.

The Montreal Canadiens have a few of those players, those who have turned pro a few years ago. While every opportunity is important, this 2018 training camp is particularly crucial for a few Habs’ hopefuls as time is running out and other younger prospects are pushing hard behind them for their own opportunity. Let’s have a look at the most prominent in this year’s crop for the Habs, as they are getting ready to hit the ice for what could be the last time wearing the red, white and blue.

Byron Froese (1991) – C

After bouncing from the AHL with short stints in the NHL, he managed to crack the Habs’ line-up last season with a career high 48 games with the Canadiens. Sound defensive player, the fact that he is playing centre on a team desperately seeking help at that position helped him, but he did steal the job from veteran Torrey Mitchell. He is one who won’t be pleased to see Tomas Plekanec coming back and Matthew Peca coming into play. To make matters worse, Jacob de la Rose seems ripe for a breakout season. At 27 years of age, time is the essence for him.

Simon Després (1991) – LD

Després is a different kind of bird all together. Once seen as a top prospect with the Penguins and the Ducks, he already has just under 200 NHL games under his belt. Injuries, particularly concussion issues, have contributed to his set-back and the 27 year-old signed a Professional Try-Out contract so he’s a good gamble for the Canadiens and if anyone could help get his career on track, it might just be Joël Bouchard. The skills are there. The confidence and ability to put it all together is what’s lacking here.

Michael Chaput (1992) – C

Chaput has been on the fringe with both the Blue Jackets and the Canucks and at 26, the native of Île Bizard, QC, is hoping that some home cooking will have the same effect on him as it has on Nicolas Deslauriers. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, he has the size, grit, determination and physicality to be a great agitator. Further, he is very versatile and can be counted on in all situations in all three zones. He signed a two year, two-way contract with the Canadiens this summer.

Kenny Agostino (1992) – LW

Agostino is a newcomer in the Canadiens’ organisation and the 26 year-old is a prolific points producer at the AHL level, but has yet to be able to put it all together in the NHL. Like the other players brought in this summer, Agostino has, you guessed it, a solid two-way game to his repertoire. His game is based on speed and the 26 year-old winger likes to play an up-tempo game.

Xavier Ouellet (1993) – LD

Ouellet
Xavier Ouellet

Ouellet is perhaps Marc Bergevin‘s most publicized acquisition of the summer after Max Domi. Born in Bayonne, France, the former QMJHL star has 145 career NHL games under his belt with the Detroit Red Wings. The 25 year-old excels at moving the puck up ice. He has excellent mobility from the back end, as well as some offensive ability. He also owns an accurate point shot. Like Chaput, he and the Canadiens’ organisation are hoping that some home cooking will launch his career for good.

Hunter Shinkaruk (1994) – C

I hesitated putting a 23 year-old on that list but this will be Shinkaruk’s third team already. Recently acquired in a trade with the Flames for Kerby Rychel, Shinkaruk was once perceived as one of the Canucks’ blue-chip prospects. In his post-trade assessment of the trade which saw the youngster traded to Calgary, Canucks’ GM Jim Benning told the press that they had analyzed his goals in the AHL and figured that it wouldn’t translate to offense at the NHL level. Fans in Vancouver were very upset at Benning for trading him. It now remains to be seen if Bergevin hit a homerun with this one, or if it’s another one of his low-risk, possible high-reward moves.

Rinat Valiev (1995) – LD

Acquired from the Maple Leafs along with Rychel and the Leafs’ second round pick in 2018 (Jacob Olofsson) in the trade for Plekanec, Valiev owns excellent size (6-foot 3-inches, 215 pounds), plus the ability to use it to shutdown opponents as well as play a physical game. He does have some offensive ability. He is only 23 but the Canadiens’ defense is starting to get pretty crowded with guys with his abilities so he will need to step up his game in order to earn himself a spot.

Michael McCarron (1995) – C/RW

What hasn’t been said about McCarron that could be added here without sounding redundant? Again, we’re talking about a 23 year-old here but would a 6-foot 6-inches, 231 pounds towering forward with power-forward acumen clear wavers if sent down? In my opinion, the Canadiens need to stop trying to make him a centre and play him on the wing, where he can be more efficient. This will be a very important training camp for the Michigan-born young man, one that could very well determine his future with this organization.

