After a long and depressing wait, NHL hockey is finally back! The Habs will be looking to start off their preseason strong with a game later tonight against the Boston Bruins. While it is only preseason and it doesn’t mean much, these next few games will be a good opportunity for certain players to prove their worth to the Habs management. Also, there are still several question marks with the Habs lineup at the moment that need to be solved by Claude Julien and company before Montreal’s season opener on October 4th. With that being said, it’s time to take a look at Montreal’s biggest storylines heading into the preseason.
New 1st Line Center Jonathan Drouin
During the Habs annual golf tournament just before training camp, GM Marc Bergevin stated that Jonathan Drouin will be starting the year at Center, with Alex Galchenyuk moving to the wing. Drouin will be starting the year playing alongside Max Pacioretty in what should be a deadly offensive duo. With all the talent he has, Drouin could be able to finally be that #1 center that the Habs have been desperately needing for years. On the other hand, the Drouin at center experiment may not work out. Although he mostly played center throughout junior, Drouin spent most of his time in the pros playing on the wing. Will Drouin be able to make the transition back to centre, or will he struggle early and be moved back to the wing? Hopefully the answer is the former.
Who Is Gonna Play With Weber?
With Andrei Markov leaving the Habs in favor of the KHL this offseason, there are no longer any ideal top line defensemen on the roster to play alongside of Shea Weber. As good as Weber is, there is no denying that he needs a certain type of partner in order for himself, and the Habs, to have the most success as possible. Claude Julien may have to go off the board to find the best partner for Weber. There are several intriguing options in the Habs system that may be able to fulfill this role.
Firstly, there is Jakub Jerabek whom the Habs brought over from the KHL this offseason. While his puck moving style of play would benefit Weber, there is a lot of doubt that he is good enough to secure a spot in the lineup, let alone a spot on the first pairing. There is also trade acquisition David Schlemko who is probably the best all around player that could potentially play with Weber but is still fairly far away from being a 1st pair defenseman. Lastly, there is 19-year-old prospect Victor Mete who was one of the top scoring defensemen in the OHL last year. While this may come as a surprise to many, it is worth noting that Mete spent all of training camp alongside of Shea Weber. If he is NHL ready, his strong puck moving and elite level skating would be a perfect fit for Weber. There are also a few other potential options like Jordie Benn or Brandon Davidson, so it wll be very interesting to see how this one plays out.
Can Any Youngsters Crack The Lineup?
In the past, Ex-Head Coach Michel Therrien was very hesitant to play any younger players, opting for the grittier, more defensive type of bottom of the lineup players to round out the team. Now, with Claude Julien at the helm, we may see some changes. Early training camp signs are showing that Julien is willing to try some youngsters throughout the lineup. The main young player everyone should keep an eye out for is 23-year-old forward prospect, Charles Hudon. Hudon has constantly been a top scorer at the AHL level for a few seasons and has also put up 4 points in 6 NHL games played. If anything, Hudon should have been in the lineup last season, and he could have brought some much needed goal scoring to the Habs forward group. It would be a very big shock to not see him in the lineup come opening day. Hudon has been on what will probably be the 3rd line throughout training camp with Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen, where he has been one of the best players at camp, so all signs are pointing to him starting the year with Montreal.
Apart from Hudon, there are a few other spots that could be held by Habs prospects. One of Mike McCarron or Jacob De La Rose could be a solid option on the Habs 4th line if Julien rather go for a younger player than the ageing Torrey Mitchell or newly signed free agent Peter Holland. There is also the aforementioned Victor Mete who could find himself on the top pairing alongside of Weber. In addition, the Habs have some other decent prospects such as Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen, and Martin Reway who could potentially secure a spot if they impress enough during preseason play.
Backup Goalie Battle
While it is certainly unlikely, we could have a potential battle on our hands for the backup position behind Carey Price between Al Montoya and Charlie Lindgren. Montoya is a very serviceable veteran backup who will be able to play well when he needs to, but there is no shying away from the recent strong play of the younger Lindgren. Lindgren had a very good season in the AHL with the St. John’s Ice Caps (now the Laval Rocket), posting a 2.56 GAA and .914 save% on a relatively weaker team. He then took his game to a whole nother level during the playoffs, nearly carrying his team to a 1st round victory. Lindgren has also won all three of the games he played with the Habs, only allowing 5 goals against across all three games. If Lindgren is able to have a very good preseason, do not be surprised if Claude Julien opts to give him the backup role over the more experienced Montoya. We could have another situation similar to the 2015-16 preseason, where Mike Condon surprisingly outplayed Dustin Tokarski and beat him out for the backup job.
With all these significant storylines being played out, Habs fans could have a pretty exciting preseason ahead of them. Feel free to let us know what you think the Habs should do about these difficult decisions. Also, with the season finally starting up, Puck Planet will be more active than ever, so stay tuned for many more articles in the future!