The Montreal Canadiens have had a hot potato on their hands with their roster logjam since the start of the season, and it’s impeded some gifted players from getting the ice time they deserve.
It has been a chore for General Manager Kent Hughes to have to juggle all the contracts he inherited with the youngsters he’s looking to have his staff develop in the lineup.
The Canadiens have been close to busting the 23-man roster limit and were ultimately forced to waive Rem Pitlick because they had too many NHL bodies.
Although Pitlick may have been the only player waived, other players have been held back by the roster logjam that has seen some undeserving veterans continue to get consistent ice time over deserving youngsters.
Juraj Salfkovsky is finally starting to get some preferential usage, lining up next to Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson, but it took injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher and Mike Hoffman for him to be given that chance.
When the roster is at full health Slafkovsky was relegated to fourth-line duty, playing less than 11 minutes a game on average.
Head Coach Martin St-Louis has done his best to provide the youngster with some favourable usage by putting him on the second wave of the power play, but playing Slafkovsky with Jake Evans and Micheal Pezzetta isn’t doing the youngster any favours at even strength.
In a normal setting, Slafkovsky would have likely started on the third line for the Canadiens right from the get-go, but their glut of extra bottom-six wingers has hampered his usage potential so far.
Arber Xhekaj/Jordan Harris
The young duo of Canadiens defenceman started the season in impressive fashion. They came out of the gate as dependable members of the Canadiens’ blue line and looked like everyday, NHL defenders.
Since the returns of Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson have forced St-Louis to institute an eight-defenceman rotation that sees Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj routinely skip games to ensure all team members play regularly.
It’s not that Xhekaj or Harris have done anything to warrant being scratched, but the numbers game simply makes it so that some players need to sit.
It’s far easier for a coach to sit a rookie rather than an established veteran, but, especially as of late, it can be argued that Xhekaj and Harris have played better than their veteran counterparts.
It’s ultimately a great problem for Kent Hughes to have, as it gives them some options on the NHL trade market down the line, should they want to shed a contract.
The Canadiens have had a glut of bottom-six players so far this season that have forced the Canadiens to make some tough decisions.
It’s forced the Canadiens to keep certain players like Anthony Richard down with the Laval Rocket, where he leads the league in goals with 15 through 23 games.
At a time when the Canadiens are looking for more scoring from their bottom six, Richard would be a prime option to provide more speed and goal-scoring on a fourth line that has failed to produce all season.
It’s getting quite hard to warrant keeping Jake Evans and Micheal Pezzetta on the roster at this time with the performance of the Laval Rocket’s MVP this season.
HM: Jesse Ylönen
Similarly to Richard, it’s frustrating to watch Joel Armia, Evgenii Dadonov and Micheal Pezzetta currently occupy roles with the Montreal Canadiens while another young prospect is knocking at the door.
Ylönen has really come alive as of late, putting up 13 points in his last 12 games and looking strong on the puck with his combination of speed and shooting ability.
His time will undoubtedly come, but the Montreal Canadiens will need to give him a shot sooner than later to see what they have in the youngster.