Welcome back to another off-season edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag.
We’ll be shifting the mailbags from their usual time slot on Fridays to Mondays this summer, though I do have to apologize for the tardiness of this particular mailbag. The questions were collected on Sunday, but due to a few emergencies that involved travelling, I did not have time to put together the answers.
As long as there aren’t any more unforeseen circumstances, going forward we’ll make sure the mailbag is posted on Monday.
This week we discuss the standout prospects at the development camp, how long the Canadiens will take to become a contending team, possible trade options, the Filip Mesar situation, which prospects could earn a job in the NHL, and much more.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
How did each player do at the brief prospect camp the Habs just had? It's only one question but 38 different answers.
— Anthony Brayall – VE9TB 🖖 (@brayall) July 2, 2023
Let’s focus on players who stood out at the development camp, which is key for young players attempting to garner attention.
The least surprising standout was Lane Hutson. Not only did Hutson appear to be the best player on the ice, but he also showed instant chemistry alongside David Reinbacher, a rather encouraging development given that they should both play an important role for Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis during the rebuild.
Given that he’s emerged as one of the top prospects in hockey, it’s rather easy to forget that Hutson has just one NCAA season under his belt. Once he returns to Boston University he’s likely to be placed in a situation that is much more conducive to scoring than his role last season. That means top power play minutes and top pairing responsibilities. We shouldn’t expect him to eclipse his rookie production numbers significantly, but there’s a strong chance he ends the 2023-24 season with even more points than he did last year.
Reinbacher also looked good, though it’s somewhat difficult to judge a defenceman with limited offensive potential. Or rather, I should say a defenceman who is yet to play on a team that would lead to opportunities to improve his production. The good news is that Reinbacher seemed to quickly adapt to the situation, and made several smart pinches that led to prime scoring chances during the 4v4 scrimmage.
Lane Hutson with an ABSURD pass over to Reinbacher, and Dobes makes a big save. pic.twitter.com/Ffy8R8MiKZ
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) July 4, 2023
Luke Tuch also seemed to find his rhythm at the scrimmage, though, given that he’s 20 years old, you’d expect a player that old to stand out among younger opponents. He was intense and engaged, the perfect combination for a player like Tuch who doesn’t necessarily possess high-end production.
Filip Mesar was fantastic, and it goes beyond his goal. His offensive instincts came to the forefront, and like Tuch, he was engaged. It’s a good sign given that Mesar is expected to play in the AHL next year.
— CommissionerColin (@ColinDorland) July 4, 2023
Speaking of Mesar, I’ve heard a lot of feedback about where I ranked him among the top Canadiens prospects. I currently have Mesar ranked as the 7th best prospect in the system, which may seem quite harsh.
When it comes to Mesar, we must remember that he had a very difficult assignment last year. Not only did he have to acclimatize to a new setting at just 18 years old, which means he has to adapt to a new language, a new country, new rules and new food, among other things, but he was also robbed of many of the creature comforts he would have had at home. Such as home-cooked meals or hanging out with his friends.
On top of that, it’s only fair to say the Kitchener Rangers were a complete mess, as evidenced by the lack of production from his teammates and the fact that they fired their head coach in mid-February. If Mesar’s teammates were slightly more skilled, the young Slovak would have finished the year with a much more impressive scoring pace.
However, the reality is that Mesar scored 17 goals and 34 assists in 52 games. It wasn’t a horrible scoring rate, but anything below a point per game in the CHL, even with all the factors we considered, is underwhelming. There were also some games in which Mesar simply did not look like he was willing to engage in every play.
I expect Mesar to improve his play (and production) once he’s in the AHL, playing alongside talented linemates. If that happens, we can re-adjust his rank among Canadiens prospects.
As for players who carry a little less hype than the prospects I already mentioned, as per usual, I thought Xavier Simoneau played well, which should come as a shock to absolutely no one. Simoneau never takes a single shift off.
is the only reasonable explanation for all the overagers drafted this year that the habs want to be competitive sooner rather than later?
— Sean Michaels (@swanmichaels) July 2, 2023
Not necessarily. There is value in drafting 20-year-olds, but it’s rather limited. In this case, I simply think the Canadiens thought they were the best players available.
Or at the very least, I hope that was the case.
Let’s just say their draft was confusing, at best. The Reinbacher and Jacob Fowler picks were solid, and I’d argue drafting Luke Mittelstadt in the 7th round was a smart gamble, but overall, the Canadiens went way off the board.
There’s nothing wrong with trusting your scouting team, but historically speaking, there’s definitely a strong possibility going off the board could backfire.
