Montreal Canadiens Young Defence Main Beneficiaries of Weber Injury

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The Montreal Canadiens were dealt some terrible news in June when the club found out Shea Weber had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. It was the second surgery Weber had in the past year, as he also had surgery to repair his fractured foot that he suffered in game one last season. The injury eventually ended Weber’s season. The all-star only ended playing in 26 games. Being without their top defender is not a good start. Especially for a team coming off their worst season since 2000-2001. However, as one door closes another one opens. While no one likes to see a player go down due to injury, it opens the door for the Canadiens young defence prospects. It gives them a real chance to show their worth and earn a spot with the big club.

Canadiens Young Defence Prospects biggest beneficiaries of Weber Injury

While the news of Weber missing the first few months is obviously a terrible blow to the Habs defence group, they have a lot of depth on the right side. The Canadiens have young players who are certainly ready to make the jump. There will surely be some internal competition for that roster spot between not only vets but some young prospects hoping to crack the lineup. Most notably Noah Juulsen, Brett Lernout and possibly Cale Fleury.

Noah Juulsen

When the news came out last season that Weber was shut down for the rest of the year, Juulsen was the first one to get recalled. He didn’t disappoint. In his first game with the club, he was paired with struggling defenceman Karl Alzner. Juulsen got 17 minutes of ice time including 3 minutes on the penalty kill. He posted a 61.67 Corsi-for percentage while playing 5V5. He earned the trust of Claude Julien instantly and Julien rewarded him with more playing time. Juulsen finished the year with one goal and two assists in 23 games and finished plus one. Which on the Canadiens is outstanding considering as a club they were a -41.

Juulsen was projected to make the club this year and play on the bottom pairing behind Weber and Jeff Petry. He will now slot into the two hole on the right side, where he played last season. He has already proven he is able to handle the minutes and that he is able to handle the speed of the game at the NHL level. Juulsen has all the tools in his repertoire to become a very solid NHL defenceman and this extra responsibility will be great for his development.

Brett Lernout

Much like Juulsen, Lernout got the call towards the end of the season to basically get an early tryout for this upcoming season. Originally drafted in the third round of the 2014 NHL entry draft, Lernout quickly became one of the Habs top defence prospects and was called up to the Hamilton Bulldogs for six games his first year after his draft. Lernout has spent three seasons with the Habs AHL affiliate developing his game in the minors before making the leap to the NHL. Lernout is a strong skater who plays an aggressive game. He makes a good first pass coming out of the zone but doesn’t provide a whole lot in terms of offence. He has a long stick which he uses to keep opponents to the outside and close the gap between him and his opponent.

For Lernout, the road to the NHL has been long. So far, Lernout has only played in 21 games for the Habs and has recorded one assist. His offensive abilities are certainly not going to be his ticket to the show. He will need to rely on his strong defensive play which he is more known for in order to win a spot in the Habs lineup. Lernout also needs to adjust to the speed of the NHL game. He doesn’t have as much time to move the puck as he did in the AHL which got him in trouble in his first few appearances in the NHL. However, Lernout made the adjustments early and started to look more comfortable towards the end of the season. It’s something he will need to continue to work on this season.

Cale Fleury

If we learned anything from Victor Mete last season, its that age is merely a number. Fleury was the best defenceman for the Regina Pats at this year’s Memorial Cup and is looking to be one of the steals from the 2017 Draft. He greatly improved his point production last season, as he scored 51 points in 68 games between Kootenay and Regina.  Fleury prides himself on his two-way ability. He is able to provide offence but also gets the responsibility of shutting down the other teams’ top units. Fleury likes to use his large frame to lay punishing hits. He’s a very aggressive defender and will make you pay if you have your head down. He reminds you of a more complete version of Alexei Emelin.

While he is a long shot to make the team, he stated after the Memorial Cup that it was his goal to make the Habs this season. For the Habs, this is where it gets interesting. With guidelines being different when it comes to determining age between the NHL and AHL, the Habs could exploit a loophole. Fleury’s birthday is November 19th. So the cutoff date for the NHL is September 15th, meaning Fleury is considered a 19-year-old at the NHL level. However, the AHL cutoff date is December 31st. Meaning Fleury is considered a 20-year-old and eligible to play in their league all while not burning a year off his ELC. If he doesn’t make the big club, it may be best for the Habs and for Fleury’s development to sign him to an ELC and let him play in the AHL rather than the WHL.

Habs Have Some Decisions to Make

Losing your best defender creates a huge obstacle for a team losing to bounce back from a terrible year. The options are there, however, to fill the void short term until Weber returns. It gives the Habs a good look at how their youngsters will respond when called upon at the NHL level. It will also create some healthy competition within the lineup between the youngsters and veterans such as Jordie Benn and David Schlemko who haven’t quite solidified their place in the roster. If they get beat out for the job, the Habs will have to decide what to do with the veterans. They are already over the 23 man roster limit with other potential moves to come. Bergevin is surely to be busy between now and when camp opens in September.
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1 COMMENT

  1. tOO MANY PLAYERS, YOU HOPE SOME OTHER TEAM HAS A RASH OF INJURIES IN THEIR CAMP AND NEEDS A FEW EXTRA BODIES, so we can get a couple draft picks for schlemko, benn, etc

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