The Montreal Canadiens surprised everyone by jumping from 15th place in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to second in the conference and winning their division in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. The quick first round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators only confirmed to General Manager Marc Bergevin that his team is not built yet to be a yearly playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
This offseason, Bergevin will continue to tinker with the Canadien's talent pool in order to create a good balance between speed, skill, size, character, and toughness while also adding more depth. It is going to be a slow process for him to change the organization's make-up with all of the NHL teams looking for the same type of players. He knows a quick fix is not going to work for the Canadiens and this coming season will be even more difficult under the new NHL alignment.
The Top 10 Prospects:
1. Alex Galchenyuk, C
2. Nathan Beaulieu, D
3. Jarred Tinordi, D
4. Brendan Gallagher, RW
5. Danny Kristo, RW
6. Sebastian Collberg, RW
7. Louis Leblanc, C
8. Morgan Ellis, D
9. Michael Bournival, C
10. Patrick Holland, RW
The team will need to add more size and sandpaper to its forward group at all levels but can not achieve this by sacrificing too much of their offensive skill. Montreal will be hoping that young players such as Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller, and Alex Galchenyuk can continue progressing upward into top six forwards. Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Travis Moen will need to have bounce back years. With the salary cap coming down for the 2013-14 season, Bergevin will have some difficult decisions to make concerning his eight RFAs and whether to bring back any of his UFA players.
The Canadiens will need continued growth from P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz, and Alexei Emelin. Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges must perform up to their higher standards. With Emelin absent recovering from knee surgery to start the 2013-14 season, the small, puck-moving defense corps needs to add more physicality, size, and toughness to their group. A couple of big crease clearing defensemen that will be difficult to play against down low around the Canadien's net could be acquired or found from within the team's prospects pool.
Montreal has invested heavily into Carey Price and expects him to take a larger step forward in his development as an elite NHL goaltending as he will be entering his prime playing years. His late season struggles were a combination of things including lack of practice time in the condensed schedule, an inability to correct bad habits in his technique, reduced trust in the new defensive system, and general confidence issues. These problems must be addressed prior to the start of the upcoming season with the Canadien's new goaltending coach whom Bergevin has not yet hired.
Possibly the greatest organizational strength for the Montreal Canadiens has to be their success rate at developing prospects into NHL players. This past year, the organization leaned on Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe's NHL experience to help their young prospect learn what is needed to become a professional hockey player both on and off the ice. Their efforts proved to be a success, as Montreal saw a lot of positive growth in their prospect pool.
The Canadiens have solid depth at the defensive position in the organization's talent pool with players like Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, and Nathan Beaulieu. The three top rookie defensemen performed well enough at the AHL level to see time as injury replacements in the Canadiens' lineup this past season and could take further steps towards being full-time NHL players. Beyond those three, Montreal has a deep group of defensive prospects with varying skill sets including Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Magnus Nygren, Mac Bennett, and Dalton Thrower.
Montreal saw NHL rookie sensations Alex Galchenyuk and Calder Nominee Brendan Gallagher play an important part of the Canadiens successful turnaround this season. Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, and Patrick Holland showed solid improvement with the Bulldogs this season and could be good depth players. The same could be said for Louis Leblanc if he can return to his previous form. Danny Kristo, a standout a star at the NCAA level, will be playing his first full pro season and could push for an NHL roster spot or play a top-six role at the AHL level in the fall.
Although the Canadiens have good goaltending at the NHL level with starter Carey Price and backup Peter Budaj, the organization has little behind them, with four young goaltenders at the lower pro levels. Montreal has no goaltending prospects in the CHL or Europe, leaving the organization with a lack of depth at that position.
Montreal needs more players in their organizational pool that are difficult to play against around the opposition's net and down low in the defensive zone. In general the system lacks players with size and physicality. The team could address this issue with their six picks in the Top 90 selections at this year's NHL Entry Draft.
Montreal will have at least eight selections in the 2013 NHL entry draft: 25th, 34th, 36th, 55th, 71st, 86th, 176th, and 206th overall.
Under the guidance of the Director of Scouting Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens have drafted players mostly from North America over the last eight years but are not afraid to select European players when the right player is available.
Bergevin and his management team are unlikely to stray too far from the team's successful drafting philosophy of taking the best player available regardless of his position. It would not be a big surprise to see him try to move up in the draft to target a particular prospect that his scouting department feels could make an immediate impact on the NHL club. He has stated from day one on the job that he believes the best way to improve his hockey team for the long term is through the draft and good player development. The organization will also not go for short-term fixes at the expense of the future.
With six selections inside the top 90 at this year's NHL Entry Draft, it is very important for Montreal's current re-tooling plan that they get the most bang for the buck in order to help build more overall depth in the organization's talent pool. Character, toughness, work ethic, and potential offensive talent will be important attributes that the Canadiens will be looking for when selecting this year's draft prospects.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
Samuel Morin is a giant defenseman who is nasty, physical and more than willing to drop the gloves. The 6'6 blueliner lays big hits, battles well in front of the net and along the boards in his zone. A good skater for his size, Morin plays a shutdown style of game, using strong positioning and his long reach to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Morin has worked extra hard with his coaches on his puck skills, his slap shot, one-timer, and his first pass. He improved enough offensively and his poise with the puck in the second half of the season that his coaches played him on the team's first unit power play.
As a big lanky kid, he needs to gain muscle mass and there are some normal skating issues with his reverse pivots, edgework, and footwork speed. Morin has some raw offensive potential and should be at least a good defensive defenseman capable of making life difficult in the Canadiens end of the rink. The X-factor is that Morin grew up in the same neighborhood as GM Marc Bergevin.