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2023-24: Juraj Slafkovsky to quadruple last year’s points total
Please forgive me for being a few minutes behind schedule. I had to dry my eyes before sitting down at my computer.

No, I’m not very allergic this morning. It’s just that we received some excellent news about my son’s bone disease, which I took the time to share with all my friends/subscribers before falling into writing mode.

Back to field hockey…

It’s already Thursday, September 7. The Canadiens Children’s Foundation’s annual golf tournament is just four days away. FOUR!

We’re starting to read all kinds of analyses left and right about the next Montreal Canadiens and the season we can/should expect from our team.

Here’s how I see the CH’s 2023-24 season unfolding… and here are 5 predictions I’m not afraid to make on the eve of the team’s training camp :

1. The Habs will never really fight for a playoff spot.
The CH is rebuilding. We all know it, and the organization has finally admitted it.

The club went from 32nd to 28th last year. I expect to see them finish around 25th this year. We should progress… but I don’t see how we can hope to participate in the playoffs with so many youngsters, heavy contracts (again!) and departures. Trust the process, they say…

Let’s be patient… and above all, let’s be realistic. The Canadiens don’t currently have what it takes to finish among the top 4 teams in the Atlantic Division. The goal is to do it in 2 or 3 years, not in 2024.

2. Chris Wideman won’t play much in 2023-24.
Stéphane Robidas has probably already identified the six defensemen who will be in uniform on October 11: Matheson, Savard, Guhle, Xhekaj, Harris and Kovacevic. If not Kovacevic, then Lindstrom.

No, I don’t believe the speculation that Arber Xhekaj could start the year at Place Bell. He’s far too useful to the team, especially with the arrival of several tough guys in the CH division.

On the other hand, Justin Barron could/should have to prove his usefulness and talent again in Laval at the start of the season. And he could well see Logan Mailloux pass him by in J-F Houle’s hierarchy of right-handed defensemen.

Back to Wideman…

(Credit: Twitter/capture d’écran)
Renaud Lavoie confided that a back injury from last season could prevent the diminutive offensive defenseman from starting the season on time. You know what I think? I get the impression that the CH are well aware that Wideman doesn’t belong in the lineup anymore, and that as long as they’re going to give him playing time, they’re going to give it to younger players who are part of the organization’s future.

But out of respect for Wideman, we may be evaluating the option of making him a veteran on the LTIR close to the team, a bit like Paul Byron, rather than a veteran disappointed to be at the bottom.

Chris Wideman played 291 regular NHL games in his career. He won’t play 300.

3. Casey DeSmith is going to be a hot potato.
Training camp starts in about two weeks and DeSmith still hasn’t been traded.

Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault believe (or even know) they won’t be traded… and Casey DeSmith doesn’t sound like someone who’s in Montreal’s plans. Two days after thePetry/Hoffman/Pitlick trade, he wasn’t embarrassed to say publicly that the Habs still hadn’t contacted him.

With the goaltending market in (big) slow motion and the Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup with four NHL-calibre goaltenders, I have a feeling that DeSmith will be stuck with Montembeault and Allen.

If that’s the case, Kent Hughes will have to decide whether he prefers to send him to the ballot, then to Laval… or whether he’s ready to start the season with 3 goalies (i.e. 7 defensemen and only 13 forwards).

4. Juraj Slafkovsky will almost quadruple his production from last year.
The first overall pick in 2022 now has a North American season under his belt.

He’s learned to play on smaller rinks… he’s learned to lift his head… he’s trained to improve his cardio and his information (and ultimately decision) taking…

And that’s going to show on the rink.

With the departures of Drouin, Hoffman, Gurianov (Dadonov) and Pitlick, a number of spots have opened up on the left wing.

Dach, Suzuki, Caufield, Monahan, Anderson, Newhook and Slafkovsky are the seven forwards with a chance of starting the year in the top 6. I don’t see Gallagher, Harvey-Pinard, Evans, Armia or Dvorak surprising on Day 1 of the season.

With more playing time, better teammates and a North American year behind the tie, I see Slafkovsky picking up a point every two games, and if he can stay healthy – the Habs have hired two specialists to do just that – he should rack up 40 or 41 points.

That would be four times more than his total of 10 points (in 39 games) last season.

5. Filip Mesar and Owen Beck won’t be playing in either Montreal or Laval.
Owen Beck may keep repeating that he’s aiming for a spot with the big club this season, but I don’t see it happening.

With Suzuki, Caufield, Dach, Newhook, Slafkovsky, Monahan, Anderson, Dvorak, Armia, Evans, RHP, Pezzetta and Gallagher, there’s no room for Owen Beck with the big club. And if Dvorak is unable to start the season on time, there will be the more experienced Lias Andersson, Jesse Ylonen, Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman, Mitchell Stephens and Nathan Legare to replace the American forward.

In the best-case scenario, Beck could be given a few games at the start of the season, before being sent back to junior. Worst-case scenario? Beck would be traded to the OHL in early October.

He played his regular OHL schedule last year, as well as helping out the Habs, representing his country at the World Youth Championship and playing in the Memorial Cup. It’s likely to look like that again this year, except perhaps for the Memorial Cup part…

Owen Beck should still be playing junior in 2023-24.

(Credit: Twitter/screenshot)

As for Mesar, the kid seems to be talking more about the challenge of breaking into the Rocket line-up than his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.

So much for confidence and ambition…

Still, breaking into the Rocket line-up won’t be easy. Mesar didn’t dominate in junior last year. He scored just one goal and three assists in nine playoff games with the Kitchener Rangers.

Don’t tell me that because he now lives with Juraj Slafkovsky, he’ll start the season with the CH or the Rocket. It doesn’t work that way!

I think Mesar will be tested a lot during the Canadiens’ camp, as well as during the Rocket’s, but I’m firmly convinced that in December, he’ll be playing in the OHL or in Europe…

He’s still got a lot to learn before he can make his mark. And protecting him by not using him much in Laval would not be good for his development. The youngster needs to be able to control the game, not follow it.


– Nick Suzuki will score at least 70 points. He’s never missed a game due to injury and has collected 41, 61 and 66 points in his last three campaigns. With experience, a big role and good teammates, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to reach the 70-point plateau. Generally speaking, forwards earning a salary of around $8 million score at least 70 points in the NHL.

– Cole Caufield will score 45 goals. I almost wrote 50, but I’ll be cautious. If he stays healthy, he’ll continue his excellent offensive work under Martin St-Louis.

– Mike Matheson will once again be the CH’s best defenseman. I predict at least 30 points.

– Rafaël Harvey-Pinard will be effective… on the fourth line. And occasionally, we’ll put him in the top 9 to help out.

– Jake Allen will play no more than 30 games. Because of Montembeault’s brilliance, his health or his performance…

– Brendan Gallagher won’t bounce back. It’s all over.

– Joel Armia will have 1 or 2 good games a month.

– Josh Anderson will collect over 32 points, his highest total since becoming a Hab.

– Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook will be the team’s 3rd and 4th top scorers, behind the Suzuki – Caufield duo.

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