Now that the Montreal Canadiens have announced defenceman Chris Wideman will be out of action indefinitely with a back injury, the defensive group likely to make the team has become a lot clearer.
It’s an unfortunate situation for Wideman, seeing as back injuries at his age tend to be a difficult hurdle to climb if a player hopes to return to play.
That being said, it does open the door for another, younger player to earn a job in the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens Defensive Situation
Given their experience and status as NHL players last season, it’s expected that Mike Matheson, David Savard, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj will once again secure their position as an important part of the defensive group.
Personally, I’d like to believe the Habs have understood the type of value Johnathan Kovacevic brought to the table last year, particularly while playing with Harris. The two formed the team’s best pairing throughout the season, and Kovacevic was the only defencemen playing on the right that produced positive underlying numbers.
It’s not a guarantee, but odds are the team’s data analysis department has pointed out Kovacevic’s strong play to management, which means he’s likely to be included in the list of defencemen that have the inside track for a spot in the lineup.
That leaves a handful of hopefuls for the seventh defenceman role, including Justin Barron, William Trudeau, Gustav Lindstrom, and perhaps even Logan Mailloux.
Barron has shown he can improve the Canadiens’ breakout, an area in which the team struggles on a nightly basis. Lindstrom has more experience than the rest of the candidates combined. Trudeau has shown he’s a dominant player at the rookie tournaments, not to mention he has a year’s worth of experience playing for the Laval Rocket under his belt. As for Mailloux, he’s not ready for the NHL, but his offensive prowess should eventually lead him to an NHL audition, especially if the Habs continue to have one of the worst powerplays in the league.
As we all know, not every choice is based on merit, and in this case, waivers will come into play. Barron, Trudeau, and Mailloux do not require waivers to be sent down to the AHL, whereas Lindstrom does.
There’s also the matter of development.
Trudeau (20), Barron (21) and Mailloux (20) all have the potential to be involved in the long-term rebuild plan, whereas Lindstrom (24) has already made the jump to the NHL. He received just 14 minutes of ice time per game last year, but if we’re being perfectly honest, his development isn’t as important as his defensive teammates.
Having a player like Barron or Trudeau toil away in the press box on most nights simply isn’t conducive to improving, regardless of what coaches will tell you. Yes, you can see the game from another angle, but playing is really the only thing that leads to tangible improvements.
Things can and will change, but for now, it seems like the best idea would be to send Trudeau, Mailloux, and Barron to the AHL to ensure they play significant minutes in all situations.
Leaving the Canadiens with a defensive group composed of Matheson, Savard, Xhekaj, Guhle, Harris, and Kovacevic, with Lindstrom serving as the spare player.