MONTREAL– The Canadiens announced defenceman Corey Schueneman was assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, on Wednesday morning. Shortly thereafter, the team acquired defenceman Nicolas Beaudin from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Cam Hillis.
The move leaves the team with seven healthy defencemen. However, seeing as veteran Joel Edmundson, who has been sidelined since the start of the season with a back injury, has been spotted skating and joined his teammates on their current trip, a return to play is to be expected relatively soon.
The question remains, who will Edmundson replace on the blue line and where does Beaudin end up? The Canadiens have not mentioned where they plan on using their newly-acquired defenceman, but in all likelihood, Beaudin will be assigned to the Rocket.
As for finding minutes for Edmundson, given there’s already a dearth of experience among the defensive group, It’s unlikely Martin St-Louis will want to replace either David Savard or Chris Wideman in the lineup. It’s also worth noting they both shoot from the right whereas Edmundson shoots from the left.
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Savard has established himself as Kaiden Guhle’s de facto defensive partner, and despite their poor underlying numbers, the duo seems to be a pairing of choice for head coach Martin St-Louis.
Both Wideman and Savard feature heavily on special teams, and despite Wideman’s lack of production on the power play, his 5v5 numbers currently stand as some of the best on the blue line. He’s controlled over 56 percent of the shots when he’s on the ice, which is second among all Canadiens defencemen.
Wideman only trails his defensive partner, Arber Xhekaj, who has emerged as one of the most interesting prospects on the team due to his rare combination of strength and skill.
While Xhekaj has been on the ice, the Canadiens have controlled 57 percent of the shots. He did start Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Wild on the wrong foot but showed fantastic poise by quickly settling down and finishing the game atop the most important statistical categories.
Xhekaj also brings something else to the table. Call it the…well, X-Factor, if you will. Few players can drive their opponents up the wall while also physically dominating all that cross their path.
He’s a legitimate option to remove from the lineup, but you’d be hard-pressed to say he didn’t deserve an extended audition given his recent level of play.
The same can be said about Guhle. Martin St-Louis did state he would likely reduce Guhle’s overall ice time once some players returned from injury, but there’s very little chance Guhle is removed from the lineup, at least not at this point in the season.
That leaves Jordan Harris and Jonathan Kovacevic, who, together have formed the Canadiens’ best 5v5 pairing according to underlying numbers, as evidenced by the graph below.
Unlike the Xhekaj-Wideman pairing, Harris and Kovacevic have managed to translate their strong shot control into a similar expected goals percentage, a very encouraging sign going forward.
The Guhle and Savard pairing sticks out like a sore thumb, and while they’ve certainly faced difficult assignments this season, the results, from a numerical standpoint, have been rather poor.
Regardless of who the Canadiens decide to sit in favour of Joel Edmundson, it’s fair to say the performances put forth by the many rookies on the blueline have rendered the decision more complicated than previously anticipated.
Any way you slice it, that’s a very good sign for the Montreal Canadiens.
(All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)