The Montreal Canadiens have submitted their opening night line up and are ready to get underway against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. Marc Bergevin declared that last years team’s biggest issue was their attitude and he addressed this in a big way in the off-season. Bergevin pulled the trigger on some big trades as well as hired a brand new coaching staff. Here is a look at the Montreal Canadiens opening night roster.
Montreal Canadiens Opening Night Roster
The Habs went through a disastrous season in 2017-18 and Marc Bergevin wasted no time completely stripping down the team from the coaching staff to the players. They started by hiring Dominic Ducharme, Joel Bouchard and Luke Richardson to the coaching staff. They then traded their former captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas as well as disgruntled forward Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona. The team has nine different players in the lineup on opening night this year compared to last season. Bergevin vowed that his team was going to be younger and faster this season and he stayed true to his word. The Canadiens have an average age of 26 years old. They also have the youngest player in the NHL in Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Watching the Habs in the pre-season you could tell the outlook from the team was totally different than last season. The Habs looked lost in the pre-season last year and it carried over to the regular season. This year, the teams work ethic was completely different. This was on full display when they played the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second time in the pre-season. The Leafs dressed the closest thing to their opening night roster, and with the Habs missing key players like Weber, Gallagher, Armia and Domi, they still outplayed the Leafs that night. While they ended up losing the game 5-3, the effort was on display. Although it’s only pre-season it sets the tone for the upcoming season. All the players are buying into the system and should prove to bring a much more competitive team this season.
The first line features two players who are very familiar with each other in Danault and Gallagher. They are joined by newcomer Tomas Tatar who basically is taking over Max Pacioretty‘s place in the lineup. Brendan Gallagher will look to build off his career year last season where he scored 31 goals. Tatar is a proven 20 goal scorer as he has done so in each of the past four seasons. Danault may be miscast as a number one centre, but last year Pacioretty played his best hockey with Danault on his side. It could prove much the same with Tatar as well.
The second line could possibly be the Habs most dangerous line and could be considered more of a 1B line. Drouin looked like a completely different player than last year as he is back to his natural position on the wing. He is joined by this year’s third overall pick Kotkaniemi, and fellow Finn, Armia. Kotkaniemi forced the Habs to keep him with the team rather than send him back to Finland or to Laval. Although he is just 18 years old, Kotkaniemi handled himself like a pro and showed his creativity early on in camp and made the players around him better. Rounding out the group, Armia is like a swiss army knife for the Habs. He is very skilled and has tremendous hands. He is also one of the Habs best defensive forwards and penalty killers. This line should provide most of the offence for the Habs.
Byron and Lehkonen are joined by newcomer Max Domi to fill out a third line which should be a thorn in their opponent’s sides each and every night. The will be no shortage of effort with this group and all three give 110% each and every shift. Domi has always been known as an elite playmaker. With Byron scoring 20 plus goals the past two season and Lehkonen being a proven goal scorer as well, there should be no shortage of offence on this line either. It gives the Habs three potential scoring lines, which they haven’t had in years.
The fourth line has no shortage of effort either as longtime Habs Tomas Plekanec sees himself in between another newcomer in Matthew Peca and the rugged warrior Andrew Shaw. Plekanec’s best years may be behind him but he is still very reliable in his own end and proved to be one of the Maple Leafs best players in the playoffs last season. Shaw is hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued season last year. Peca will be the one to watch here as he is a very skilled player with great skating ability. He has the ability to put up points and is a very underrated signing for Marc Bergevin. He could potentially play is way into a bigger role with the Habs as the season goes on.
Not to be forgotten the Habs have Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak as well who can certainly work their way into this lineup. Hudon played all last year with the Habs and lays it all on the line each and every shift and is skilled enough to be in the top nine. Scherbak’s skill and vision are outstanding but has struggled with consistency. He will need to work on that if he wants to become an everyday player for the Habs.
