Shooting Da Breeze is a collection of random thoughts on a variety of topics, more often than not about the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL, but not always. Exceptionally, we will have two parts in two days for your reading pleasure as there was simply too much material to cover. In the first part of this edition, we will touch on topics such as the most likely new lines and defense pairings, the effect of the new comers on Drouin, the future of Danault and Juulsen, the Habs’ depth at centre and more… Please feel free to share and as usual, comments are always welcome.
For the potential return to play for the 2021 season, it seems like the NHL is contemplating having geographical divisions. The downside of that, for the Montreal Canadiens and their Canadian counterparts, is that due to the borders being closed, there might be a all-Canadian division. In such a big country, that’s a lot of traveling when comparing to the United States’ teams, particularly the Eastern American teams, who would go with Regional Divisions.
Just how would the Canadiens matchup against their counterparts in an all-Canadian division? It wouldn’t be easy that’s for sure. In addition to the travel, you have some very good teams and those who were not so good are getting better. We know that Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary are good teams and the Flames finally have a true number one goaltender in Jacob Markstrom. The Leafs have made some changes and the jury is out to deliberate if they have improved or not. But they have a solid core. The Jets are big and nasty, and they have tons of experience. The Oilers and Canucks have young players who keep progressing but both teams have lost or didn’t add on useful pieces to their lineup.
The Canadiens have added four for sure, possibly five pieces that will make them better: Edmundson, Toffoli, Anderson and Allen are sure pieces, while Romanov should be better than say, Ouellet who played regularly in the playoffs. The Habs also only lost one piece from their lineup in Domi. I do believe that the Canadiens could very well be battling with the Flames for top spot in a potential Canadian division. For that to happen, many things have to fall into place, I will admit.
In a recent interview with Mathias Brunet of La Presse, from which we translated the quotes from Joel Edmundson, the big defenseman clearly stated that when talking to Marc Bergevin and Claude Julien, he was told that he will be playing with Jeff Petry. So let’s stop the Kulak with Petry nonsense, shall we? The first two pairs are set. The third pairing remains to be seen but Julien expects Alexander Romanov in the line-up based on his press conference comments in October. Therefore, we should see something like this:
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – **
** 2-3 of Kulak, Mete, Fleury, Juulsen on the team
More on that in tomorrow’s Part 2.
The consensus seems to be the same from everyone: Alexander Romanov should not only be a starter in Montreal when the puck drops on 2021, but some suggest that he could be ready for top-4 duty before long. If that’s the case, it will be a battle between he and Edmundson. That left side sure looks promising in the future with Romanov, Otto Leskinen, Mattias Norlinder, Jayden Struble, Gianni Fairbrother and this year’s first round pick Kaiden Guhle.
The signature of Edmundson and Romanov is not good news for youngster Victor Mete, who could find himself on the outside looking in. He did play on the right side during the last playoffs and although it’s not ideal, the team could be looking for him to do the same this upcoming season. But first, he will have to battle with Romanov, Brett Kulak, Noah Juulsen, Cale Fleury and possibly even Josh Brook in the event he impresses at camp. It’s definitely an uphill battle for the diminutive defenseman but he has one thing the others don’t have: elite skating.
In a recent interview, Laval Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard said that although he only played one game after his most recent setback, it was Noah Juulsen‘s best game in two years. Bouchard praized the 23 year-old for his positive attitude and never-die mindset. The coach added that he was the Juulsen of olds, fearless, physical and poised. If Habs’ fans are counting this guy out, they could be in for a surprise as when he suffered his eye injury, he was showing that he belonged in the NHL. Juulsen says that he’s healthy and ready to go. Having seen him play here out west for the Canucks and the Ducks, I compare his style to Kevin Bieksa who, ironically, is the player he models his game around. Would you take a young Bieksa on your third pairing with Romanov? I know I would.
Speaking of comeback, another very solid Habs’ prospect is ready to return and he’s chomping at the bit to show what he can do. Joel Teasdale missed all of last year with a torn ligament in his right knee but he’s ready to return. While he is more likely to start the season in Laval, it would be a huge mistake to count this guy out. If I had to name a darkhorse to make the Canadiens, he would be it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the underdogs and that’s why I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Juulsen and Teasdale.
Losing Domi and adding two new guys to the forward group will be an interesting dilemma for Julien. But it’s a good dilemma. Both Anderson and Toffoli are proven top-9 right wingers and so is Brendan Gallagher. Joel Armia had a good season up until his injury and he will once again have to prove himself to the coaching staff, at least offensively. Armia is one of the Canadiens’ best and most efficient defensive forwards. He should start on the fourth line, where he’ll provide some excellent depth to the team in case of injuries. There is always the possibility of seeing him on the third line with one of Toffoli or him playing left wing.
In a recent interview, Marc Bergevin stated that young Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki would not be going anywhere, not on his watch. So you can imagine why some trade talks ended rather quickly when teams requested one of those two when Bergevin was trying to improve his team through trades. Let’s face it. They both are the future of the Habs up the middle and the future starts now. They are a big part of the reason why the Canadiens’ GM went out and signed some veterans through free agency. He feels like they’re ready to take the next step and so is the team. You can bet that the team’s veterans like Weber, Price, Petry and Gallagher are happy about that!
So where does that leave Phillip Danault? In the same position. His post-playoffs’ comments were taken all different kinds of ways by the media and fans alike. “He thinks he’s a top line centre…” or “He wants top line centre money…”, were the type of comments from people reading too much into what he actually said. To the question as to if he would accept a defensive role, Danault simply stated that he didn’t want his role changed to a defensive centre, that he wanted to keep contributing on offense. If you combine those words with the fact that the Habs extended Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher but not him (yet), some people jumped to the conclusion that it’s the end of his tenure with the Canadiens. I’m convinced that it’s just a matter of time and he will sign his extension with the team.
So where would that leave Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans? Apparently, Poehling has learned from his mistake of showing up at COVID camp out of shape. He watched his teammates play and he apparently wants to be there with them. I personally don’t doubt it. He is a character guy and his pride took a shot during the playoffs. He will show up with fire in his eyes and will want to prove that he has his spot on the team. Could it be at centre on the fourth line? Or what about the wing on the third line, beside KK and Toffoli? Time will tell. But young Evans is NHL ready. Having a faceoffs’ percentage of over 52% as a rookie is very impressive so don’t expect him to switch to the wing anytime soon. Bergevin has always challenged his young guys to force his hand and when they did, he always came through for them. Expect much of the same.
This was Part 1 of a “two parts in two days” Shooting Da Breeze. Hoping you enjoyed and look for Part 2 to come out tomorrow morning. We will be touching on Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, Marc Bergevin, Tomas Plekanec and the NHL forcing a third jersey on its teams, amongst other topics. See you then! Go Habs Go!