As for the idea that the older players were drafted to fast-forward the rebuild, I don’t think Hughes and Co. expect players like Bogdan Konyushkov to make their way to the NHL any time soon.
How far away do you think management feels they are from serious playoff contention?
Are they content with the core pieces they have up front (Suzuki, Caufield, Dach, Slaf, Newhook), or would they like to acquire another high end piece, whether it be via the draft, trade, or FA
— Wade Messier (@wade_messier) July 2, 2023
It’s hard to speak on their behalf, but judging what they’ve said, as well as their actions, I get the sense that the members of Canadiens management are more confident about the state of the rebuild than most. They’ve mentioned on several occasions that they want to compete sooner than later.
They would like to acquire another high-end piece, but as we saw with the Pierre-Luc Dubois saga, they’re not willing to sell the farm to get there, which is encouraging.
Personally, I think the Canadiens are still 3-4 years away from contending, at the very least. And by contending, I mean being classified as a Stanley Cup contender on the first day of the regular season.
Two or three more high-end Draft picks would do wonders for the team’s overall star power and depth.
Taking sentiment out of it, which players have the most appeal to other teams and can draw the biggest return?
— M.K. Banach (@MKBMarkOne) July 2, 2023
Josh Anderson would probably garner a healthy return, but neither Anderson nor Hughes is interested in a trade at the moment.
As for the players who have been cast aside by most fans, I’d suggest that Mike Hoffman should be able to be dealt without paying a team to absorb his cap hit. Should is the operative term, here.
Hoffman may not be the player he once was, but he still puts up a reasonable amount of offence and his contract, $4.5 million per season, is set to expire this summer. His defensive deficiencies have also been exaggerated.
Simply put, he fits the bill as a fairly reliable secondary source of offence in the NHL.
I can also see a scenario in which Christian Dvorak garners some attention, but he’ll need to start the 2023-24 season on fire to improve his perception across the NHL.
Hot take🔥 for the Habs this season?
— Luca Byrne (@byrne_luca) July 2, 2023
Here’s my hot take: Jordan Harris will emerge as the best defenceman not named Mike Matheson.
Actually, statistically speaking, that’s already the case, but it takes a while for people to catch on. A small part of me dies whenever Habs fans casually toss Harris into hypothetical trade scenarios as a throw-in.
Let's have a little fun, what is your prediction for the Habs finish (league ovr and/or division) next season?
Do you think we're looking at another top 5 pick?
— The Cole Congregation (@GoalCaufield22) July 2, 2023
Other than the Detroit Red Wings, I’d say every other team should clear the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division with ease. A top 5 pick is a legitimate reality for the Canadiens, especially when we consider they took significant steps backward last year when it comes to how many shots, scoring chances, and expected goals they controlled.
Who is the Habs prospect you are the most excited for?
— Kirby dach fan (@Top1KirbyFan) July 2, 2023
I probably should have mentioned him in the Development Camp question: Adam Engstrom.
He’s incredibly skilled, has a high hockey IQ, and plays with the confidence of a 10-year veteran. Habs fans should not sleep on Engstorm’s NHL potential, he’s a very exciting prospect that has the type of skill set that would allow him to become an impact defenceman in the NHL.
He’s particularly skilled in transition, an area in which the Canadiens struggle.
I don’t want to proclaim him as the answer to all the Canadiens’ woes, but there’s very little about Engstrom’s game that should hold him back once he crosses the pond to North America.
Abba or the Beatles?
— gmdvancouver (@gmdvancouver) July 2, 2023
I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, and yes I’m So Tired of people underrating the Beatles, but if I see one more person compare Abba to the Fab Four, I will Cry Baby Cry.
All I’ve Got To Do is pull up one Beatles album to justify All My Loving.
Whether it’s Here, There, And Everywhere, I may need some Help! Because some people tell me I need to Let It Be, but this Long And Winding Road only leads to one place Across The Universe.
There’s just Something about The Beatles, maybe it’s because they make it clear that All You Need Is Love.
Maybe it’s just a fondness for the simpler times of Yesterday.
Perhaps it’s because some of their songs were written For The Benefit of Mister Kite.
But any Fool On The Hill will tell you that With A Little Help From My Friends, you will also earn your Ticket To Ride.
The perfect example is my Real Love. One day I thought to myself, “Oh Darling! She’s Leaving Home,” and I would have to Carry That Weight.
But it turns out she was just buying the White Album. Eventually, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.
I just hope she’s she doesn’t Hide Her Love Away, especially When I’m Sixty Four.