The Montreal Canadiens got an early start to their asset management agenda when they moved veteran Sean Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2024 first-round pick and a conditional 2027 third-round pick.
It was a shrewd deal when you consider Monahan’s best years are behind him, even more so when you weigh the fact that the Canadiens ended up with two different first-round picks without investing any other asset than cash. Given the price of beer at the Bell Centre, you could even argue fans are the ones who made the deal possible.
Now that Monahan is playing in the Western Conference, there’s a surplus of ice time available, which will lead to opportunities for redemption as well as chances for younger players to show their worth as the team enters the most difficult stretch of the season.
Future Montreal Canadiens Centre Options
Alex Newhook’s impending return to the lineup is perfectly timed, as he will be tasked with absorbing heavy minutes in Monahan’s absence. However, Newhook has already established he can make an offensive impact while playing in the top six, as evidenced by his seven goals in 23 games before the injury.
You may scoff at that number, but despite not playing since Nov.30, Newhook is just one goal away from being tied for third in goal-scoring, a sobering reminder that the Canadiens don’t just need elite shooting talent in the lineup, but they also need players that can provide sustained secondary scoring.
A player like Jake Evans will have an opportunity to fill that role while convincing management that he possesses some semblance of offensive talent. Evans, 27, is a hard worker, but he’s also among the lowest-scoring centres in the NHL.
With just two goals in 49 games, Evans has matched his scoring output last season (2 goals in 54 games), an indication that his presence in the lineup does very little to improve one of the team’s glaring weaknesses.
Every NHL player has the ability to put forth an honest effort on a nightly basis, but they have to own a certain level of offensive prowess to become important players in a lineup that can contend for the Stanley Cup.
With prospects such as Owen Beck and Oliver Kapanen in the pipeline, Evans’ defence-only approach to the game is far from guaranteeing him a place in the lineup as the team attempts to build enough momentum to qualify for the playoffs next season and beyond.
Evans is far from being the Montreal Canadiens who have struggled from an offensive standpoint.
With Monahan now playing for Winnipeg, only two players in the Canadiens lineup have managed to score 10 or more goals in 49 games this season: Cole Caufield (17) and Nick Suzuki (13).
Wingers such as Jesse Ylonen, Tanner Pearson, and Josh Anderson have scored roughly 0.5 goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, well below what you could reasonably expect given their usage. Anderson, in particular, has done very little while getting more opportunities than almost any other player in the lineup.
He is clearly one of the players in the lineup with the most to prove, not only to the team but to himself, as well.
Will he fade down the stretch or will he be able to find another gear? The Canadiens will need good veterans to insulate the younger players during the rebuild. General manager Kent Hughes has suggested Anderson is the type of player who can help guide the youth movement, but before he can do that, he’ll have to re-establish his value in the lineup.
Josh Anderson breakaway.
Josh Anderson no goal. pic.twitter.com/A96HYsRKgn
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 12, 2024
Unfortunately, Anderson’s lack of production pales in comparison to Rafael Harvey-Pinard‘s. Remember, Harvey-Pinard didn’t just play well down the stretch last season. He earned a contract extension by showing the type of intensity and skill that led to his call-up from the Laval Rocket in the first place.
To be fair, his 14 goals in 34 games last season were powered by a very high shooting percentage, which means a dip in production was to be expected. But as it stands the 25-year-old has scored just one goal in 22 games, quickly erasing all the excitement and encouraging numbers he generated in 2022-23.
Relative to his teammates, Harvey-Pinard has better possession numbers than most, but that alone will not be enough to pencil him into the lineup next season as a player who can help the team reach the next step in their rebuild.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s goal tonight pic.twitter.com/9wuKywkoEY
— HFTV (@HFTVSports) January 16, 2024