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Projecting The Montreal Canadiens’ 2022-23 Defensive Group

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Montreal Canadiens defence training camp

MONTREAL — As the Montreal Canadiens prepare to enter the preseason portion of training camp, the ever-changing landscape on defence has presented a problem and an opportunity.

It’s a problem due to the lack of qualified NHL defenders available, a problem made worse by the injury to Joel Edmundson that will keep him out of action indefinitely. Other than Mike Matheson, David Savard and Chris Wideman, no defensemen at training camp have spent more than 25 games in the NHL.

With that in mind, given his relatively healthy experience in the AHL, 118 games with the Stockton Heat and Laval Rocket, Corey Schueneman is almost assured a spot on the blue line on Oct.10 when the Canadiens open the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre.

But that still leaves two spots open, as well as a reservist spot if, or rather, when injuries hit.

Fortunately for the Canadiens, the team has several options when it comes to talented defensive prospects.

Players like Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj have made the most of their opportunity at training camp, separating themselves from the pack when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens’ pecking order on defence.

But they simply do not have enough options on the right side of the defence, which gives us a pretty big clue as to who will fill out the roster on the right side: Barron.

Barron hasn’t been the best defenseman at camp, but he has been incredibly steady, playing a game that could easily translate to the NHL while mitigating potential giveaways due to high-risk plays. He has seven NHL games under his belt, as well as 50 AHL games, giving him the type of insight some of his competition does not possess.

And then there were three.

Unless Guhle suddenly forgets to play hockey, it’s difficult to project anyone else on the blue line. He’s incredibly patient with the puck, has the maturity of a 90-year-old librarian, and has impressed both management and the coaching staff during every single training camp outing.

In addition to being mentally prepared for the jump to the NHL, Guhle is physically ready, giving him the inside track for the defensive job.

With six players in the fold, the defensive pairings may project as such, in no particular numbered order:

Kaiden Guhle – David Savard

Mike Matheson – Justin Barron

Corey Schueneman- Chris Wideman

As you can see, there’s a relatively healthy mix of experience and potential on every pairing, however, there’s a dearth of talent on the blue line. There’s also the matter of minimizing the number of difficult situations to which players like Barron and Guhle will be exposed, which means Martin St.Louis will have to get creative with his usage.

There’s also the matter of the seventh defenseman, a position that would be perfect for a player like Xhekaj, allowing Harris to continue his development in Laval and get accustomed to playing big minutes on his offside on a professional team.

In all likelihood, Kent Hughes will acquire a defenseman between now and the start of the season, but as it stands, the Montreal Canadiens’ defensive group is a very interesting, if not delicate project.

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habbernack

After watching Harris and Xhekaj during the training camp games maybe they should send both to Laval to grow their chemistry. re:Batman and Robin. If they sent Mesar to Laval they could still be roommates. Would be good for both I think.

Last edited 2 months ago by habbernack
Cary

Marc, you’re a great writer, a lot of insight at times, but where your missing on this one is this isn’t a conventional Montreal management team, a lot of out of the box thinking. This is the young kids time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these kids bump veterans out. If you were looking for a solid defense, shooting for a playoff spot, then yes, they would probably have the d-lines lined up like that. I think they’re going on with the idea that of the kids out play the vets, then they’ll take those spots, regardless of how many young kids are on the back end. I can see them sitting young kids, no longer to punish for mistakes made, but to get a different perspective of the game, essentially platooning young kids with vets, and rotating some of them with Laval. They’re not going to play players like Wideman, Schueneman, or Savard if they’re getting outplayed. Experience comes by playing these players, not sitting them, penalizing them, or denoting them to Laval without letting them know that they’re going down to play 20-25 minutes a game. Those days are done with Montreal, new approach, play the young kids, get them ready for playoffs runs. I can see as many as 3 kids on the blue line starting, including Harris. Schueneman’s ceiling is super limited, remind me a bit of Josh Gorges, definitely a bottom pairing d, maybe even a 7 or 8 guy. It’s going to be a fun and interesting season, well see how it plays out, but it won’t be conventional at all. Enjoy Marc!

FlowerPower60

Playing the kids is good, but also balanced by not hanging them out to dry where their confidence gets eaten alive. Habs brass wants to be patient with the prospects, so having Eddy out is a quandary for them. I can see Guhle on the team, maybe Barron too. The other concern is conditioning. It takes time to build up for a full 82-game sked. Platooning and many combos are likely with injuries, thus I wouldn’t be surprised to see another experienced D-man or even two brought in for some stability for now.

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