STRENGTH DOWN THE MIDDLE- The Canadiens at Centre

May 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Canadiens, Latest News

The Canadiens will be choosing third in June’s entry draft and they’re expected to take a big centreman, either Alexander Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko or Filip Forsberg who’s often listed as a centre/right wing.  Whoever is selected will be joining a centre ice group that is second only to team defense in terms of depth.  The Canadiens currently have eleven listed centremen under contract.   If we are to find fault in the group,

Already on the team’s roster are the proven skills of David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller.   The fourth line centre is Petteri Nokelainen.  The one thing that stands out in the group is a notable lack of size in much of the group.  Hence the interest in this year’s draft.

David Desharnais – They may have held his size against him in the past.   They don’t any longer.  Centred Pacioretty and Cole on the team’s only untouchable line.   Desharnais’ line accounted for 40% of the Canadiens total offense.

Tomas Plekanec has been criticized in some quarters for what is perceived to have been a poor offensive season.  For the first time in six years he wasn’t a 20 goal scorer.  And he was minus-15 which, among forwards was second only to Rene Bourque’s minus-18.  On the other side of the ledger, at season’s end Plekanec had centered twenty-five different line combinations including eight different left and ten different right wingers.  Still one of the league’s best penalty killers and until he fails while surrounded by wingers with some offensive talent, he has to rank as the Canadiens second line centre.

Lars Eller – Wasted when he’s asked to play a wing position. Great speed.  Every shift he takes is eventful.  Hard checker.  Still waiting for the offense to materialize but he has the potential to be a Guy Carbonneau clone, combining defense with 20-goal offense.  In others potentially the perfect third line centre.

Scott Gomez –  His fate will be in the hands of the new general manager.  Gomez will probably go through training camp and if he has not shown any desire to compete,  the Canadiens will probably ask waivers and take his 7.3 million dollar paycheck off their salary cap.  .

Petteri Nokelainen – Restricted free agent.  Kills penalties effectively.   Pretty good faceoff man.  May be pushed out  by younger talent.  Limited or no scoring ability.

Ryan White – Checking, and providing grit, feistiness and energy is what White does best.  Has not been used at much at centre since his call up.

22-Andreas Engqvist - Hamilton Bulldogs

Andreas Engqvist –- 6’4” 200lbs.    Led Hamilton in scoring, which is faint praise.  After a failure to impress in four callups, he was asked to change his game from that of a fourth line checker to a more offensive role.  His game seems to fall apart when asked to play at the NHL level.   Jury very much out on his future.

Louis Leblanc –  There may be a time when Louis Leblanc will be a front line centre but right now, with the Canadiens he’s a right winger.  Will probably be a centre in Hamilton if the Canadiens feel he needs more experience.  Needs to fill out physically.  Lots of skill.  Big upside.

Gabriel Dumont –  Drafted 139th overall 2009,   Candidate for fourth line.  Off what we saw in training camp and in those three games he played at the end of the season, he looks like a capable checking forward.   He’s not big at 5’10” but very competitive.  Still waiting for him to start scoring the way he did his final year of junior (51 goals 42 assists).  The Canadiens will probably wait a bit to see if he can discover his scoring touch in the pros.

Joonas Nattinen –6’2”   200lbs.    Excellent skater.   First year in North America.  Struggled through first three months of the season.  AHL Player of the Week in January.  Intelligent.  Not very physical for his size.   Once he figures out the North American game he has a chance to be an asset.

Michael Bournival – Signed to a three year entry level contract starting next season.  Former third round draft pick by Colorado, his rights were acquired in return for Ryan O’Byrne.   Had injury problems and appeared in only 41 games in his final junior year at Shawinigan but still set a career high in goals with 30.  Hard worker and very competitive.

Olivier Fortier –  6’0”   190lbs.   Drafted 65th overall in 2007.  Fortier was featured as a bottom-six forward for the Bulldogs in 2010-11.    Injury problems last season.  Has not shown any offensive ability.

Unsigned but in the system –

Mark MacMillan -( 113th overall 2010)   6’0”  160lbs.  Coming into sophomore year at University of North Dakota.  Good playmaker and hard worker.  Teammate of Danny Kristo.

Daniel Pribyl (drafted 168th overall 2011)  Long term project.   Canadiens drafted him for his size – 6’3”  200lbs.  Played 21 games in the Czech second division scoring 9 goals and 4 assists, 17 games with Sparta Prague in the elite league scoring two goals.   Under contract for one more year in Prague.

Michael Cichy – 199th pick 2009 – Good hockey sense but slow.  Transferred from the University of North Dakota this year to Western Michigan because he couldn’t crack the Fighting Sioux lineup, which does not bode well.   Under NCAA rules he must sit out a year because of the transfer.

Unlike the left wing position, there’s some talent in the organization starting with the four or five centres already with the team.  Although there some questions about his confidence level in the NHL, the big body Engqvist would be near the top of the callup list along with Dumont.   The Canadiens probably would like to see whether Dumont can become a consistant scorer before giving him a regular shot.  We’ll probably start to see Nattinen sometime during the 2012-13 season.

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