Canadiens Mailbag: Slafkovsky’s Usage, Draft Concerns, Michkov
Welcome back to another edition of the Montreal Canadiens mailbag.
This week we discussed Juraj Slafkovsky’s ceiling, concerns about the Canadiens’ scouting team, Sean Monahan’s potential return, and potential UFAs.
Let’s dive right into it.
Assuming they're recovered fully, what do you think the year 2 ceiling is for both Slafkovsky and Xhekaj?
— Megan (@mig14) April 16, 2023
This is an interesting question because we’re dealing with several variables, the most important of which will be their usage.
In Slafkovsky’s case, consistency will be key.
The Canadiens must avoid constantly changing his linemates or his spot in the lineup. Frankly, playing the majority of your ice time on the fourth line is the opposite of a situation that’s conducive to thriving, and is something that should be avoided in year two.
If he starts the season in the NHL, an increase in ice time will be in order.
When Vincent Lecavalier explained he received the same amount of ice time as Slafkovsky in his rookie year, two things came to mind.
Slafkovsky finished the year with a little over 11 minutes of ice time per game, which is less than 18-year-olds Alex Galchenyuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi received in their first year in the league.
Not to mention, Lecavalier received almost two additional minutes of ice time per game during his rookie season, which may not sound like a lot but is a significant uptick in opportunities.
Here’s the kicker.
During his second year in the league, Lecavalier’s ice time rose all the way to 19 minutes per game. His quality of teammates also rose since he was playing in the top six.
If Slafkovsky follows the same trend, he’d receive almost 18 minutes of ice time and much better linemates, which could lead to a 40 or 50-point season.
‘If’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, and is about to do the same in the following sentence.
If the Canadiens do decide to trust Slafkovsky with important minutes, which was definitely not the case in his rookie year, he’ll have an opportunity to cement his place in the top 6.
As for the second player in question, I’m not convinced Xhekaj has a guaranteed spot on the roster next season, especially if the Canadiens sign a veteran defenceman to shore up their defence.
His underlying numbers were quite good to start the year but saw a steady decline throughout the season. I’m of the opinion that the focus on fighting was the catalyst for the decline. That’s not to say Xhekaj shouldn’t fight, but when he wasn’t busy fighting some of the toughest players in the league, he showed he can be a good secondary source of offence ancouldto drive the play through the neutral zone.
But due to the logjam on defence, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up starting the season with the Laval Rocket, and makes his way back to the Canadiens lineup once injuries inevitably occur.
Realistically, how far do you think Matvei Michkov falls in the draft considering his KHL contract, among other things?
— zk97 (@zk97__) April 16, 2023
There are legitimate concerns in Michkov’s case.
The NHL does not have a transfer agreement with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, and given that Russia is currently attempting to invade Ukraine, there are war-related issues as well.
Some may also bring up his father’s recent demise, which is very tragic, but should never be mentioned as a reason not to draft the young man. We don’t know what happened, and frankly, it’s none of our business. All I can say in this case is that I hope Michkov is receiving the support necessary to process his loss.
But when it comes to the lack of a transfer agreement, I wouldn’t worry for a single minute.
When was the last time a Russian player drafted in the top 5 refused to come to North America?
As far as I know, it’s never happened.
Teams may have to wait a little longer for Michkov to cross the pond due to his KHL contract, but I don’t necessarily see that as a negative factor either, seeing as it would allow him to develop into an NHL-ready player while also enjoying some of the creature comforts that come with playing in your home country.
I honestly can’t see him drop below the 5th spot, because in most years, Michkov would be the No.1 overall pick. This just happens to be a stacked Draft.
Where do Slaf and Mesar play next year?
— A.H.P. (@pleasurelizard) April 16, 2023
When it comes to Slafkovsky, I truly think he needs to be playing in the top 6 to establish an identity in the NHL. If the Canadiens cannot guarantee stability or ice time they should not hesitate to send him to Laval.
That may seem like a step back, but playing top-line minutes in Laval would help his development much more than playing on the Canadiens’ fourth line.
As for Mesar, I still think he should probably play anywhere else but Kitchener, mostly because the team has dealt with internal strife all season, which is not a situation that’s conducive to proper development.
Depending on the roster, Laval is likely the ideal situation for Mesear.
But there has to be a caveat for both players: give them healthy ice time and as many opportunities as possible. Winning in the AHL is important, but not more important than the development of two very important prospects.
After the last media availability with the players and management, what are the odds of Monahan returning for a year or two? Is this a decision made only after the draft?
— Marc Caron (@Marc_Caron) April 16, 2023
When asked about his future with the Canadiens, Monahan’s answer was purposely vague.
“It’s a special place to play,” said Monahan regarding his desire to return. “You get chills walking on the Bell Centre ice. I’ll see if I can make something work.”
Let’s be honest, that doesn’t sound like someone who is on the cusp of signing a contract.
Or perhaps, Canadiens management isn’t ready to offer him a contract.
Health is a significant issue in Monahan’s case, and if the Canadiens move on, they can already declare the Monahan situation a win, seeing as they acquired a first-round pick alongside the 28-year-old forward in the first place.
But if the Canadiens are interested in re-signing the centre, I’d suggest they’d only be looking at a one-year contract with a guarantee of decent ice time.
That would allow Monahan to prove to the rest of the league that he can stay healthy, which, in turn, could lead to a long-term contract with another team at the end of the year.
Monahan is reaching the point in his career where, realistically, he only has one money-making contract left to sign, which means the aforementioned proposal may pique his interest.
The question becomes, would Monahan want to sign another deal with little to no job security? If he gets injured, that would essentially put the kibosh on his long-term aspirations.
If a team is prepared to offer him a multi-year contract this summer I’d be surprised if he doesn’t jump at the chance to sign.
