The Montreal Canadiens stormed out of the gates last season and never looked back en route to winning the Atlantic Division. They have a roster that seems like a random collection of players with no clear plan. They’ve gutted their blue line losing a good top 4 in the last year (Subban, Beaulieu, Sergachev, Markov) leaving themselves depending on Shea Weber far too much. Like last offseason, they made a massive trade in the summer, this time involving two young talents. This is a team who is getting the small things right but the big things wrong and that gives me significant concern going forward. Per usual, it’s all on Carey Price‘s shoulders. Their fantasy assets for this season look to be limited but there are a few guys with elite potential and some intriguing guys for deeper leagues. Let’s take a look at what Les Habitants are working with:
There are three forwards with elite fantasy potential on Montreal, all of which are at differing points in their careers. Let’s start with the best player, Max Pacioretty. Patches had his fourth consecutive 30 goal season last year tallying 35 goals on 268 shots. The 268 shots were a step back from his usual rate but remained elite. He’s only missed three games over the last three years, the penalty minutes are solid and the assists have stabilized in the low 30’s. The special team points are below average but that’s the only thing keeping Patches from being Vladimir Tarasenko. For his consistency, Patches is worth a pick in the third or fourth round.
Alex Galchenyuk had a strange season. After reaching 30 goals for the first time in 2015-16, Gally’s shot rate plummeted last season. In 61 games, he registered only 104 SOG. That simply has to get back to the 2.5 per game range for him to continue back down the elite path. My hope is that Claude Julien doesn’t jerk him around and leaves him with Patches the entire season. If things broke right, we could be looking at a 30+40 season. For his upside, he’ll probably crack my top 100, although it will be close.
After years of trade talk, Jonathan Drouin was finally moved this offseason. He flashed his potential last season totaling 21+32 in 73 games. There’s no denying his ability and there’s a chance that Drouin has his massive breakout this season. After all, he’s still just 22 years old. The main concern that I have is that Drouin scored almost half of his points (26/53) on the power play last season. Montreal’s power play is worse than Tampa’s and I’m not sure Drouin moves the needle enough by himself. He also won’t give you penalty minutes which caps his upside. There’s a chance he ends up giving you top 50 value but I’ll probably have Drouin ranked just outside of my top 100.
While he doesn’t have quite the potential the previous three guys have, I love Brendan Gallagher‘s chances to bounce back. After scoring 19+21 in 53 games in 2015-16, Gallagher struggled in 16-17 having 10+19 in 64 games. There are multiple reasons why I like a rebound. One, Gallagher’s shot volume remained around 3 per game. Two, Gallagher shot 5.3% last season. Given that his career shooting percentage, including the 5.3% last season, is 9.2%, we should see some positive regression. Three, the penalty minutes are above average. Four, he has a spot in the top six locked down. Five, Gallagher should get significant power play time giving him upside (he had only 3 PPP last year). Six, there is no six, isn’t five enough!? Gallagher will be one of my favorite mid round targets.
These four forwards are the only Canadiens who are must-draft in standard 12 man leagues. They do have five players who are streamer worthy. Artturi Lehkonen and Phillip Danault should fill out the top six. Of the two, I prefer Lehkonen. The Fin had a nice rookie season and finished on a high note totaling 18+10 in 73 games. The good news is that Lehkonen averaged under 14 minutes per game last season. Add in an increased role and continued progression at 22 years old and he’s an elite streamer. The only reasons that I wouldn’t draft him in 12’ers are the lack of penalty minutes and only secondary power play time. Danault’s first full season in Montreal was a pleasant surprise for the Montreal faithful as he reached 40 points (13+27). The penalty minutes were average but the shot rate was quite poor. That alone drops him into streamer territory. It wouldn’t shock me if Danault reached 50 points but that shot rate has to climb to become a hold.
Andrew Shaw should be streamed if you need penalty minutes. If your team really needs PIM, I could see owning him on the bottom of your roster but I’d rather look to other guys to fill that role. He won’t kill you in the offensive categories so he’s worth keeping on your radar.
Paul Byron rarely shoots the puck but finds the back of the net at an extraordinary rate. Byron shot 23% last season to score 22 goals. 96 shots in 81 games was the best rate of his career. If your league doesn’t include SOG as a category, I could see streaming him but otherwise, he’s only worth using on short slates if he’s a hot schmotato.