 

Don’t believe the anti-Bergevin naysayers forks: the Canadiens’ organization is on the right path and even THEY know it. They simply don’t want to see him succeed for reasons that are well beyond hockey matters. The depth in the organisation is as good as it’s been in many years and the prospect pool is in the Top-6 in the entire NHL according to Corey Pronman, prospects specialist for The Athletic. With competition comes pressure to perform and with that, a team full of players who will have to give their all every day, not to lose their jobs to others who want it just as much. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Centres: Not a Oversight

BellCentre

If you have been around the NHL for some time, if you have followed trends, you will have noticed that the last team to win the Stanley Cup becomes the “norm” to build a winning franchise. Back when the Canadiens won their last two Stanley Cups, it was believed that you needed to have excellent goaltending if you wanted to hope to win the Holy Grail of hockey excellence. In the Red Wings’ run, it wasn’t as important as having a true number one defenseman ala Nicklas Lidstrom, or the Blackhawks with Duncan Keith. Now with the Penguins lifting Lord Stanley, you need quality centremen. The truth sits somewhere in between: you need a good team, filled with players willing to do what it takes to win and that, no matter what position they play at. 

As many feel like the centre position is pivotal (pun intended) in order to win as it stands today, November 2nd, 2017, let’s see what the Canadiens have done in order to try to draft players at that position. Understanding that drafting 17-18 year-olds in the top rounds doesn’t guarantee success, let’s see if the franchise has attempted, or not, to address the need that many are planting on Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin.

Since 2009, the Canadiens have drafted a total of nine (9) centremen in the top 3 rounds, and have tried converting one more, Michael McCarron, from the wing to centre. In a year when they lacked second and third round pick (2010), they took a flyer on centre Mark MacMillan in the fourth round. Results? Obviously not great as the team is still trying to fill that void. Does that mean that they haven’t tried? Allow me to doubt it.

Centre of attention

In 2009, the Habs selected Louis Leblanc (remember the fans chanting his name at the Bell Centre?) 18th overall. What could go wrong? A local, young future star pivoting the Canadiens’ top line? Need I say more? That year, the Habs had no second round picks and they selected Joonas Nattinen in the third round, 65th overall. That one unfortunately didn’t pan out either.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild
Louis Leblanc was picked 18th overall in 2009

2010 was tough on Trevor Timmins as the team’s head draft man had no second or third round picks to play with. Still, he took a chance on selecting a centre, Mark MacMillan, with the 113th overall pick. Mark unfortunately moved on this year but as a fourth round pick, he was a long shot, let’s admit it.

After a dismal season seeing the team lose Carey Price for the season, the 2012 saw the Canadiens have the third overall pick and with it, they drafted a player whom they thought would be the team’s number one centre for years to come. Alex Galchenyuk has shown flashed of greatness, but much more disappointment than anything and he’s been reverted back to the wing by a second coach now. We know the rest of the story.

In 2013, the team drafted Michael McCarron (25th), Jacob De la Rose (34th) and Connor Crisp (71th). The last two were potential centres, and they are still attempting to see if McCarron can become a good centre, although it seems like he won’t be a top-six player at that position. We cannot say that the team hasn’t tried to fix this whole at centre, at least not that draft year!

2015 was another year with which Timmins had no second round picks so he selected Lukas Vejdemo (87th) in the third round that year. Time will tell if this was or not a good selection but when drafting that late, it takes time for those players to develop to the point of having an impact at the NHL level.

Timmins selected William Bitten in the third round of 2016, having no second round picks once again. Bitten is showing some very good things at the CHL level, which should leave the fan base hopeful.

We all know what the 2017 draft brought the Canadiens as both Ryan Poehling (25th) and Joni Ikonen (58th) drew much attention on the international stage this past summer. Those two could very well become, in due time, a very good one-two punch down the middle for a team in much need of such depth.

Conclusion

As we can see, we can argue all we want about Trevor Timmins’ effectiveness at drafting, but there is no denying that the lack of depth at the centre position was NOT a oversight by the team or its management team. Sometimes, teams need to catch a break with players coming out of nowhere, or players developing and turning into what scouts saw in them in junior. Here’s hoping that the drought is coming to an end… until a new trend comes along with the next Stanley Cup winners. Go Habs Go!