On a scale of 1 to Kravtsov, how worried should fans be that the Habs take “big European project forward” with their first pick?
— KML (@kylemlambert) April 16, 2023
I get the sense Kyle is worried about Nick Bobrov’s Draft record, which is questionable, to say the least.
Last season we saw Bobrov convince Canadiens management that Juraj Slafkovsky was the best bet for the first overall pick during an impassioned speech that described many intangibles, as well as Slafkovsky’s scoring pace in recent tournaments.
It reeked of recency bias and flowery imagery, but it was an incredible sales job.
That’s not to say Slafkovsky was the wrong pick, time will tell in his case, but it’s clear Bobrov is a master salesman, one who tends to prefer big forwards with very raw skill sets.
And oftentimes, those big forwards end up being busts.
However, we must also remember the Canadiens drafted Mesar in the first round, as well as Lane Hutson in the second round, so there are definitely members of the scouting team that appreciate high-end talent, which should balance out the Canadiens’ draft strategy in the future.
I’ll admit, I have very little confidence in Bobrov’s preferred prospects, but I do have a lot of confidence in the group of players the Canadiens drafted last season.
Should you be worried? Perhaps a little. Bobrov isn’t the only one in the room that likes selecting big players. Both Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have mentioned they want to build a team populated by players that have good “size”.
But it’s not worth losing any sleep over, in my opinion.
The Canadiens reached to pick Slafkovsky last season and let’s face it, it was a rather weak Draft, overall. I don’t get the sense they’ll do the same this year.
It’s too risky and to be a successful NHL franchise, you HAVE to hit on your first-round picks. Kent Hughes and Co. are well aware of this fact.
Do you see the Habs signing any UFA this summer? If so, who are you targeting?
— Eric Poirier (@theGodsire) April 16, 2023
I think Hughes will attempt to sign a right-handed defenceman, one that can become a mainstay on the top pairing with Mike Matheson as the rest of the young players on the blueline develop into regular NHL players.
Someone along the lines of Damon Severson, though I heard he’d prefer to avoid playing in a market like Montreal.
Which dmen do you see on PP1 and PP2 2-3 years from now
— xavier dionne (@sheldonbouillon) April 16, 2023
I am guaranteed to get this wrong, but I see Lane Hutson, Logan Mailloux, and Adam Engstrom in the mix.
But, realistically, it will probably be closer to Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Mystery UFA Defenceman, and Jordan Harris/Justin Barron.
What do you think is the most right thing about this Habs rebuild and a mistake being made (if you see anything wrong)?
— Elthon Aragão (@aragao_83) April 16, 2023
The most important development, by far, is the development of a development team.
And yes, I am well aware I used development way too often in that sentence, which is a concerning development.
But back to the development team.
The Canadiens essentially went from a team without any semblance of a plan when it came to their prospects, to a team that has put an onus on helping their young players eventually earn a roster spot in the NHL.
It was beyond overdue.
As for things they’ve gotten wrong, I’m not sure there are many nits worth picking. I appreciate that Hughes sticks to his guns in trade negotiations, though you could argue it backfired at times this season since veteran wingers were given too much ice time, and other than Evgenii Dadonov, the team did not see any return on their ice-time investment.
I’d also say they completely botched Slafkovsky’s first season in the league. He simply was not put in a situation that was conducive to proper
But for the most part, they’re taking a slow and steady approach to the rebuild, which is exactly what you want to see from a team that is hoping to become a consistent Stanley Cup contender.
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I don’t think we need to sign any UFAs, and I don’t think we need to be overpaying for a RD. We have Savard, Barron and Kovacevic. Savard is just holding a spot until Mailloux gets his chance. On the left side we have Matheson, Guhle, Harris and Xhekaj. That’s 4 quality Dmen for only 3 spots (I’m assuming we’re moving Edmundson this summer btw). One of those LD can just play on their off side. We definitely don’t need to go out and find a RD. When you factor Hutson coming in a couple of years and Engstrom too, we’re going to have way more guys than we need. There will be several quality young players that will have to be moved within the next couple of years. I didn’t even mention Trudeau, Norlinder, Beaudin, Tourigny, Struble or several others. Unless we’re drafting an elite Dman, we need to focus on finding snipers/finishers and possibly a blue chip goalie prospect. The only thing we should be doing in free agency is trying to sell off a number of forwards to teams that missed out on the free agent they had set their sights on.
Yes. Good summary. I agree
🖖😁 Thanks Captain. Live long and prosper my friend.
Yes, agreed! However, I would argue that Arbor will start the season in the minors and will only be called up for an injury or if he is playing lights-out. On the right side, hopefully Mailloux makes the jump and takes a spot. Then we “bide time” with Savard. I would lean towards getting either Rinebacker or Pellikka with that #17 Panthers pick (include Engstrom + “X” if necessary to move up)…both are the top rated RDmen in this draft.
I know that was written somewhere about Xhekaj starting in Laval, but I don’t think that’s right. He’s earned his spot. He’s a rare player for us. And when you factor in all the little wee guys we’ve got, we definitely want someone around to keep the opposition from taking liberties with them. The only way I would want Xhekaj in Laval, would be on a conditioning stint if his shoulder isn’t fully healed before the season began.
With all the discussions about dman an forwards do you think the Habs will try to address their goaltending or do you have confidence in what they have? Is it possible they make a trade or draft a goalie?
Would love to see Hughes make a couple of trades to acquire 2 more first round draft picks for 2023 draft.
Would also like to see the Canadians acquire Lafreniere from New York , even if it means giving up a great prospect or two..
We don’t need lafreniere..and I sure wouldn’t give up a great prospect to get him. And who else goes to the rangers?
Agreed, I don’t want that, and I don’t see that.