The Montreal Canadiens faithful may be down on their luck after losing Kirby Dach for the season and Kaiden Guhle for a little while, but with injury comes opportunity.
Let’s first state the obvious: the injury sustained by Dach couldn’t come at a more inopportune moment for the 22-year-old, as he looked like he was about to take off.
Without Dach, it leaves the Canadiens with a multitude of questions and a massive hole in their lineup. Then you factor in Kaiden Guhle, who plays an important top-4 role for the Canadiens and is a pillar for them at even strength.
According to a local Canadian betting portal, the rebuilding club was already not favored to be a playoff contender by NHL betting odds and sporting casinos around the country, but this could likely put a dagger in the Canadiens’ season before it even started.
But what if it doesn’t?
As we saw through last year’s injury-plagued season, the Montreal Canadiens were able to speed up the evaluation of many of their players and offer some unique opportunities to players who would otherwise have been relegated to bottom-six or minor-league duty.
Players like Jesse Ylönen, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Guhle and Arber Xhekaj were able to thrive with the extra responsibility and it helped them take a big step this year.
Much of the same can come from this Dach injury, and here’s how.
From the moment the trade for Alex Newhook was completed, general manager Kent Hughes stressed that the move was made to acquire a talented player first and foremost but also provide the Canadiens with depth at a position of need.
Newhook will now be tasked with playing at center for some time now, allowing him the chance to succeed where he failed with the Colorado Avalanche.
He may not be a center when the Canadiens begin to become competitive down the road, but getting Newhook back in the middle of the ice will offer him more of an opportunity to carry the puck and put his stamp on the game.
That kind of opportunity, in a no-stress environment, is what allowed Kirby Dach to thrive in Montreal last season, and it could be just the opening Alex Newhook needs.
Last season, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard proved to be the sparkplug the club needed when virtually their entire forward roster was sidelined with an injury.
In just 34 games, the 24-year-old put up 14 goals and six assists for 20 points; all while earning the trust of head coach Martin St-Louis and becoming a staple on the penalty-kill.
He found immediate chemistry with Nick Suzuki and performed at a level that many didn’t believe was possible for him at the time, but “RHP” simply kept proving his doubters wrong.
The gritty winger now finds himself with a new opportunity, as he was immediately slotted onto the top line in the absence of Dach to play with Suzuki and Cole Caufield, a combination that worked well in the preseason.
This moment is a massive opportunity for Harvey-Pinard- moreso than last year- as he is being tried on the top line by way of merit, not by need, and it could dictate where he fits in the lineup long-term.
A strong showing would go a long way in ensuring his place in the Canadiens’ plans for the long-term, while also ensuring that he never sees fourth-line ice time again.
Enter The Barron
After having an up-and-down training camp, the 21-year-old Justin Barron made the opening-day roster as the club’s 7th defenceman, narrowly edging out Mattias Norlinder for the job.
With Guhle out, Barron will likely be inserted into the lineup as soon as Saturday, allowing Jordan Harris to return to his natural side on the left.
It could be a major opportunity for Barron to show that folks shouldn’t be took quick to dismiss his potential or his status in the Montreal Canadiens’ pecking order on the back end.
But it could also go the other way, as more poor performances may prompt the Canadiens to send the youngster down to Laval in favour of Norlinder or another defenceman from the Laval Rocket.
If Barron can show the same offensive flashes and seamless transition game that he did in the second half of the season last year, it would go a long way in securing his spot on the team; both in the short and long term.
High Draft Pick
“Well, what if you’re wrong?”
That’s a fair question, as not all opportunities are seized in the NHL and that results in losses.
With betting odds already pegging the Montreal Canadiens for a bottom-5 finish this season, the loss of Dach, coupled with anything but significant progress from the club’s young core, likely sees the fall in that range come April.
That could help the Canadiens grab a high pick, which nobody truly wants to talk about in October, but it is worth remembering, as the Canadiens will have the opportunity to pick up a pretty skilled player.
Outside of the known names like Macklin Celebrini, Cole Eiserman, and Ivan Demidov at forward, they could also be in the range of talented players like defencemen Sam Dickinson and Artyom Levshunov or goalscorer Berkly Catton.
Together with Artem Levshunov, Adam Jiricek and Anton Silayev make up a solid group of prospects that could greatly assist Montreal in furthering their rebuild.
In short, there’s always a silver lining, you just gotta look for it.