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Ten questions about the Canadiens’ line-up
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In several weeks, the Canadiens’ training camp will get underway. September may seem a long way off right now, but it’s going to happen pretty quickly.

And from there, Martin St-Louis will have some issues to keep an eye on… and I want to talk about them. And since we’re talking from a coach’s point of view, we’re not making any transactions: we’re making do with what’s in place as of today.

Here are ten or so elements to keep an eye on at camp, on the heels of the Canadiens’ current line-up.

How long before we see the “real” Kirby Dach?

As you know, many people in Montreal believe that with Kirby Dach, the Habs would have won more games in 2023-2024. And now, clearly, the center will be hungry in 2024-2025.

However, he’ll need a few weeks, if not months, to get back to his old self and trust his knee. So we wonder, without being able to give the beginning of an answer, when he will trust himself.

Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky: which winger with which center?

The consensus is that the two guys, on the strength of their eight-year contracts signed in 2023 and 2024, will be Martin St-Louis’ two trusted wingers for next season.

Slaf must clearly feel the organization’s confidence in him.

But the question is whether both guys will play with Nick Suzuki again this season (which is a possibility on the table) or whether one of them will join Dach on the other top-6 line, giving him ammunition to succeed.

Seeing Slaf stay with Suzuki (the two had good chemistry) and sending Caufield with Dach would make sense. There’d be a big guy on each pairing… and Dach’s passing ability could, as in 2022-2023, make sparks fly with Caufield.

But at the same time, Caufield and Suzuki have great chemistry… and the Slaf/Dach duo proved their worth last camp. Two guys drafted in the top-3, who are big and protect the puck well… whew.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Slaf start next camp with Dach. And one day, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ivan Demidov complete a first line with these two guys either.


Which players will round out the top-6?

Theoretically, there are two spots up for grabs in the top-6. Are Joshua Roy and Alex Newhook big candidates to eat up minutes on the big line? Yes.

They’re my favourites right now.

But you know as well as I do that injuries and poor performances happen all season long. And inevitably, the likes of Joel Armia, Brendan Gallagher, Josh Anderson, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Emil Heineman and Alex Barré-Boulet, to name but a few, are going to be yearning for more playing time.

But for that, the numbers will have to be on the board.

Which “veterans” will rise?

Next year, Joel Armia will be in the showcase following his fine finish to the 2023-2024 season and because he’ll be at the end of his contract. What kind of season will he offer Martin St-Louis – and Kent Hughes?

Jake Evans, Christian Dvorak and Michael Pezzetta will also be unrestricted free agents a year from now – if nothing changes – while Rafaël Harvey-Pinard will be a restricted free agent. That’s a lot of guys fighting for their next contract.

As for Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson, who will be fighting to play higher than the club’s bottom-6, they have three years left on their contracts at $6.5M and $5.5M on the mound. They’ll want to prove they’re not just dead wood.

Ultimately, if the likes of Gallagher, Anderson and Dvorak can rise up on a hypothetical third line, it would help the Habs win games.


The bottom of the offensive line-up: who’ll fit in?

Assuming that Suzuki, Caufield, Dach, Slafkovsky, Newhook, Roy (barring a catastrophe), Anderson, Gallagher, Armia, Dvorak and Armia make the roster, there’s one spot left in the active lineup.

There are also up to three spots left on the 23-man roster … if the club goes with seven defensemen and two goalies, of course.

My colleague Maxime Truman recently analyzed that Quebecers Harvey-Pinard and Barré-Boulet would be fighting for the same spot. They won’t be the only ones fighting, though.

I expect to see Michael Pezzetta make the club as the 13th or 14th forward, but more guys will be fighting for a place in the sun. Let’s keep an eye on Oliver Kapanen, Owen Beck, Sean Farrell and Luke Tuch, to name but a few… but don’t hold your breath.

Which side will Kaiden Guhle play on?

We know the Habs have a surplus of left-handed defensemen. The club has the luxury of counting on Kaiden Guhle, who is capable of playing on both sides.

I have a feeling that, in order to see him play alongside Mike Matheson on the Habs’ first pairing and to make room for other left-handers, Martin St-Louis will be sending him to the right often. But we’ll see in due course what the coach needs.


Which defensemen are at risk of losing their spot?

Mike Matheson, David Savard and Kaiden Guhle will play every game for the club if they’re healthy. That’s the great defensive consistency of the last two seasons with the Habs.

But what’s next?

Jordan Harris and Justin Barron, two guys who played several games in Montreal in 2023-2024, have to go through the waivers to go to Laval. And Kent Hughes shouldn’t take such a risk.

Arber Xhekaj and Jayden Struble, on the other hand, can go to Laval more easily.

Even with the departure of Johnathan Kovacevic, it would be surprising if these seven guys made the club. There are youngsters growing up behind them and the internal battle will be strong.

I have a feeling that Jayden Struble will have to have quite a camp to stay and that he’s the “regular” from last year who has the most to prove in order to start next season in the NHL. His place is not assured.

Which youngsters will fight for a spot?

Lane Hutson, Logan Mailloux, David Reinbacher and Adam Engstrom are the main candidates knocking at the door. William Trudeau is behind the others in the race and seems destined for Laval.

If the fans were in charge, it’s easy to see who would be the popular choice to start at the top: Hutson. And in reality, he and Mailloux are likely to have the best chance of taking the available seat(s).

If Engstrom doesn’t break through, will he stay in Laval or go to Europe? We think he’ll go to Laval, but nothing is certain.

As for David Reinbacher, unless we see him dominate in camp, I think Laval is waiting for him at the start of the season. However, Reinbacher, Mailloux and Hutson must expect to be playing in the NHL in 2024-2025 at some point.


How much playing time for the youngsters?

It’s all very well to say that Hutson and/or Mailloux and/or Reinbacher will make the club at some point, but how many minutes per game will they play? How much time will they get on special units?

This one’s mostly a question for Hutson, knowing that Matheson rolls the first power-play unit.

I expect Guhle, Matheson and Savard to eat up the big minutes and the other defensemen to be spared. But you know as well as I do that these three won’t play all 82 games each.

I think their performances will dictate their playing time… unless there’s a spate of injuries. And of the lot, Hutson (alongside Savard?) could quickly eat up minutes.

How many games for Samuel Montembeault?

This year, no controversy: there should be only two goalkeepers in camp with a real chance of making the club.

Both Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau finished last season well following the departure of Jake Allen. And by necessity, both will be looking for playing time en masse.

Monty, who refused to represent his country at the World Championship in May, will want to prove that he can be the Habs’ #1, and will want to prove that he can play in the Four Nations Tournament for Canada.

His three-year contract extension is now in effect, and I expect to see him win the starting job at camp. If all goes well, a load between 45 and 50 starts would make sense.

Cayden Primeau will be in the final year of his contract. He’ll be eligible for restricted autonomy (and salary arbitration), and he’ll want to make a case for a salary increase.

Between 32 and 37 starts for the American, does that make sense? No?


– Big decisions coming to Edmonton.

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