Atlantic Division Part 6- The Montreal Canadiens

Part six of our series previewing the upcoming 2019-2020 season takes a deep look at the Montreal Canadiens. If you missed any of the others, be sure to check out the previews on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, or Buffalo Sabres.

The Montreal Canadiens had a surprisingly successful season last year. This included an almost playoff run, as the Canadiens missed the playoffs by merely a point. Last season was viewed by many to be another “rebuild” year for the Canadiens, but it instead turned into a highly competitive season. Canadiens coach Claude Julien always seems to find a way to get the most out of his roster, and last year was no exception.

This year, however, may prove to be more difficult. The Canadiens didn’t add much of anything to their roster overall other than some depth pieces. Max Domi is unlikely to repeat the career year he had last year, and while young players like Kotkaniemi may make some strides in development, it is unlikely to move the needle for the Canadiens.

They are likely to be competitive once again, especially if they get strong goaltending from Carey Price and some steady offense from the likes of Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, and Tomas Tatar. However, the playoffs will be a reach, especially due to the lack of secondary scoring and defensive depth. Here is a look at the 2019-2020 Montreal Canadiens.

Goalies

  1. Carey Price
  2. Keith Kinkaid
  3. Charlie Lindgren
  4. Cayden Primeau
  5. Michael McNiven

The Canadiens bring back long-time starter and all-star Carey Price. Price had a solid overall season last year, posting a .918 save percentage. The Canadiens will need Price to have a similar, if not higher, save percentage next season for them to be a playoff team. There is a chance that Price may regress also, judging by his age and lack of success and injury in seasons prior. The Canadiens are banking on Price maintaining his form from last season, and he will need to for them to remain competitive.

To add insurance, the Canadiens signed Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid is a solid backup option and has filled in as a starter successfully for other teams in the past. He offers stability at the position. If one of Kinkaid or Price get injured, Charlie Lindgren is a likely call-up. Lindgren struggled in the AHL last season, but he has played a handful of NHL games. He will likely be the starter for Laval in the AHL next season.

Prospect Cayden Primeau, who is unlikely to see NHL games, is the goalie of the future. The son of former NHLer Wayne, Primeau signed an NHL contract after a solid two seasons in the NCAA. If the Canadiens have multiple injuries, he may see a start or two. Otherwise, he is simply a prospect worth keeping an eye on. Overall, barring injury, the Canadiens look set in goal this season, though they are lacking depth if injuries occur.

Defense

  1. Shea Weber
  2. Jeff Petry
  3. Brett Kulak
  4. Ben Chiarot
  5. Victor Mete
  6. Mike Reilly
  7. Christian Folin
  8. Noah Juulsen
  9. Josh Brook
  10. Karl Alzner
  11. Xavier Ouellet
  12. Cale Fleury

The Canadiens defense starts and stops with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. Even at 33, Weber is still an excellent #1 NHL defender. Weber plays in all situations and still thrives. He managed 14 goals in 59 games. At this point in his career, injuries are a major concern for Weber. His style of play also lends itself to a fast regression, as does the high minutes the Canadiens need out of him. The Canadiens captain is likely good for 50 points and over 10 goals once again, but don’t be surprised if his skating takes a bit of a step back and there are moments of struggle this season. Jeff Petry has been a revelation since signing with the Canadiens a few years ago. Petry contributes at both ends of the ice and has excellent underlying numbers. He will be relied on in all situations for the Canadiens once again.  

Outside of Weber and Petry, the rest of the Canadiens’ defensive depth chart is lacking. Kulak is more of a third pairing defender, but the best of the rest of this crew. He is neither a liability nor much of a difference maker, but will likely see top four minutes once again. Ben Chiarot was a third pairing guy for the Jets the last few seasons, but will see an increased role on the Canadiens, especially after signing a three year contract. Chiarot is a defensive-minded defender, but adds very little offensively. On most teams, he would be a third pairing defender, but on the Canadiens, he will play in the top four likely next season.

