Kids Must Deliver For Habs To Succeed

The renaissance enjoyed by the Montreal Canadiens last season was buoyed by the play of some of their veteran players. It is ironic now that in the year where the team will celebrate its 100th anniversary and reminisce their rich history, its the team’s future that will determine whether the Habs succeed or fail.

The team added key pieces like Lang, Tanguay and Laraque who’ll add experience joining captain Koivu, team MVP Kovalev 3 veteran blueliners who as a trio are among the league’s best. But at the end of the day, its the team’s young players, the likes of the Kostitsyn’s, Price, Plekanec and others who will make or break the team this year. Their continued development and improvement will go a long way in not only allowing the team to duplicate it’s success from last season, but surpass it.

GM Bob Gainey has put in the necessary pieces in place, adding more depth, adding some leadership, adding championship experience and adding toughness and now he must watch and see if the team can put it all together. While he did not land the big name player he had hoped to acquire, Gainey has assembled a deep and talented squad that will prove again to be a tough opponent.

The responsibility of the team’s growth and success lies with coach Guy Carbonneau. Like many in his lineup Carbonneau is still growing and developing as a coach and has shown signs of maybe being among the elite. He and his staff have created a lights out powerplay and the key will be to keep it among the league’s best. There is cause for concern as they struggled in the playoffs with it and lost one of their key point men in Streit to free agency. Carbo must get the team to tighten up defensively. While there was marked improvement from 2007, they still gave up their fair share of shots and chances and must be better.

With however a juggernaut offence, depth and a potential future star in goal, this could be quite a powerhouse team for Carbo to work with.

Lineup

The Habs are littered with speed and skill, especially up front. Scoring will not be an issue. If Price can live up to expectations, this Canadiens squad could make this special year even more special.

C: Tomas Plekanec, Saku Koivu, Robert Lang, Max Lapierre, Steve Begin
RW: Alex Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tom Kostopoulos, Mathieu Dandenault, Georges Laraque
LW: Chris Higgins, Alex Tanguay, Sergei Kostitsyn, Guillame Latendresse

There is enough talent to field 3 scoring lines. The Habs will take advantage of this depth and continue to attack teams in waves with speed. Kovalev is the centrepiece. He stunned many with his terrific season last year, at times carrying the Habs on his back. After years of teasing teams and fans with his immense talent, he showed heart, leadership and desire making him one of the league’s best last year. He must continue leading his team.

The captain, Koivu, will probably take a step back with Lang now in the fold up the middle and still bring the many intangibles like faceoffs, leadership, work ethic and dedication without the pressures of having to produce big numbers. With more depth than ever around him, Saku could quietly have a great season. The addition of Tanguay will add a top end playmaker and proven point per game producer to the lineup.

The ultimate keys to success however belong to the kids. The Kostitsyns must continue to get better. Andrei had a breakout year and looks to be a fixture along side Kovalev. Sergei, a rookie, was really solid, brings more of an all around game. Both are important to the Habs plans as they have terrific, disruptive speed. Plekanec, another smart, fast player benefitted the most from Kovalev’s big year. He is perhaps their best two way player who has become a potent offensive force. Higgins is really due to do something big. He hasnt been bad whatsoever, but there is a ton of potential that many feel is untapped. He might benefit the most from the veteran additions and the depth. Latendresse might be the odd man out, but has the size the forward unit needs.

One of the biggest additions literally and figuratively, was Laraque who will have a major impact on the team which comes as a surprise for a 4th liner. But Laraque will allow for this smallish squad to play big knowing one of the league’s most feared fighters is waiting. He’ll also allow the grinders like Begin, Kostopoulos, Lapierre to maybe play with more of an edge with someone there to back them up. Too often the little Habs were overmatched physically. Those days may be over.

D: Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, Ryan O’Byrne, Francis Bouillon, Josh Gorges, Patrice Brisebois

Markov has developed into one of the league’s best. He and Komisarek form an elite top pair. Markov bring premium offense and a major key in jumpstarting the Habs dangerous attack. Komisarek is the shutdown guy, bringing toughness, grit and great shot blocking ability. If he can stay healthy, the Habs have 2 30 minute defenders.

Hamrlik is an excellent 3rd guy who is smart and saavy enough to fit into the offensive scheme but steady and reliable in his own end. As good as the other two are, Hamrlik is probably the glue that holds it all together. He needs a good partner and the likes of Brisebois, O’Byrne or maybe on of their almost ready prospects will challenge for that spot.

Gorges and Bouillon played ok as the 3rd pair but thats all they are. Asking too much could expose their limited skill levels. Dandenault in a pinch can play D if necessary.

G: Carey Price, Marc Denis

Of all the Habs youngsters, Price carries the heaviest burden. He has seen it all already after just 1 year. The pressures of playing there, being booed out all the way to the farm, being talked up like the almighty himself, Montreal’s playoff atmostphere. His biggest strength is his cool demeanor and he’ll need lots of that to handle the pressure bestowed to him this coming season. With the centennial celebration, the history of great Hab goaltenders, the return of Patrick Roy, perhaps the greatest ever, Price will need to bypass the sophmore jinx and have a monster year. The talent is all there. His rookie numbers somewhat prove he can deliver, and the experiences, both high and low, he gained last year should prepare him enough to deliver. If not, the solid Halak might be given the chance. Denis was a sound signing.

Depth

F: Greg Stewart, Brock Trotter, Eric Manlow, Matt D’Agostini, Ryan Flinn, Janne Lahti, Mike Glumac, Yanick Lehoux, JT Wyman
D: Pavel Valentenko, Jon Gleed, Shawn Belle, Mathieu Carle, Chad Anderson
G: Cedric Desjardins

Prospects

Already one of the best young teams in the NHL, the Habs have a deep cupboard of prospects on the way.

F: Ben Maxwell, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Chipchura, Ryan White, Danny Kristo,
D: Ryan McDonagh, Alexei Emelin, PK Subban, David Fischer, Yanick Weber
G: Jaroslav Halak

Halak should put some heat on Price in nets and both will probably push eachother to be better. The competition is healthy. Chipchura is the other with the best shot at making it. Not the swiftest skater or biggest scorer, Chipchura is a dogged checker, brings leadership, grit and is a fine faceoff man. He won a spot on the team last year and has a good chance at doing it again, only this time staying for good.

Here are some of the Habs other prospects:

Max Pacioretty – power type forward with good hands and skill
PK Subban – Mobile puck moving blueliner with some grit
Ryan McDonagh – Silky smooth skating defenceman a potential QB
Ben Maxwell – Smart two way forward could develop into top checker
Ryan White – Gritty offensive centre who is a smart playmaker

There is sufficient depth here that could afford Gainey some assets to potentially move for more veteran help during the season as the prepare for hopefully a long playoff run.

ong>Prediction: 2nd in the East. 4th overall

The Canadiens are out to prove last season was no fluke. They were definitely one of the biggest surprises last season but there was enough talent here, especially among the young core, to expect good things eventually. Now, with expectations high, the growth of the team must continue moving forward. To do so, the young core must deliver on their promise. We saw glimpses last year or what they could do, now they must show more. It might be too much to ask from a group of young players still learning on the job, but in Montreal there is nothing more important than winning and anything less is unacceptable. The time might be now, already, for them to make their own name and forge their own path into Canadiens history.


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