The biggest mistake fans and media personalities make every year is to rely too much on the past season’s performances for their assessment of what the upcoming season will bring. While some veteran players can, for the most part, be counted on year in, year out, there are many factors to take into consideration and whether it’s done on purpose or not, too many are being overlooked. Injuries, team chemistry and development are some of the main factors regularly overlooked by most, and are key reasons for disappointing or over-achieving seasons by some players or even some teams.
Much has been said and written about the Montreal Canadiens’ off-season and most hockey “experts” and “not-so-experts” seem to place the Habs at the bottom of the league once again. This negativity is justified by the fact that team GM Marc Bergevin, in spite of address this need through the draft, has failed, once again, to find an immediate solution for his team at the centre position. An aging Tomas Plekanec – who will get to play his 1,000 NHL game in the Habs’ uniform – will bring some much needed depth at that position but he is no longer a top-6 player. It seems like the team will have to rely, once again, on Jonathan Drouin and Phillip Danault to pivot the top-two lines.
The forgotten – or ignored – intangibles are certainly present however. While loaded with skills, the inconsistency and lack of effort by departing troubled-child Alex Galchenyuk has been replaced with a true team-first player in Max Domi, who will bring a Brendan Gallagher-like type of effort, with more skills.
Pundits will also ignore that usually productive goals’ scorer and team captain Max Pacioretty had his worst season since 2010-11 and it’s very unlikely that, at 29, he will continue on such a slump. It’s also very, very unlikely that the NHL will see Carey Price, its best goaltender, allowing over three goals per game and barely reaching the not-so respectable level of .900 saves percentage. Those two alone will account to more wins for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge for sure and that, in spite of missing a couple of key pieces in their line-up to start the season.
Last but not least, people tend to forget that young players often do improve from season to season, something a bit mind-boggling to tell you the truth. Here are some of the team’s young players who, with the exception of Pacioretty and Price, should improve over last season based only on the fact that they have gained on maturity and, hopefully, in their development…
Much has been said about his goals’ scoring (or lack of there of) by those who were opposed the trade of Galchenyuk but let’s be realistic here: Domi is a great talent. He’s a more talented Gallagher and he has produced at every level. At 23, he’s only a couple of seasons removed from an 18-goals and 52 points rookie season. And you know that this guy will be pulling in the same direction as the rest of the team. My prediction is that he will rapidly become a fan-favourite in Montreal.
Yes, the transition to centre came with bumps and bruises for him, to the point of being unfairly judged as a flop by some of the fanbase, particularly those who hate Bergevin’s guts. But Drouin finished strong, with 20 points in his last 29 games, including a stretch of 13 points in his last 14 games of the season. Would it had been preferable to move him back to the wing? It’s my opinion that yes, Drouin would benefit from playing at his natural position but he has shown that he can improve over last season’s production even if utilized at the centre position.
After an 18-goals rookie season, the notorious sophomore jinx appeared to have hit Lehkonen last year, until he too caught fire towards the end of the season. He scored seven of his 12 goals in his last 15 games of the season so everything points into the direction of the 23 year-old bouncing back for the upcoming season.
One word would, in my opinion, describe Hudon: streaky. Still, in his rookie season, he finished with 10 goals and 30 points, showing good offensive attributes. As he gains in maturity, experience and confidence, he is one of my favourite candidates amongst young players to have a breakthrough season. He has the hands and the nose to the net to make it happen. He reminds me a bit of a former Habs, Christopher Higgins, in his style of play.
JACOB DE LA ROSE
We often forget that De la Rose is only 23 years old! Yet at the World Championships in the Spring, he played a key role for Gold medalists Sweden. De la Rose, who was playing in his first-ever tournament as a member of the Swedish senior side, logged 16:32 of ice time in the Gold medal game. That could very well have given him the boost of confidence he needed to take the next step in his NHL career for next season.
Okay, I have a soft spot for Mike, having seen him play for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL. He was, in my opinion, the best defenseman to wear that uniform since none other than Duncan Keith (who was 16 at the time though). I liked that acquisition by the Canadiens from day one and the potential is immense with this guy. I do feel like he can become a good top-4 defenseman in this league and he’s ready to take the next step… given the opportunity.
This kid impressed from the day he spoke to the media at the draft after the Canadiens made him their first pick. He is excitable and he loves playing hockey. He did suffer a couple of setbacks, injury-wise, but he has the speed, the size and the skills to make an offensive impact in the NHL. I would be very surprised if Scherbak didn’t make the team and, by the same token, provide some much needed offense to a team in desperate need of just that.
Few know this guy and several downplayed his acquisition. Those people looked at the stats, forgetting that he was playing the wing behind Blake Wheeler and… Patrik Laine! Selected 16th overall by the Buffalo Sabres, Arnia still managed 12 goals and 29 points from his 6’3″ frame. I would not be shocked one second if Armia was the surprise of the year for the Habs.
You will have noticed that I’m purposely leaving out young defensemen Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen and Brent Lernout, all of which could provide a push and force Bergevin to unload some veterans in order to make room for them. Get excited Habs’ fans. Don’t let the Negative-Nancy on the Twitter-universe, radio sports show or garbage newspaper reporters get to you. There are many, many positive news to get anxious about for the upcoming season and we – those who cheer for the logo in front of the jersey – can sign along with the great Anakin Slayd!