Right Wing might be the position that the Habs organization is strongest in. Its the deepest position in the prospect pool and there are two proven RWs in the teams top six forwards. But there is an underlying problem as well. Both Erik Cole and Brian Gionta are old (33 years of age at the start start a putative 12-13 seasons). They are both fast approaching the age where NHL players begin go into terminal decline. While there have been a number of wingers in recent times that have fought off Father Time and retained their abilities until 40 years old like Whitney, Recchi or Selanne, prudence dictates that a team should expect their players to be typical rather than abberations. The Habs currently have no quality RW in their peak (23-28) years, merely the very old and the very young in their system.
Both have retained most of their powers into the later part of their career, Gionta has paced for more than 30 goals per 82 games in Montreal while Cole is just coming off a career season, while both have been effective two-way players So we should expect there to still be years left on the clock, 2-3 seasons sounds about right, which is conveniently the number of years the two of them have left on their contracts. The Habs should probably be prepared for the two of them to not be around anyway, in case they want to jump ship when UFA or to have the option of dealing them at the deadline.
For the bottom six right wings, Montreal is not apt to have a problem. Ryan White is perfect as a 4th RW, as is Prust, then Moen, Armstrong or Leblanc seem acceptable for the 3rd line role. If any more bottom sixers are required they are fairly easy to acquire
So lets posit two seasons of the Canadiens being set on top six right wingers. Wingers 3 and 4 are generally pretty easy to find so shouldn’t be much worry. What does Montreal have in the system to replace them when those two years are up in 2014-15?
Pro Experience 2014
|5 Pro years, AHL+NHL||2nd/3rd Line|
|1 Pro year, AHL?, NHL?||2nd/3rd Line|
|3 Pro years AHL+NHL||2nd/3rd Line|
|4 Pro years AHL?||KHL Player|
|2 Pro years AHL?||2nd Line+|
|2 Pro years AHL?||3rd Line|
|3 Pro years SEL||1st/2nd Line|
As so often with prospects, the highest upside ones are the youngest and furthest from the NHL (the more uncertaintity the greater chance something good happens). There are a lot of interesting prospects here but none are so great they can be seen as anything close to a sure thing.
The chief advantage Montreal has here is volume. The more good potential players you have, the greater likelihood some of them live up to their upside and the greater chance of an unexpected breakout player (like Pacioretty, Plekanec or Desharnais) comes out from the field.
As of right now I like the odds of at least one of the five best RW prospects is a top six winger two years from now (Palushaj, Kristo, Leblanc, Gallagher and Collberg). 3 of the 5 should be in their prime years (23-28) at that point, Gallagher has been a very impressive junior and may be ready after in two years and Collberg would be coming off an apprenticeship in the SEL that began when he was 17. Getting 2 top six wingers is possible but maybe more than what can be counted on.
Overall, the Habs look to be in a decent position at RW but the age factor could very well leave the team high and dry between the faltering skills of the current players and the inexperience of the prospect pool. Or they could also have a log jam of too much NHL capable talent filling to many slots. Its an interesting situation to watch, not necessarily a problem, potentially a very good position and dependant on an assortment of variables too complex to accurately project at this point.