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Habs Mailbag: Canadiens Lineup Choices, Xhekaj, Trades, Waivers



Montreal canadiens prospects

Welcome back to the weekly edition of the off-season Montreal Canadiens Mailbag.

This week we discuss Jesse Ylonen’s chances of making the opening-night roster, the enforcer situation in the Atlantic Division, the possibility of trading some of the overpaid veterans, prospects, special teams, and much more.

Let’s get right into it!

A lot of the opening-night roster questions hinge on whether Christian Dvorak will be deemed healthy enough to return to the lineup.

If he is indeed healthy, the spots up front will be hard to come by for fringe players.

In my most recent projected lineup for the Canadiens, I have Michael Pezzetta, Rem Pitlick, and Chris Wideman in the minors, which allows Ylonen to avoid waivers.

It would be understandable to go to bat for Pezzetta in this situation, especially since he’s a hard-working player that brings a sneaky amount of value to the lineup, but given the Habs are desperate for shooting talent and Ylonen has one of the best shots in the organization, it would be foolish to ignore what the 23-year-old Finn brings to the table.

Let’s remind ourselves that Ylonen put up a 13-goal, 23-assist pro-rated scoring pace last season (82 games), a very solid production rate when we consider he only received an average of 12 minutes per game at 5v5.

Of course, Kent Hughes could make room for both Pezzetta and Ylonen by trading one of his overpaid forwards, but that will be a rather tall task.

More on that later.

The other wildcard in the Ylonen equation is Emil Heineman. Ylonen is much better in his own zone, but Heineman was fantastic during his time with the Laval Rocket last year, and he also provides a boost to the lineup when it comes to shooting talent. If he manages to stand out at training camp as he did in 2022, there’s a slight chance he could edge out a player like Ylonen for the 12th or 13th spot in the lineup.

I think for the most part, Habs fans are well aware of what Arber Xhekaj brings to the lineup, as well as his potential.

He was one of the best stories in the NHL last season, and there’s no doubt his entertaining style of play has led to him quickly becoming a fan favourite, but I don’t see many people pencilling him into the top-4 when it comes to projected rosters. The vast majority of the lineups I have seen have him on the third pairing.

And that’s absolutely fine.

We have to remember that Xhekaj is the only player in the history of the NHL to go undrafted as a defenceman and then make the jump directly from the CHL to the NHL.

Getting a single shift from him in the NHL should be considered a huge win. The fact that the Canadiens did not even have to use a draft pick to secure his services is just about as good as it gets when it comes to low-cost asset acquisitions.

Of course, some tend to overrate him, just as there are some that tend to underrate him, but in this case, I think the majority of Habs fans are just happy to see an affable, entertaining, and physically dominant defenceman in the lineup.

It also helps that he would probably win a tug-of-war with an M4 Sherman.

Personally, I wouldn’t worry about those two, at all, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that both Ryan Reaves and Milan Lucic are on the wrong side of 35 years old, and enforcers tend to see a sharp decline in playing minutes at that point in their careers.

Actually, it’s already happened. They were given an average of 10:55 and 9:20 in average 5v5 ice time last season, respectively. It’s also worth noting that both players had awful underlying numbers relative to their teammates last season, which means they’re a huge drag on their team.

Boston and Toronto will want to compete for a playoff spot, and they’ll quickly figure out that playing their enforcers is not conducive to getting positive results.

The second is that I don’t believe Arber Xhekaj is under the impression that he needs to fight all challengers next season. He addressed the situation toward the end of the season, and he confirmed that he’ll have to pick and choose his fights a little more wisely during his sophomore season.

He knows that when it comes to fisticuffs he has nothing to prove anymore, and it’s the right approach given how the division is shaping up for next season.

If there’s a situation that arises naturally, he may end up dropping the gloves with either Lucic or Reaves, but I doubt he’ll want to engage in any staged fights. He has nothing to gain.

For now, little to none.

Mike Hoffman has been offered to every NHL club, for free. There were no takers. Joel Armia has one of the worst contracts in the league when you consider his production, and Chris Wideman currently has a negative trade value.

