Let’s call a spade a spade, the Montreal Canadiens have not looked very good in the preseason…but that’s a subject for another day. I’m here to focus on the positive – and that is to look at the 3 battles going on in training camp for roster spots.
Up front, the Habs will look to roll out 3 “skilled” lines and 1 “grinding” line. Their first line on opening night will be Cammalleri-Plekanec-Cole, barring injury or something unforeseen of course. The second line will in all likelihood feature Pacioretty-Gomez-Gionta. The third line will have Andrei Kostitsyn on left wing and David Desharnais at center; and the fourth line will have wingers Mathieu Darche and Travis Moen. Both Lars Eller and Ryan White will start the season on IR, and will miss at least the first few games, but not much more than that. That leaves a spot open for a TOP 9 RW (to play with Kostitsyn-Desharnais) and a #4 CENTER (to play with Darche-Moen). Michael Blunden is still in camp, and even though I think he should be sent down, the team may be tempted to keep him around as the #13 forward and use him during those physical games against Boston, Philly etc.
TOP 9 RW CANDIDATES: Brendan Gallagher, Aaron Palushaj
Case for Gallagher: better scorer, can play up to 9 games and be sent back to the WHL
Case for Palushaj: exceptional speed, bigger body for an already small line
Verdict: I’d like to see the team give Gallagher a chance. He has certainly earned it, and i have a
hard time believing it will be bad for his development to get 4 to 6 games at the NHL level before being sent back to Juniors. Palushaj can always be called up during the year and he will be. The difference is once Gallagher is released from camp, he’s gone for the year.
#4 CENTER CANDIDATES: Michael Bournival, Andreas Engqvist
Case for Bournival: more offensive upside, smarter player, better speed
Case for Engqvist: right handed center, tremendous size (6’4), experience in pro hockey
Verdict: I’d like to see Bournival win this battle for the same reason I’d like to see Gallagher;
but I have a feeling Engqvist is going to fill this spot. Engqvist is very limited in terms of what he can bring to the table, however, the temptation to have him as a dependable penalty killer and faceoff man is huge.
On defense, the shocking injury to the very durable Andrei Markov (hashtag – sarcasm) leaves a major hole on the blueline to start the year. I get the sense that the team will carry 7D + Markov on IR to start the
season. You can pencil in Hal Gill-PK Subban and Josh Gorges-Chris Campoli as your top 2 pairs. Jaroslav Spacek will be your #5 and Yannick Weber will be your #7, leaving a spot open on defense for a #6.
#6 D CANDIDATES: Raphael Diaz, Alexei Yemelin, Jeff Woywitka
Case for Diaz: right handed D, best offensively in that group, can be on the #2 PP
Case for Yemelin: very physical, doesn’t take as many risks as Diaz, can fill in on PP/PK
Case for Woywitka: N / A
Verdict: I’m going against the grain and picking Alexei Yemelin, even though I feel Diaz has had the better camp. Everyone knows that if Yemelin doesn’t make the Habs, he will be on the first plane back to Russia and the organization will never see him again. Diaz can be sent to Hamilton, and he can be called up during the year when needed. I think the smartest thing to do is to see what Yemelin can do,
given how long they have waited for him to come over.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.