With Shea Weber sidelined until mid-December, Jeff Petry slides up into the top pairing alongside Mike Reilly. Reilly may be miscast as a top pairing defenceman but has had a solid camp and is a very good puck mover. Something the Habs were missing in their lineup. Petry stepped up his game last season and put up the best season of his career offensively in the absence of Weber. Petry scored 12 goals and added 30 assists for 42 points while also quarterbacking the powerplay. He will look to do much of the same while the Habs wait for their captain to return.
The second pairing features two youngsters who put together solid camps and looked very good in their limited action last season. Mete made the team last year at 19 years old. He has a solid rookie campaign. Mete was one of the only players on the Habs to finish out the season and a plus player. Mete is a very strong skater and puck mover. He doesn’t have the biggest frame but has a very active stick and knows how to use his body to win puck battles in the corners. The one knock on Mete last season was his shot. He doesn’t have the booming shot from the point so at times it seemed he was reluctant to put pucks on net. He started to shoot the puck more than he ever has in the pre-season and should more and more as the season goes.
Juulsen is the perfect compliment to Mete. He plays a solid defensive game and is a more stay at home type of defender than Mete. Juulsen is also a very good skater that helps him close the gap between him and his opponents. He also has a powerful shot and with Mete’s puck-moving ability he should be able to set him up for one-timers. Juulsen is a very good shot blocker as well, which Carey Price will certainly appreciate.
The third pairing features veteran Karl Alzner and well as newcomer Xavier Ouellet. Alzner will be looking to bounce back after a poor season in 2017-18. He was one of the Habs worst defenceman last season. He did come around last season once he was paired with Noah Juulsen but will have a new partner to start the season this year. That partner will be Xavier Ouellet. Ouellet seems to have outplayed and taken the top-six role from Jordie Benn for now. He is a solid puck mover with excellent mobility, which makes him the perfect compliment to Alzner.
While the Canadiens as a team are looking to have a bounce-back year, no one wants it more than Carey Price. Price had an injury-riddled season and it certainly affected his game as he put up the worst numbers of his entire career. Price finished the season with a record of 16-26-7 with a GAA of 3.11 and a save percentage of .900. Its a far cry from the goalie who finished third in Vezina trophy just the season before. He can’t take all the blame, but Price has to better. Price said he is going to earn every penny of his new eight-year $84 million contract and there is no reason to believe he won’t do so. Price is an all-world goalie and arguably the best in the world at the position. He will surely prove the naysayers wrong.
Antti Niemi will serve as Price’s back up this season after closing out the season strong for the Habs last season in Price’s absence and earning a new one year contract. Niemi posted a record of 7-5-4 with a 2.46 GAA and a .929 save percentage. If he can continue to play at that level he can be relied upon to take some of the load off of Price. The former Stanley Cup winner also brings another veteran presence to the Canadiens lineup, which will be extremely valuable for the young kids they have in the lineup this season.
Looking to Prove the Naysayers Wrong
The Canadiens are entering the season as a complete underdog that most fans and media have written off right from the start. They are expected to be a team in the Jack Hughes sweepstakes at seasons end. While in most cities that wouldn’t be necessarily a bad thing as it comes with no added pressure, that’s not the case here. It’s Montreal. It’s a hockey hotbed. There is always pressure for the team to compete and do well. The city bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge. It’s one of the hardest cities to play in but also one of the best when you’re winning.
This Habs group is a very underrated group. There is no shortage of character or work ethic here. They have a very deep group of wingers which shows with players like Hudon and Scherbak on the outside looking in. Players like Drouin and Price will be coming in with a chip on their shoulder after putting up underwhelming seasons the year before. As well as an elite defender like Shea Weber who is eager to return to the ice and come back stronger than ever. Marc Bergevin has put together a group who is willing to buy into the system and go out and work for every inch. As well as the perfect coaching staff to help develop their game.
This team is younger, more skilled and a lot faster than the team the Canadiens dressed for opening night last season. This team is going to be a surprise this season. A bounce-back year from players like Price, Drouin and Weber, once he returns in December, can very well propel this team back into the playoffs, and prove the naysayers wrong.