I maintain there’s still a non-zero chance that Christian Dvorak may end up having some sort of trade value, but it’ll take a very solid start to the season to remove the negative impression he’s made in Montreal since Marc Bergevin panicked and overpaid the Arizona Coyotes to acquire him.

That also applies to Hoffman. If he gets off to a hot start, his goal-scoring prowess could lead to an offer or two, but even with a red-hot start, the return would be minimal.

Simply put, don’t get your hopes up that Kent Hughes will be able to move one of his overpaid veterans without paying teams to absorb the contract.

That’s not something he’s interested in doing at this stage of the rebuild.

My go-to answer to this question is always Adam Engstrom. He was fantastic in his rookie year for Rogle, and he should be given top-pairing ice time next season.

And then there’s Lane Hutson, who epitomizes excitement.

MUST READ: Lane Hutson Shatters All Expectations In Rookie NCAA Season

But since I’ve discussed their potential at length in recent months, I’ll pivot a little and suggest Joshua Roy’s transition to professional hockey should be of great interest to all Canadiens fans.

He’s one of the only prospects that will have a legitimate chance of earning an NHL roster spot next year, even though the odds are not in his favour.

There are simply too few roster spots available, especially up front, and I think players like Heineman and Ylonen have the inside track. But Roy’s well-rounded game, which includes great defensive play, is definitely an ace up his sleeve when we consider the competition

I’m an optimist by nature, but let’s consider the facts here.

The Canadiens had awful special teams last season.

The Canadiens will head into the 2023-24 campaign with essentially the same lineup as they did last season.

The Canadiens have the same coaches in charge of the special teams.

Ipso facto, there are good odds they’ll struggle on the penalty kill and power play once again.

Health will be a factor, but you’d be hard-pressed to suggest the players who replaced their injured brethren on the special teams played poorly. If anything, it seemed like the Canadiens enjoyed an improvement in their special-teams success rates once half the roster was injured.

I don’t rate Oliver Kapanen very highly, but it would be ridiculous to suggest Lias Anderson, who is four years old, has more NHL potential at this point.

Out of the three, I’d actually suggest that William Trudeau has the best chance of earning a job in the NHL. I see him projected as a reliable third-pairing defenceman thanks to his good decision-making and his well-rounded game, whereas I’m not sure Kapanen has the offensive instincts needed to thrive.

The Canadiens already have too many forwards who are defensive specialists, both in the NHL and in their prospect pool. And most of them have more offensive talent than Kapanaen.

As for Anderson, again, he’s 24 years old and has had a few kicks at the can already. He could end up playing a few games with the Habs if the injury bug returns, but for now, he’s simply a good player intended to bolster the Laval Rocket lineup.

I didn’t include Pezzetta in my opening-night lineup, but he will be in the mix.

The team likes his style of play, and both Hughes and Jeff Gorton have mentioned at length that they like icing a team with size and truculence.

Plus, keeping a player like Pezzetta in the lineup means prospects such as Roy and Heineman will be getting precious minutes in the AHL rather than toiling on the fourth line in the NHL.

Waivers also come into play, though, in my opinion, there’s very little chance Ylonen would be claimed, and even lower odds when it comes to Pezzetta.

When it comes down to it, Pezzetta vs. Ylonen is likely to be among the ‘big’ decisions at camp, and as always, I tend to err on the side of talent when it comes to roster decisions.

Ideally, Hughes would trade a veteran to make space for both in the Canadiens lineup, but as we’ve already discussed, that’s not an easy proposal.

Before we get to the final question, I’d like to thank Melissa for submitting non-hockey questions every week. It allows me to rant about music, food, or life and general, which is always appreciated.

Also, before we jump into the subject in earnest, I’d like to remind everyone I haven’t listened to much new music. Or rather, I’ve listened to about 16 new songs since the late 90s.

I’m not saying new music is bad, but I’m definitely out of touch with current trends.

The first song on a proper road trip must always be ‘Don’t Stop Me Now‘ by Queen. That is not up for debate.

I’d follow it up with a little ‘Radar Love‘ by Golden Earring to set help set the tone.

