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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens Forwards With Something To Prove Post-Deadline



Canadiens forward Denis Gurianov

Now that the Montreal Canadiens are heading toward the final stretch of the season, several players will look to make a last impression.

We’ve already discussed players like Jesse Ylonen and Johnathan Kovacevic, both of whom will be playing for an opportunity to earn a roster spot next season, but with the trade deadline in the review mirror, a few other players will hope to capitalize on their auditions.

Rocket Forwards

Several forwards have something to prove in the final 20 games of the season, but for very different reasons.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard isn’t scoring as much as he did when he initially joined the team, and despite making a positive impact on all his teammates, he needs to have his name on the scoresheet with a little more regularity to ensure he’s circled as a player who can make an impact in the top nine next season.

However, if he does not manage to score more often, he still has an ace up his sleeve.

Harvey-Pinard leads all Canadiens players in expected goals for (xGF%), with 53.1 percent. His closest competition is Kovacevic, with 48.5 percent, making Harvey-Pinard the only player on the positive side of 50 percent in the very important statistic.

His longtime AHL teammate, Alex Belzile, has also impressed during his audition. He trails only Cole Caufield in points per 60 this season, indicating he’s done a great job creating offence in a situation that is not conducive to scoring.

Belzile’s work ethic and intelligence have powered his strong play this season, but at 31 years old, it’s fair to assume he needs to maintain his elevated level of play to convince Canadiens management to sign him to a contract extension.

Despite his age, given his contributions in the NHL and the fact that he’s the Laval Rocket’s captain, Belzile does have a relatively healthy chance to sign a new deal this summer.

He’s the perfect player to lead the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, and he’s shown he can easily adapt to life in the NHL on the fourth line.

Qualifying Quandary

Dennis Gurianov has looked good since joining the Canadiens. He leads all Habs players in relative shot share (Rel. CF%) and trails only Harvey-Pinard in relative xGF%.

But it’ll take more than just decent underlying numbers to convince Kent Hughes that Gurianov should be part of the long-term rebuild plans.

His qualifying offer will have to be 100% of his previous salary ($2.9 million annual average value), which is a significant percentage of the salary cap for a player who was unceremoniously jettisoned from his draft team due to a lack of consistency.

Despite playing incredibly well in his first two games for the Canadiens, which led to his first goal with his new team, we saw a glimpse of what led to his exit in Dallas during game three, mostly regarding his defensive coverage and awareness on the ice.

There’s always the option to proceed with a handshake agreement which would allow the Canadiens to let his contract expire and then sign him for a more reasonable amount shortly thereafter, as they did with Rem Pitlick.

But regardless of the eventual result, Gurianov will have to match the intensity he provided in his first two games throughout the remaining schedule.

Contract Conundrum

Jonathan Drouin is one of the five players on the Canadiens roster who are currently signed to an expiring contract. The team will have to decide upon their fate in the near future, but in the meantime, Drouin will have to play some of the best hockey of his career to attract potential suitors in the NHL.

Fortunately for Drouin, he’s found another gear in recent weeks, and leads all active Canadiens players since Jan.1, with 2.55 points per 60.

Unfortunately, it may not be enough to convince either the Canadiens or the other 31 NHL teams that Drouin is ready to make a positive impact on their teams.

It’s partly due to his injury history, but for the most part, it is the result of unreasonable expectations in Montreal that to an unreasonable level of criticism from the media.

But if a team takes an emotionless, fact-based approach to assembling their roster and Drouin continues to prove his worth down the stretch, the oft-maligned forward may just play well enough to earn an extended stay in the NHL.

All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via NaturalStatTrick.

All contract information is via CapFriendly