Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.
2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens were one of the biggest surprises last season as they greatly surpassed expectations. After a disastrous season in 2017-18 where they finished fourth from last in the entire NHL, the Canadiens bounced back with a 25-point improvement. However, the club still narrowly missed out on a playoff spot by just two points. This was led by off-season acquisitions Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, who finished first and second in overall scoring for the club. As well as the return of Captain Shea Weber and a bounce-back season by Carey Price.
The Canadiens managed to hold a record of 11-9-5 without their captain. Which was respectable given they were missing their top defenceman and had several new players join the roster. The Canadiens managed to go on a nice run after the return of their captain and were sitting in a wild card spot for practically the entire season. That was until the last month of the season where they lost a few key games that ended their playoff hopes. Two during a west coast trip to California where they lost back to back nights against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. One of which saw a questionable coaching call to start Antti Niemi against the Sharks and they lost 5-2.
The Habs then lost two more crucial games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets. This pretty well sealed the deal for the Canadiens. They were chasing both these teams for the final Wild Card position. They needed to beat at least one of them to give themselves a shot. The Canadiens ended the season on a high note beating the Maple Leafs in which was a sensation debut for rookie Ryan Poehling. However, the Habs missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The Canadiens struck gold at the NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver. With the 15th overall pick, the Habs selected elite American sniper, Cole Caufield. Caufield was a projected top 10 pick but fell to the Habs mostly due to his size. This was a huge win in itself for the Habs, as the depth on the right side upfront is not as strong as the other positions. As well, they need goal-scoring help both on the powerplay and even strength and Caulfield will certainly provide that in the near future.
The Canadiens used five of their 10 picks to address the need on left defence. Most notably physical specimen Jayden Struble and Swedish star Mattias Norlinder. To get a complete review of the Canadiens draft, click here.
The Canadiens tried to make a big splash in free agency by signing Sebastian Aho to the first offer sheet since Ryan O’Reilly did it in 2013. The Habs were also in on Matt Duchene right down to the wire until he eventually chose to bring his talents to the Nashville Predators. Marc Bergevin did make two notable signings, however, signing back up goaltending Keith Kinkaid to a one-year deal as well and left-shot defenceman Ben Chiarot to a three-year contract. Both players address organizational needs for the club. Chiarot is not the top pairing left defenceman that fans were hoping the Canadiens would acquire, however, he is a defensive specialist capable of playing big minutes for the club. Chiarot brings a strong physical game and is an exceptional penalty killer. He will certainly be an upgrade over former Habs defenceman Jordie Benn.
Kinkaid will also be a welcomed addition for Price and the Habs. Last year’s back up Antti Niemi could not come through in the clutch for the Canadiens last season and potentially cost them a playoff berth last season. They were in desperate need to get a quality backup to ease the load for Price and give the club a chance to win every night. That’s what they are getting in Kinkaid.
Projected Lines for the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
The first line will be the Habs most productive line from last season; Tatar, Danault and Gallagher. This line was put together to start the 2018-19 campaign and stayed together for the majority of the year. Both Danault and Tatar hit new career highs in points for 53 and 58 respectively. Gallagher also hit a new career-high in goals with 33. This line will be relied upon to drive the offence for the Canadiens.
The second line will be made up of Drouin, Domi and rookie Suzuki. Domi is coming off a career year where he scored 28 goals and added 44 assists for 72 points. Drouin also tied a career-high with 53 points. They should be joined by rookie Nick Suzuki. Suzuki took the OHL by storm this past season and has nothing left to prove at the junior level. However, some could argue that a year in Laval may be what’s best for the young star. However, Suzuki had an excellent camp last season and with the extra year should have a legitimate shot at making the big club. The Canadiens desperately need to improve the powerplay this season and Suzuki would certainly help with that.
The third line will be the all Finnish line of Lehkonen, Kotkaniemi and Armia. The trio spent time together last season and is a solid two-way line capable of putting up a ton of points as well as shutting down opposing teams’ top players. Kotkaniemi looks to have put on some muscle in the off-season and after a successful rookie campaign, should come out even strong this season. Both Lehkonen and Armia have the ability to put up between 15 to 20 goals per season and are extremely valuable penalty killers.
The fourth line will be filled by veteran Paul Byron, rookie Poehling and late-season addition Weal. This could also change as the club re-signed Nate Thompson to a one year deal as well as brought in Nick Cousins. This line gives the Canadiens an energy line with some goal-scoring prowess as Byron is capable of scoring 20 goals per season and Weal provided 10 points in 16 games after joining the Canadiens last season. Rookie Ryan Poehling was a pleasant surprise in his NHL debut last season, as he scored a hat-trick as well as the shootout winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the season finale. He looked like a man amongst boys in the Habs rookie camp earlier this summer and looks to be a lock to make the big club.