After that, it’s all about having fun, and that’s all about having songs that get the good vibes running high.

It could be stuff like Feeling This, Monkey Wrench, The Rubberband Man (one of my favourite songs of all time), Video Killed The Radio Star, Mr.BlueSky, What I Got, Mr. Jones, Shine A Light, Today, El Scorcho, ABC, or anything else that’s fairly popular and will lead to everyone belting the song at the top of their lungs.

No one likes ‘deep cuts’ during a road trip.  Keep it popular, and keep it fun. Cater to your audience. Keep the 32-minute live version of a John Bonham drum solo for another day.

It’s Bob Marley‘s time to shine. And don’t hesitate to invite Toots and the Maytals to the party.

If you’re in my car, you’re probably going to end up listening to a fair bit of Canadiana. It always starts with Anne Murray, and then it includes songs like Grace Too, The Day We Hit The Coast, Giant, Sensory Deprivation, Home For A Rest, Used To Be Alright, Je Joue De La Guitare, Saskatchewan, Le Plombier, and, of course, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Oh, and try to mix in a little Jurassic 5, De La Soul, Mos Def, Blackalicious, Outkast, Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., KRS-One, Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, and other classics if you can. Wu-Tang is optional, but as always, strongly recommended.

Motown/Soul/Funk is also a great choice.

Anything from the Four Tops, Otis Redding, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Mavis Staples, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield or Sam Cooke should fit the bill.

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I think a lot of fans are excited about Xhekaj because he will stand up for his teammates. I have never been more disappointed & ashamed of the Habs when Monty was run over and not one single player came to his defence.
BTW, Radar Love is the BEST travel song ever!


I think Pezzetta gets snapped up by a team like Boston or Toronto if we try to squeak him through waivers. He’s an inexpensive heart & soul guy who always plays his best against them, so they’ve seen what he can provide to a team. The same goes for Ylönen. I can see a team like Chicago or Anaheim claiming him. He’s a young, skilled player on a cheap contract and those teams that lack depth and need to fill roster spots would be a good fit for him.


Possible, but given the salary cap they would likely pass.. But I will disagree with you on one thing. Young he may be, but he isn’t skilled at all. The fact that the Habs can give up on a player than that means that the Habs have better prospects in the system. And the Habs do have players who are better than Pezz. I lie his energy, but he is not really relevant to the Habs future.


Losing players on waivers for nothing, especially ones we’ve spent time developing is a loss regardless of whether they’re going to be a part of the team’s long term future. Neither guy is going to move the needle, but they do have attributes to contribute to the overall success of the team.

Alex Barrette

I think they are more likely to waive one of Armia or Hoffman before Pezzetta. Anyway, i would be more then surprised if there’s not one single injury to start the season. For the team culture, Pezz AND Ylonen must be on the roster for the start of the season.


I wouldn’t count on Hughes waiving Hoffman or Armia over Pezzetta or Ylönen. He could have done that with multiple players since he’s been here, but he never has. He’s always holding out that he can trade them for something. I think we’re past the point anyone is going to pay anything for Armia. Hoffman still has some value, but to me, it has to be weighed against the loss of development for a kid by keeping him around and taking up a roster spot and it’s corresponding ice time that would be better served on a prospect. There’s also the optics of sending a vet to the AHL and the potential image it may send to possible free agents out there. Hughes, as a former agent, knows full well that teams that make a habit of that become less desirable to free agents, for the fear that it could happen to them too. Free agency is the period where the worst contracts are signed and players who sign big money, long term contract know they probably aren’t going to bring value for the full term and at some point know that the contract is goiing to look ugly. If they think they could get buried in the minors at the tail end of their contract, a free agent is going to choose somewhere else to sign where a team hasn’t shown a propensity to practice that strategy. And let’s face it, Montreal doesn’t need any more strikes against it for free agency. Signing key free agent pieces will become a very important stage in the rebuild in the next couple of years as a way of adding top end talent to fill any holes on a team that wishes to contend. HuGo won’t want to do anything to jeopardize that, especially since with his player agent experience, he’s going to want to flex his muscles in what should be his greatest strength as a GM.