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Canadiens Analysis

Early Look At Potential Montreal Canadiens Training Camp Battles



Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens had a rather entertaining training camp last season.

Not only did four rookie defencemen earn a job on the blueline, a situation that’s almost unheard of in the history of the NHL, but they also had to consider the impressive play of forwards such as Emil Heineman and Filip Mesar as they weighed which league would be best suited to their development.

The potential battles at training camp this season are set to include fewer rookies, however, there should still be a considerable amount of internal competition, which usually brings out the best in young hockey players.

Let’s take a (very) early look at some of the potential battles we might see once training camp opens.

Top Line Woes

With the team intent on using Kirby Dach as a center in their long-term rebuild plans, the most pressing question the team has faced over the last year and a half will once again need to be answered.

Who will play on the top line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki?

Rafael Harvey-Pinard represents a fun, if not somewhat underwhelming option. He’s a hard worker, and his style of play definitely suits star players such as Caufield and Suzuki, but we also have to consider that it would perhaps be the shortest first line in the league since the unfortunate Canadiens rosters that once featured Saku Koivu, Oleg Petrov, and Valerie Bure on the top line.

I’m a strong proponent of focusing on talent before size, and I have no qualms about a roster that features several talented players who happen to be short, but there’s also a point of diminishing returns when your top line can barely activate automatic doors.

Fortunately, Suzuki has old-growth oak trees for legs, and Harvey-Pinard plays with the energy of a border collie that broke into a Redbull factory, which mitigates some of the size concerns.

The Canadiens could look into a re-hash of Josh Anderson on the top line, but statistically speaking, he’s best suited for a role that does not include facing the opposition’s top line. When he played with Suzuki and Caufield, all three suffered a downtick in results.

And then there are the wild card options.

With Jesse Ylonen and Juraj Slafkovsky in need of more ice time, we could end up seeing a very young, and very talented top line, though it’s safe to say they’ll have to impress at training camp if they’re to be considered.

Given all the question marks surrounding the first-line composition, it also feels like we’re nearing a situation that involves splitting up Caufield and Suzuki, to spread the talent around in the lineup, making the Montreal Canadiens a much more balanced team.

We’ll delve into that subject further as the season approaches.

Middle-Pack Options

Dach is likely going to anchor the second line, acting as a cheat code for head coach Martin St-Louis by immediately improving the line’s ability to create off the rush.

His shooting coach Tim Turk confirmed that one of Dach’s greatest strengths lies in his ability to create time and space for his linemates, which is why a player like Alex Newhook seems to be an ideal match.

As for the other wing, once again the team has a bevy of options, though none of them stand out as the pack leader. Josh Anderson showed impressive growth in the second half of the season, which means he could be effective when it comes to capitalizing on Dach’s offensive prowess. The same could be said of Brendan Gallagher, whose results were very encouraging when he wasn’t dealing with an unreasonable number of injuries.

With Sean Monahan anchoring the third line, the Canadiens should be able to ice two or three lines per night that actually produce decent underlying numbers, but it remains to be seen if veterans such as Joel Armia and Christian Dvorak will be given priority over younger players such as Ylonen and Slafkovsky.

Botton-Line Shuffle

Unlike the previous season, there aren’t too many Montreal Canadiens forwards in play. At least not yet.

That means players like Michael Pezzetta don’t have to worry about being sent to the AHL unless the team decides to add more depth. But it also opens up options for players like Emil Heineman or Joshua Roy to make some noise at camp.

Heineman, in particular, had a great showing last year, which was enough to rocket him up the prospect depth charts. Another strong showing at camp may be too much for Kent Hughes and Co. to ignore, especially when we consider that the team needs more shooting talent throughout the lineup.

Filip Mesar, Lias Andersson, and Sean Farrell are likely destined for the AHL, but they do have a chance to position themselves as the best option for a call-up should an injury occur.

Montreal Canadiens Defensive Corps

There will almost be a dozen defencemen vying for just seven jobs, which should set up some fierce competition on the blue line.

Realistically, David Reinbacher and Logan Mailloux aren’t quite ready to make the jump to the NHL, but they will be given an opportunity to prove what they can bring to the table.

William Trudeau and Gustav Lindstrom will also be in the mix, but we should consider them long-shot options, at best.

The most interesting camp battles on the blueline will center on which player will be the odd man out. Mike Matheson, David Savard, and Kaiden Guhle are most likely locks, leaving just four spots for Arber Xhekaj, Johnathan Kovaecvic, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron, and Chris Wideman.

Personally, I believe Harris should be a lock, and that sentiment extends to Kovacevic since he was the best right-handed defenceman last season, but I’m not certain the coaching staff agrees.

From a performance standpoint, sending Wideman to the minors seems like an easy call, though we should also consider that sending a player like Barron and Xhekaj would actually be conducive to their development, whereas watching most of the games from the pressbox would rob them of precious developmental opportunities.

