The 2011-12 NHL season for the Montreal Canadiens was one of the worst in their storied history. The team finished a tumultuous year having fired an assistant coach, a head coach, and a GM while accumulating only 78 points, good for last place in the Eastern Conference.
On May 2nd, the Canadiens hired a new GM in former NHL player Marc Bergevin, who has built a management team that includes Assistant Managers Rick Dudley and Larry Carriere (retained), Director of Player Personnel Scott Mellanby, and Director of Scouting Trevor Timmins (retained). On June 5th, Bergevin hired Michel Therrien for his second stint as the Head Coach of the Canadiens.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Nathan Beaulieu, D
2. Louis Leblanc, C
3. Jarred Tinordi, D
4. Brendan Gallagher, RW
5. Danny Kristo, RW
6. Blake Geoffrion, LW
7. Aaron Palushaj, RW
8. Andreas Engqvist, C
9. Michael Bournival, C
10. Patrick Holland, RW
Montreal has a few major areas of concern that Bergevin will need to address in order to get a better start to the 2012-13 season. First, the Canadiens lacked scoring depth behind their top line. Second, Montreal's defense as a group was soft and lacking physicality in their own end, which led to the team giving up goals on second and third chances. Third, the team's power play absolutely disappeared, finishing at the bottom of the NHL. The last concern is the cause of the 400+ man-games lost to injuries.
Defensively, the Canadiens will need improved play from P.K. Subban and a healthy Andrei Markov while seeing more improvement from rookies Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin and Yannick Weber. The team lost veterans Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, and Chris Campoli to trades and free-agency and will need a big, physical veteran defenseman to fill the void.
Montreal will have to make some difficult decisions on free agents Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche while deciding what to do with the expensive contracts of under-performing Tomas Kaberle, Rene Bourque, and Scott Gomez. The Canadiens have 10 restricted free agents that will need to be re-signed to contracts along with the task of signing Subban and goaltender Carey Price to new long-term deals.
The organization saw breakout offensive years out of their young forwards David Desharais, Max Pacioretty, and solid overall improvement from Lars Eller at the NHL level despite the team's difficult season. There are some depth players just on the fringe of being full-time NHL players, including Louis Leblanc, Blake Geoffrion, Aaron Palushaj, and Ryan White.
Montreal has a solid group of two-way forwards like Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, Patrick Holland on their way to the professional level after very good junior careers. Danny Kristo, Mark MacMillian, Dustin Walsh, and possibly Steve Quailer will continue their solid development at the NCAA level.
Although the Canadiens have excellent goaltending at the NHL level with starter Carey Price and his effective backup, Peter Budaj, the organization lacks quality netminders at the minor league levels. Robert Mayer has not improved his consistency or shown the capabilities to be a starter with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. Peter Delmas had a very good season playing a full year in the ECHL as the starter for the Wheeling Nailers but has to show he can play at the AHL level. Montreal has no other young prospects developing in the CHL or Europe, leaving the organization with no goaltending depth in their system.
The Canadiens don't have much in the way of players with size or high talent level, but the team does have good two-way depth. The team could correct this problem with their three picks in the first 51 selections at this year's NHL Draft.
Montreal will arrive at the 2012 NHL Draft holding at least six selections; 3rd, 33rd, 51st, 64th, 94th, 154th overall.
The last time that the Montreal Canadiens were able to select this high in the NHL Draft was in 2005 when they selected Carey Price fifth overall despite having Hart and Vezina trophy winner Jose Theodore as the team's starting goaltender.
The Canadiens have a history over the last seven years under the Gainey/Gauthier management and the Director of Scouting, Trevor Timmins, of drafting players mostly from North America, but will also select players out of Europe. The organization still has Timmins to guide new GM Marc Bergevin and it's highly unlikely the team will change their draft philosophy of taking the best player available regardless of his position. This is an important draft for the Montreal Canadiens' re-tooling plan and they can't afford to get this one wrong.
The Canadiens need bigger and more talented offensive forwards. But most of all, they need to get larger up the middle of the ice. The team has many solid prospects at defense coming up to the professional level over the next two years, so it is likely they will go for a forward at this year's NHL Draft.
Grigorenko is a big natural center and a slick playmaker with excellent vision who can also score. He had an excellent rookie season in the QJMHL but struggled in the second round of the playoffs, leaving many scouts questioning the big center's consistency, work ethic and desire. The Russian-born forward struggled through an ankle injury in the WJC and a shoulder injury into February then at some point contracted mononucleosis during the QJMHL playoffs. The talented rookie still had 10 points in 11 playoff games while being sick for at least the second round. The last player to fall at the NHL Draft because he had mononucleosis was Sean Couturier and look how that turned out for the Philadelphia Flyers. Grigorenko has nowhere near the two-way game that Couturier has shown but the skilled center has more offensive upside to his game and could be the big, slick, playmaking center that Montreal Canadiens' fans haven't seen since the days of the great Jean Beliveau.
The Canadiens will also be considering forwards Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, and even Nail Yakupov if he is still available. It would not be a surprise to see the organization draft a defenseman such as Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba, or Jacob Trouba, however.