With the trading of Jeff Petry and Alexander Romanov this summer, who will be the top defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens next season?
The Montreal Canadiens have moved on from every single defenceman that was on their roster during their 2021 Stanley Cup Final run, except for Joel Edmundson. Their defensive brigade has seen an incredible turnover over the last calendar year and the breakdown of its hierarchy has left a lot of people confused. Without a bonafide No.1 defenceman, let alone a top-pairing defenceman, among their ranks, the role of top defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens is up for grabs this fall.
In the past, that role fell squarely on Shea Weber‘s shoulders, and, when he was injured, Jeff Petry was able to hold down the fort as best he could. With Petry having a subpar season last year, Ben Chiarot assumed the mantle of the club’s No. 1 defenceman until he was traded to the Florida Panthers. In Chiarot’s absence, Alexander Romanov quickly became the most used defenceman on the Montreal Canadiens’ defensive brigade. With all of these players now gone, let’s take a look at who the real candidates for the role of No. 1 defenceman could be next season:
Joel Edmundson is the safest and most stable defenceman on the Montreal Canadiens’ blueline, making him the likeliest candidate to eat some serious minutes next season for the Montreal Canadiens. The 29-year-old will be suiting up for his eighth season in the NHL and will be tasked with providing leadership and guidance to what will likely be a very young defensive brigade in Montreal. Edmundson hasn’t averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time in a season in his career thus far, but that will likely change come October, as he will be tasked with first-wave penalty killing deployment and assured top-3 usage at event strength.
Edmundson has shown an ability to rise to the challenge since he’s been a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Whether or not he’s going to be the club’s top defenceman or not, he will still be one of its most important and the de facto leader of the group.
The acquisition of Mike Matheson has created a lot of feedback from the fanbase. Some see him as a vastly improved player that became a top-4 defenceman during his time in Pittsburgh, and others see him as a third-pair defenceman that isn’t reliable enough for 20+ minutes of ice time. The truth is likely a combination of both; as Matheson’s offensive game, especially at even strength, truly took off over the last 18 months in Pittsburgh, but his defensive game still requires work. That being said, in Montreal, he will be the top offensive defenseman on the club and will likely be given every possible opportunity to man the first powerplay unit alongside Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
Matheson does have experience playing 21+ minutes a game on average in a given season, having done it three times already in his career, and all signs are pointing to him logging some important minutes for the Canadiens this upcoming season. It will likely take Matheson some time to get accustomed to the new environment, but there is potential to see him grow into the most used player on the backend for the Canadiens this season; unless there’s a trade.
Trade or Signing?
After trading Jeff Petry, the Montreal Canadiens are a little thin on the right side of their defence. What was once a strength for the Canadiens quickly became the organization’s biggest weakness. Hughes had already identified that weakness and made moves to rectify it when he traded Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche for a right-shot defenceman in Justin Barron and a 2024 2nd round pick. Despite his comfortability with his current roster, Kent Hughes has expressed a desire to add a right-shot defenceman, mentioning that he remained on the lookout for a right-shot defenceman on the trade front.
“If we can find, and we believe that there will be, either via trade or the waiver process, right-shot D that become available to us, then we’re going to continue to study that,” said Kent Hughes in his desire to add another right-shot defenceman before the start of the season. “In the interim, we feel like, even if we have an injury, we do have the capacity to put one of our guys on that right side.”
It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the acquisition of a bonafide top-4 D on the right side would instantly vault said player to the top of the organization’s depth chart on defence. However, with how rigid the trade market currently is, such a move would likely happen around training camp, if at all.