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Slafkovsky HAS to be used on the first or second line this season if we’re going to turn him into the player we want him to be. I want to see him with Dach & Anderson on a line. Newhook can go with Suzuki & Caufield then by default. HuGo will probably want that anyway to justify giving up the assets they did to get him. I’d like to see a 3rd line of Monahan between Ylonen & RHP. That leaves Evans between Gallagher & Armia. Evans & Gallagher showed good chemistry at the end of last season. We’ll have the leagues most overpaid 4th line wingers, but that’s what the situation is. I doubt they put Gallagher on the 4th line though just based on pedigree and image, so he’ll probably be with Monahan and take RHP’s spot. Ylönen needs to play higher in the lineup to develop his potential as an offensive player. If we have him on the 4th line again, we’re just wasting him. Same could be said for RHP on the bottom line too though. 🤷🏻‍♂️

john harmsworth

Slafkovsky HAS to have deployment that allows him to be involved on offense. That should be satisfied if Monahan is his center, so 3rd line should be ok under those circumstances and might provide him a little more freedom to excel. That begs the question of who the other winger would be, but Gally is a solid possession guy and a leader. The only other concern I have for Slaffy’s development is that I don’t want to see him bounced around to different linemates all the time. He needs to be able to get in a groove and not have to overthink tings. Marty, management and the devo team need to be talking on this stuff regularly. This is a big year for Slaffy and we need to get it right before we start doing damage.


I’m a believer in putting kids in a position that you eventually want them to achieve and have the best chance for success. That’s why I want to see him on one of the top 2 lines. Having him on the 3rd line may mean he’s playing against lesser opponents though, which would benefit him in the match up game, but I guess we’ll see. His deployment has to be better than last year though. I think it was one of the team’s biggest faux pas so far.


I agree . Slaf needs to play top six, beniers was playing as a top line and developed quite well. I wouldnt mind Slaf playing with Suzy and caufield. Thats What we drafted him for . Anyway we all know we wont win this year , let the kids play


Exactly. That’s why I want to give the reigns to the kids now, so we can go through the growing pains when wins don’t matter and the pressure is off. That window isn’t going to last forever in the pressure cooker of Montreal. Take advantage while we can.


Put Slaf on the top line and leave him there for 20 games and see what he can do

Team is winning nothing this year , let him play with better players

Most of our players are junk , let the kids play


Slow and steady wins the race with the kids

John Spearing

With Dvorak still on the team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dach back on the wing with Nick & Cole….
I personally do want to see a big body on the 1st line so if it’s not Dach, I’m looking at Slaf or Josh to play on the top line


Well I guess what we have to determine is what we do with Monahan. What is his purpose? To me his purpose is to shine so he is valuable at the trading deadline to maximize his tradability. If he stays healthy he should fetch a 1st rounder. To me he has to be on the first or second line. Secondly, Newhook also needs to be on the first or second line to support Hughes decision to pay the first and 2nd draft picks for him. I doubt Anderson would be used to his potential if put on the 3rd line. SO TO me there are your top 6 to start the season. Monahan’s trade will open up a spot for either Roy or Heineman. DVORAK will be still recovering from surgery so Beck will get his start in the NHL before being sent back to junior. With Ylonen and Gally on the wings. Although I would like to see RHP on that line. That leaves Evans between Pezzetta and Armia or RHP. A lot depends whether we are able to trade one of the goalies, if not we will only carry 13 forwards at the start of the season. I personally see Slafkovsky in Laval at the start of the yr.


Barron should be given a good look since he has some good offensive upside, and nothing was mentioned about Owen Beck who has a solid all around game I would also maybe like to see Newhook given a good look on the top line, he has some good speed and Arpon Basu of the Athletic thinks that would be the ideal landing spot for him and I tend to agree. Finally I predict that Reinbacher will make the team, yes bold prediction !


We can ask this question to 100 Habs fans and journalists, and get 100 different responses. Its almost pointless to speculate, because ANYTHING is possible.

We got Slaf has to be on the top two lines vs. I see Slaf in the minors to start the season…

We got Gally on the 2nd line vs. Gally on the 4th line…

We got RHP on the top line vs. he’s on the 4th line…

We got Dach as the 2nd line center vs he’s on the top line as a winger…

We got Beck as a center vs. take your pick…

Its all over the place. And it will change from game to game. So why bother at this point…

Ron Barry

Excellent point – talking ‘All Things Habs’ is always a fun discussion. So… if one espouses to the ‘Strength Down The Middle’ theory, then peel back the veneer and see what we have: 1. Will Devo’s return affect where Dach/Monahan slot into the lineup? 2. Are Suzuki, Dach and Monahan all good options for Slaf, whose development is Mtl’s No. 1 priority? 3. If Suzuki, Dach, Monahan and Devo are your centres, is Evans expendable? 4. After a 30-goal, 60-point AHL season, what’s next for another centre, Lias Andersson? Solve the centre-ice riddle and the rest of it gets easy, fast.


When the pre season begins I would like to have a good look at Alex Newlook. I am impressed by his speed and hard shot and am hopeful that the new look Canadiens will be better with Alex Newlook.


Why is there no talk of Struble?