With training camp just around the corner, many NHL fans and experts are making predictions for the season. This can be an interesting time of year as these predictions can sometimes make for an interesting debate within the hockey world.
Five Montreal Canadiens Predictions Heading Into the 2017-18 Season
The Montreal Canadiens are coming off an interesting summer where the team changed significantly. The biggest change is that the Habs will be without long-time defenseman Andrei Markov, who opted to play in the KHL next season rather than return to the Canadiens. While this is a huge blow for the Canadiens, they have added some young talent to try to replace the void.
With that being said, here are five predictions heading into the Montreal Canadiens’ season.
1. The Canadiens Will Finish Second in the Atlantic
While it seems most of the teams in the Atlantic have gotten better as of late, the Canadiens are still second best. After the loaded Tampa Bay Lightning, the Habs seem to be the next best team thanks to Carey Price and his supporting cast.
Even when the Canadiens have rough nights, Price is in the crease and ready to backstop his team. He will steal quite a few games next season, and be the team’s backbone in making the playoffs. However, his health could be the deciding factor in whether the Canadiens make the playoffs or not.
Overall, the Canadiens are also more likely to score more goals as a team thanks to the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin. Losing Alexander Radulov in free agency makes this move look more of a replacement for him. It is more than that as at 22 years old, Drouin is continuing to get better and is already putting up Radulov numbers. Drouin will give a much-needed scoring boost that will propel the Canadiens into the second position in the Atlantic.
The only team that could be a threat to take the Canadiens for second in the Atlantic is the young Toronto Maple Leafs. The reason that it is unlikely is that a sophomore slump is likely to hit the team. Other teams such as the Buffalo Sabres are not ready to make the step up to a top three team just yet.
2. The Habs Will Make It to the Conference Finals
This prediction is a little bolder than the last but is a very real possibility nonetheless. The Canadiens will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals as their competition won’t be as strong as last season. Despite some teams in the division getting better, the Canadiens could still control the division by finishing second.
First off, there is no goalie that should be able to out-duel Price in a battle of the crease (Craig Anderson is aging). The Lightning will have an inexperienced playoff goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. This gives a good advantage to the Habs when facing any divisional opponent in the playoffs. This will allow the Canadiens to be able to win with their defense first mentality by winning close low-scoring games.
Secondly, there is no polished superstar in the division that could dominate the Canadiens. Sure, the Maple Leafs have Auston Matthews, but he hasn’t proven enough to carry the team on his back. This allows the Canadiens to win by playing a team game to win their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Finally, the Canadiens have $8.5 million to spend. This will allow them to use their cap space to pick up a player to make the team better at the trade deadline if Marc Bergevin hasn’t already done so by then. This could put the Canadiens over the top in their division, giving them control. Expect something to be done during the season with that money.
3. Alex Galchenyuk Will Lead the Team in Scoring
It seems bold but if Alex Galchenyuk stays healthy he can put up points like he did at the beginning of last season. Late in the season, Galchenyuk seemed like he hadn’t fully recovered from his knee injury. However, the talent is still there and ready to be used.
Expect Galchenyuk and Drouin to eventually form a great duo that will make the Canadiens dangerous. The two of them can easily collect 60+ points while playing together. They both have a great offensive skillset that can’t be matched by any other player on the team. Despite their offensive skill, they will need a defensive forward to balance the team out. The best option would likely be Artturi Lehkonen, as he has some untapped offensive potential and sees the game very well. That trio could potentially be the Canadiens top line for years to come.
Galchenyuk will also beat out Drouin to be the center that the Canadiens need in the top six. Despite what has been said as of late about Drouin, Galchenyuk’s experience in the NHL at that position gives him the advantage. Both need to work on their defensive game, but even at that Galchenyuk would still have the advantage when healthy.
Expect Galchenyuk’s game to go to the next level as he has something to prove.
4. Jakub Jerabek Won’t Pan Out
The acquisition of Jakub Jerabek is very similar to Jiri Sekac. Despite having a great year in the KHL, Sekac never lived up to expectations. This seems all too similar when looking at the 25-year old Jerabek. Going from the KHL to the NHL, without really ever playing in a North American game could be a very hard transition. He probably will be back in the KHL sooner than later.
If things do go right, he could the puck moving defenseman that the Habs need alongside Shea Weber. The Canadiens have been searching for a reliable puck moving defenseman since they decided to trade P.K. Subban for Weber. Jerabek and others were added this off-season in hope that one pans out. However, Jerabek who is inexperienced on North American ice is most likely a long-shot to becoming an everyday NHLer.
A player like Joseph Morrow has a better chance to be successful despite his lack of consistency over the years. There is hope that Claude Julien could rejuvenate Morrow’s career and he lives up to being a former first round pick.
5. Tomas Plekanec Will Be Traded at the Deadline
Another bold prediction is that Tomas Plekanec and the Montreal Canadiens will part ways at the deadline. After a rough season, Plekanec doesn’t seem like the same player he once was. He’s too expensive to put up 28 points in a season. However, his defensive game is still a big part of his game and he could potentially help a younger team in a playoff run with some leadership.
However, the Canadiens seem like they are ready for bigger things with players ready to take over such as Phillip Danault. Danault has the ability to produce the offense that Plekanec once provided and play the defensive role in the process.
The problem is that Plekanec doesn’t have the speed he once had and needs to be moved in favour of faster players.
The reason that Plekanec would be moved is that there are teams that look for a defensive forward heading into the playoffs which the Canadiens can give in exchange for a pick in the draft. This also depends on how Charles Hudon develops and whether he can play centre in the National Hockey League.
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