Victor Mete and Mike Reilly will both likely compete for top four spots as well. Mete is only 21, but has struggled to find a steady overall game at the NHL level. He put up excellent offensive numbers in the OHL, but has struggled to find any offensive game at the NHL level. A reduced role may help his overall development. Mike Reilly had a solid year last season. Outside of Petry and Weber, he is the next closest offensive option the Canadiens have on the back-end.

Christian Folin will likely function in the number seven role. He is a steady defensive presence and not much of a risk in limited minutes. One of Noah Juulsen and Josh Brook may also make a push to make the roster. Juulsen made the Canadiens last season as a rookie but had injury issues. He projects as a more defensive minded defender and may benefit from some AHL time. Josh Brook tore up the WHL last season, and many scouts project him as a top four at the NHL level. He may need some AHL time, but with a lack of offensive weapons at the NHL level, Brook may find himself on the Canadiens to start the season.

Long-time NHLer Karl Alzner, who is a recognizable name to many, will likely find himself back in the AHL. Alzner has struggled since signing with the Canadiens and his NHL days may be over.

Overall, the Canadiens defense will have to rely heavily once again on Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin hopes that the rest of this group can at least give the Canadiens average defense, but judging by the miscasting of bottom pairing defenders as top four, this is an unlikely possibility.

Forwards

LW C RW
1. Tomas Tatar 1. Max Domi 1. Brendan Gallagher
2. Paul Byron 2. Phil Danault 2. Jonathan Drouin
3. Artturi Lehkonen 3. Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3. Joel Armia
4. Jordan Weal 4. Ryan Poehling 4. Charles Hudon
5. Nick Cousins 5. Nick Suzuki 5. Dale Weise
6. Jake Evans 6. Nate Thompson 6. Phil Varone
7. Lucas Vejdemo 7. Matt Peca 7. Riley Barber

The Canadiens offense is led by Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher is one of the NHL’s most underrated forwards. He has proven himself to be a 30 goal guy and has high shot volume. Look for him to repeat once again this season. Max Domi had a career year, posting over 70 points last season. While 60 points is a real possibility, it is unlikely Domi is as productive this year.

Tomas Tatar also managed 60 points last season. Like other Canadiens players, it is unlikely he repeats such a feat at this stage in his career. Tatar is good for 20 goals and solid top six production. Jonathan Drouin has been somewhat of a disappointment after being acquired two years ago from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin oozes offensive skill and shows flashes of brilliance, but he has struggled to find his overall offensive game. A return to the wing last season was beneficial for him, and another year may lead to a career year. Paul Byron provides solid middle six production and minutes. He plays in all situations.

The Canadiens are hoping that 19 year old Jesperi Kotkaniemi takes a big step next season after a strong rookie season. Kotkaniemi showed flashes of brilliance last season and could easily become a 50 point getter. Joel Armia and Lehkonen, two other Fins, will provide strong middle six two-way play as well. Lehkonen is constantly on the radar as a player who could have a break-out year, based upon his yearly shot volume. This could be the year, but if it doesn’t materialize, Lehkonen will likely settle in as a sold two-way third line winger.

Two rookies have a chance to crack the Canadiens roster this season. Both Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki have an opportunity to make the team. Poehling burst onto the scene last year and scored a hat trick in his first and only NHL game. He projects as a number two/three center at the NHL level, so he is unlikely to repeat that kind of production. Poehling is a strong candidate to play a middle six role and put up around 30 points at the NHL level next season. Nick Suzuki is a skilled playmaking center. He put up elite numbers in the OHL last season. The Canadiens need offensive creativity, and Suzuki excels in this area. He also may find himself playing in the NHL next season.

Overall, this group has some solid offensive depth but is still missing some star power up front. That may come in the form of Cole Caufield, an excellent prospect the Canadiens drafted this past year, but the Canadiens are going to have to wait at least a year before he plays NHL games. The Canadiens will need career years from Max Domi and Tomas Tatar once again, and another 30 goals from Brendan Gallagher, if they are to remain in the playoff mix in the Atlantic.

Bottom Line

Claude Julien coached teams can never be counted out. His system lends to strong defensive play and excellent results overall. However, due to a lack of defensive depth and star offensive power, the Canadiens will need another magical, miraculous season to remain in the playoff mix. They will be competitive but unlikely to make the playoffs in the 2019-2020 season.