Defence Pairing for the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot-Jeff Petry
The first pairing will be young speedy defenceman Victor Mete and Weber. This pairing was together most of last season and Mete compliments Weber well with his skating abilities. Mete is an exceptional puck mover, however, doesn’t have the shot to provide the offence as a top-pairing defenceman. He is still developing and with work could provide that spark for the Canadiens.
Weber does it all for the Canadiens. Although he is slowing down speed-wise, he is still a physical force who plays a hard-nosed game. He also provides some much-needed goal-scoring from the back end with his cannon of a shot. Weber is the best player for Mete to develop his game with as he is still arguably one of the best defenders in the league.
The second pairing consists of newcomer Chiarot being paired with veteran Jeff Petry. These two players look like a match made in heaven. Chiarot is a defensive specialist who plays a rugged physical game. While Petry is a smooth-skating puck-moving defenceman capable of putting up 40-50 points per season. Chiarot will see a lot of penalty-kill time for the Canadiens this season while Petry should serve on the Habs second powerplay unit.
The third pairing is projected to be Brett Kulak and Noah Juulsen. Kulak has a magnificent season last year spending time in the Habs top four and looking like a natural there. He’s a reliable defender who can move up the lineup when need be in case of an injury. Juulsen will be returning after being shut down for the remainder of the season due to a facial fracture. At one point the injury was thought to be career-threatening. However, Juulsen will be at training camp and ready to earn his spot back into the Canadiens top six. Juulsen played excellent in the 21 games he played last season. He brings a physical aspect much like Chiarot, however, brings a bit more offensively.
Goalies for the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
This is arguably the best goaltending duo the Canadiens have had since the Habs had Price and Jaroslav Halak. Price is the clear number one as he is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL. He is the backbone of this Canadiens team and is capable of stealing games night in and night out. With Price healthy, the Canadiens have a chance to win every night. He is the key to the Canadiens success.
Although Kinkaid’s numbers were less than flattering last season, it has more to do with how bad the New Jersey Devils were last season than the player himself. Kinkaid is a solid number two to Price. The Habs will be able to trust him to come in at any given time to give Price a night off and secure a victory for the Canadiens. Something that the Canadiens did not have last season and ultimately resulted in them missing the playoffs.
Players to Watch for the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
Last season Drouin tied a career-high with 53 points. However, this season promises to be even better. Now in his third year with the Canadiens, Drouin is settling in on the wing after he experimented at centre in his first year. Drouin showed some chemistry with Max Domi last season and should continue to build on that as they get placed on the same line again. Drouin is buying into the system and has recently been sitting down with assistant coach Dominic Ducharme going over tape. He wants to figure out what his bad habits are and what he has been doing well, as well as look at other players like him and what their tendencies are. This is very encouraging to see from the Habs star and should help him become a more consistent player for the Canadiens this season.
Mete had an up and down season last year. However, after a demotion to the AHL, Mete came back and never looked better. His skating is elite and uses his positioning and stick work to make up for his lack of size in the defensive end. Mete has spent the summer working on his shot and trying to get stronger to help defend better against the bigger players. At 21 years old, he still has tons of time to develop into a top-pairing defenceman which he’s being cast as now. He has done an excellent job thus far and should continue to build on that this season. We may also finally see him score his first NHL goal as well.
Kotkaniemi entered the NHL last season as an 18-year-old and turned heads in the early going. While he had some growing pains, overall he was very good for the Canadiens. He promises to be even better this season. Kotkaniemi has bulked up and should prove to be even better now that he has a year under his belt. Kotkaniemi showed that he had the skillset and vision to be a top centre for the Canadiens in the future. He will look to build on his 34 points from last season. It is not far-fetched to think he could produce somewhere in the 50-60 range this season.
Predictions for the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens
While last year the hockey world had the Canadiens wrote off from the get-go, it’s not the same feeling entering this season. The Canadiens will be looking to build off their impressive 96 point performance a season ago. With the additions of Poehling and Suzuki to go along with a slightly upgraded defence, the Canadiens should be battling with the top teams in the Atlantic. Having Shea Weber healthy to start the season is a huge plus for the Canadiens as well. Having him to start the season last year could have made the difference of them making the playoffs. The offence should be much improved as the Canadiens have four lines capable of providing offence. Players like Suzuki, Poehling and an improved Jesperi Kotkaniemi should help improve the powerplay as well.
Taking all of this into consideration, I will predict the Canadiens will finish third in the Atlantic division, setting up an entertaining all Canadian match up against their long-time rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 23: Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Domi (13) celebrate his goal with his teammates at the bench during the Buffalo Sabres versus the Montreal Canadiens game on March 23, 2019, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)