Left Wing is one position where I’m confident that Montreal has an elite player. Max Pacioretty has proven to be an offensive force in his 21 and 22 year old seasons in Montreal. In two years he has proven to be a top notch offensive winger. First pacing for over 30 goals, then getting 33 in 79 the next. Pacioretty isn’t merely limited to goal scoring, he’s a two-way player whose top notch offense does not come at the expense of defence and his goal-scoring doesn’t come at the expense of his linemates. 54.1% Corsi, 53.7% Fenwick and 53.3% Shots shows how he has lead to territorial and possession dominance for his team when he’s been on the ice. Plus the 4th most ES goals and the 3rd most shots per minute on ES. I have ever confidence that Pacioretty is entering his prime as a top 10 offensive left wing in the NHL and a truly world class player.
The rest of the group is… far less inspiring.
Rene Bourque seems to be the next guy on the depth chart. Which is wonderful if your a fan that looks at his 25+ goal per season pace during his 3 years in Calgary prior to 2011-12. Its far less inspiring if you 1. Look at his underlying numbers for the past two years and have seen what a defensive liability he is. 2. Noticed how everyone playing with him in Montreal got worse with him on the ice or 3. Simply watched a game with him playing in Montreal.
Bourque has generally been playing harder minutes while his teeth are getting kicked in but he still seems to be a defensive liability. The chief hope for him next season is that either Plekanec and Gionta can carry him defensive in hard minutes line where he just has to hit people, shoot the puck and have pucks bounce of him into the net or find a way to get him in a defensively easy role on a scoring line with Desharnais as his center. His summertime abdominal injury will hardly help matters.
Bourque currently represents a significant downgrade in playing ability compared to what Montreal had in Cammalleri and Kostitsyn. If the Habs wish to return to competitiveness they’ll either need to revive Bourque as a player or find an upgrade.
The 3rd and 4th depth spots are reasonably adequately filled currently in Montreal. Prust would make an elite 4th line LW and Moen/Armstrong should be adequate as 3rd liners. A superior player forced down the depth chart like A. Kostitsyn was would be preferable but not necessary.
If there is a veteran that can threaten Bourque’s job it is Armstrong, who has a strong history of respectable even strength scoring prior to his career derailing due to injuries last season in Toronto. He fills the role of big, physical winger that can score goals same as Bourque and perhaps is less of a defensive liability.
If Bourque is inadequate, is there an internal solution in sight? Lets look at the offensive LW in the prospect system.
AHL 1st Year, top nine forward
NCAA 2nd year, top six forward
QMJHL PPG Forward
QMJHL PPG Forward
WHL PPG Forward
This isn’t an inspiring bunch. The Habs prospect pool as strengths, but its not at LW. Bozon and Hudon both have the most promise from this group but they are 4-5 years from making an impact in the NHL if they do at all. There isn’t a kid in the system that they can groom to fill this job in an appreciable time frame.
If there is an internal upgrade option, it must be by shifting a player to LW. Which brings me back to proposal when I looked at the Habs’ centers here: Use Galchenyuk there until he’s ready to be a solid top six centerman, then look at moving Desharnais to the left side, effectively platooning the job between the two of them.
The other option is to look at the trade or UFA markets for new blood. Currently bringing A. Kostitsyn back into the fold makes a lot of sense from a hockey perspective, as he’s been an effective supporting piece for Eller, Plekanec and Desharnais before. But that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. If we’re giving up on upgrading this season, the next has a large number of potential names like Gagne, MacArthur, Penner, Morrow etc. but keep in mind that many current UFA’s will be retained by their current teams and its no sure thing to get what you need on the UFA market. We might all salivate over adding a beastly winger like Ryan Clowe but its a long shot that he’d be a realistic possibility.
There’s also the trade market, but that’s basically impossible to predict with public information.
So there is the state of LW for Montreal. Most of the spots filled adequately but one gapping, Rene Bourque sized issue at the 2nd spot in the depth chart without a clear immediate fix.