The Montreal Canadiens have a long and illustrious history in almost every aspect of hockey, but when it comes to professional tryouts (PTOs), the examples are few and far between.
They’ve invited just three players to camp on a PTO in the last five years: Cody Goloubef in 2021, as well as Simon Despres and Joel Ward in 2018. They bucked the trend in 2016, inviting nine players on PTOs to camp, but that goal, in that case, was to re-stock the AHL team with warm bodies rather than identifying NHL players that may have slipped through the cracks.
The last player to actually sign a contract thanks to a PTO with the Canadiens was Tomas Fleischmann, way back in 2015.
But now that the team is amid a rebuild, there could be value in bringing a few players to camp to ensure the internal competition is maximized, while also giving a useful player an opportunity to prove his worth.
However, the options are limited.
But there are a few names that may be worth exploring.
The first that comes to mind is Ethan Bear.
Bear is a right-handed defenceman, which makes the prospect of having him involved in the team much more enticing. Kent Hughes has put an onus on bringing more right-handed defencemen into the mix, and it’s usually one of the most sought-after positions among all teams in the NHL. He has produced very interesting underlying numbers in the last four years and also has the ability to pitch in offensively, albeit he should not be counted upon as a primary or secondary source of offence.
Unfortunately, he sustained a shoulder injury while representing Canada alongside Samuel Montembeault and Justin Barron at the World Championship, which is why the Vancouver Canucks did not qualify the 26-year-old defenceman.
He’s expected to miss the first few months of action, but his case is worth revisiting once he completes his shoulder rehab.
Beyond Bear, the options are mostly limited to much older players.
Forwards such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still unsigned, but Kane is looking for a legitimate contract, and Toews has decided to take a year off.
Former Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar is still available, which is somewhat confusing. He’s an established forward who plays a very strong defensive game, combined with an underrated offensive presence.
In addition to his offence, other than his brief time with the Vegas Golden Knights, Tatar has a track record of having fantastic seasons when it comes to underlying numbers.
While he was on the ice last year the New Jersey Devils controlled more than 57 percent of the shots and almost 63 percent (!!!) of the expected goals.
In other words, he was excellent.
But there’s no fit to be had in Montreal. He’s 32 years old, which means he doesn’t fit the Canadiens’ plans, and he’s likely looking to play for a team that has a shot at the playoffs.
25-year-old Jesse Puljujärvi is much closer to fitting into the Canadiens’ plans, at least from a peak performance point of view, but there are a few red flags in his game that make him a less desirable player.
Puljujarvi was the fourth overall pick at the 2016 Draft but has struggled to carve out a role on the Oilers roster since joining the team the following season.
Despite some very encouraging underlying numbers, Pulujarvi is yet to reach the 40-point mark in the NHL, earning a career-best 14 goals and 22 assists in 36 games during the 2021-22 season.
He’s excellent from a defensive standpoint, which is always a boon for a team like the Habs that bleeds high-danger chances against.
But Puljujarvi also represents the classic case of a forward who plays well but lacks the shooting talent to put the puck in the net regularly, which should sound very familiar to Canadiens fans.
The team already lacks shooting talent, an issue that was put to the forefront when they lost Cole Caufield last season.
As much as Puljujarvi brings value to the table, if the goal is to develop him into a middle-six winger who also produces at a semi-regular rate, Montreal is not the ideal destination.
This market comes with certain expectations, and given the oft-maligned winger’s history, the pressure would quickly mount.\
He’s not as bad as those who simply take a cursory glance at HockeyDB would lead you to believe. But he’s no longer sitting on a mountain of untapped potential, either.
Jesse Puljujärvi (traded to Carolina) is an extremely strong defensive forward who is determined to not personally score at any time. Impact on penalty differential also leaves a lot to be desired. pic.twitter.com/Gv2OQF28jp
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 28, 2023
Adam Erne, Maxime Comtois, and Nick Ritchie are all without contracts, though they represent the epitome of tweeners in the NHL, and the Canadiens should not be in a hurry to add long-shot reclamation projects to their plate.
Finally, there are a pair of forwards that could help most teams: Phil Kessel and Zach Parise.
But there’s simply no room on the Canadiens roster for players on the wrong side of 35, even for a player such as Kessel, who has an established winning track record.
Simply put, despite being a team in transition that has several holes in the roster, it doesn’t seem like professional tryouts are the answer for the Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal Canadiens Contract information via CapFriendly.