I certainly wouldn’t draft Ales Hemsky in a standard league but he has my attention. I thought it was a great signing by Montreal getting him for 1 year at only $1 million dollars <Dr. Evil voice>. Last season was ruined by injuries but Hemsky was a solid streamer in 2015-16. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets back to that level this coming season.
Much like his team, Shea Weber fell off drastically in the second half of the season. It looked like he was going to make me a fool for ranking him poorly but Weber ended up settling right where I expected. Weber finished with 17+25 with a +20 rating and decent contributions elsewhere. Weber’s overall play has been declining for years now and I expect that downfall to continue. That said, because of his incredible shot and power play ability, Weber’s stat-line should be in the same ballpark as last season. That makes him a #2 fantasy defenseman, probably on the low end because of how poor the assists are. We know how high the variance in plus-minus is and Weber’s should regress.
Weber is the only blueliner that needs to be drafted in 12 man leagues. They have a few players that could emerge but I’ll be taking a wait and see approach. I think the most likely player to become fantasy relevant is Jeff Petry. Petry had a great month last season and with Andrei Markov gone, there is some additional power play upside for Petry. The problem is that last year’s 28 points were a career high. Keep him on your radar but leave him on the wire to start in 12’ers.
The other Canadien defenseman that I expect to get power play time is David Schlemko. The journeyman has power play experience which is more than you can say for the other Montreal guys. Again, it’s nowhere near drafting in 12 man leagues but it’s worth monitoring.
Carey Price received the largest goaltending contract in history this offseason getting 8 years with an AAV of 10.5 million. While that contract will almost certainly get ugly on the back end, there’s no arguing Price’s current value. Price posted a .923 sv% last season which was his worst in 4 years. The consistency is remarkable and 2015-16’s injuries look to be a thing of the past. He won’t be the first goalie in my rankings but he’ll be in the first tier.
Al Montoya remains the backup to Price. Montoya was mediocre last season but he should be a viable streaming option when he gets the nod.
HITS / BLOCKS LEAGUES
This is where a bunch of Montreal players go for bottom end options to clear holds. Petry is elite in both hits and blocks making him must-own in even shallow leagues. Weber also gets a boost to the point where he’s a borderline #1. Karl Alzner moves onto the radar since he’s been among the league leaders in blocks in the past. His minutes should increase as well and there’s a chance that he’s a possession black hole with Weber which would increase their blocks. Knock Galchenyuk down a couple tiers due to his lack of hits.
None of the players in Montreal’s bottom six or bottom four on defense have long term upside. The only change for dynasties is the obvious one: boost up the elite young talent (Galchenyuk, Drouin). I’d be sure to target Gallagher given that’s he still 25. Being able to keep him Lehkonen might be enough to draft him at the bottom of my roster. I would be looking to sell Weber now.
Having moved Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin, the cupboard is bare in terms of elite talent. That said, Montreal has compiled a fairly deep core. Noah Juulsen is a safe bet to be a solid NHL’er with power play potential due to his big slapshot. Victor Mete took a huge step last season after being a 4th rounder in 2016. Charles Hudon had his second straight great year in the AHL last season. Charlie Lindgren has potential to be a #1 goalie in the NHL. That said, I don’t think any of these guys have enough upside to take them in dynasty drafts outside of an incredibly deep league. There are three forwards who are behind these guys right now but have great potential down the line.
Ryan Poehling was their first round pick a month ago. He’ll be playing at St. Cloud State and is a couple years away but Poehling has flashed the upside playing for the USA’s U-18 team. He’s not a top 50 prospect but certainly in the top 100.
Joni Ikonen was their second round pick and if you want to shoot the moon on a prospect, he’s a solid choice. Ikonen is only 18 (born in ’99, man that makes me feel old!) so it’ll take a while for him to reach the NHL but the upside is through the roof.
Nikita Scherbak is closest to the NHL having played in St. John’s last season. There’s a decent chance that he gets some time in Montreal this year and I hope that it happens. He has the ability to be a top six winger so given that he’s further along his progression, he would be the first Montreal prospect I select in a fantasy rookie draft.
That’s all for now guys. Please leave any questions, comments or suggestions below. I will stick with this format unless you guys let me know some changes you would like to see. I’ll be going through the division in order of finish which means Ottawa is next on the docket. They will be a much more interesting team to look at, especially in terms of dynasty leagues / prospects. Thanks for reading, take care!