Like previous seasons, the Montreal Canadiens have an injury-based issue in the lineup.
But unlike the years when the team set back-to-back records for man-games lost, this time around the Canadiens have too many options on the blueline.
The team currently has eight healthy defencemen on their NHL roster: Michael Matheson, David Savard, Jordan Harris, Gustav Lindstrom, Justin Barron, Jayden Struble, Kaiden Guhle, and Johnathan Kovavic.
This means that Savard’s absence at practice on Monday was not problematic, as either Lindstrom or Kovacevic could fill in for the veteran defenceman.
The same situation is unfolding in the AHL, though their logjam is a little more intense given that there are playings in the ECHL waiting for a promotion.
Arber Xhekaj, Logan Mailloux, Tobie Bisson, Nicolas Beaudin, Brady Keeper, Mattias Norlinder, William Trudeau, and Oliver Galipeau are all available to head coach Jean-Francois Houle.
Beaudin has already requested more ice time, in Laval or elsewhere, whereas Galipeau has played well enough to deserve an uptick in usage, but there simply aren’t enough minutes to go around.
ECHL players such as Miguel Tourigny, Chris Ortiz, and Noah Laaouan all possess AHL contracts but are yet to play a game with the Rocket.
Having too many healthy defencemen is not just a good problem to have, it also gives general manager Kent Hughes a perfect opportunity to add reinforcements to the mix, either at the NHL or AHL level.
It’s difficult to envision a situation in which a player like Lindstrom or Kovacevic would fetch an impact forward for the NHL roster, but a trade to bolster the AHL roster is well within the realm of possible.
After a very difficult start to the season, the Rocket have won eight of their last 10 games.
Adding Xhekaj to the mix certainly helped. He has provided a stable defensive partner for Mailloux in addition to scoring three goals and seven assists in just 12 games.
Arber Xhekaj to Logan Mailloux and the Rocket are back up 2-1! pic.twitter.com/NiOhWmOGWF
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 7, 2024
Truth be told, Xhekaj’s excellent numbers in both the NHL and AHL suggest he’s currently playing in the wrong league, but for now, his presence has led to a potential playoff push for the Rocket. Seeing as several important prospects are playing in the AHL, including Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, and Sean Farrell, establishing a winning culture is an important development step.
To ensure that the winning culture is sustainable, adding a top-six forward to the AHL lineup certainly feels like a logical step, and using one of the many extra defencemen in the minors seems to be the ideal trade chip.
It would not rob any key Montreal Canadiens prospects of ice time while ensuring that the recent strong push by the farm team wouldn’t be for naught.