As a continuation of my Potential Breakout Candidate series, I wanted to look at who can step up for the 2013-2014 Montreal Canadiens on defence. I looked at Rene Bourque as a potential breakout candidate on offence in my last instalment, which you can check out here, and the pre-season games that I’ve managed to catch since then have given me additional confidence in that prediction.
I wanted to turn and look at the defence – a key to any team with playoff aspirations (let alone championship ones). The injury to Alexei Emelin late last season and the subsequent unravelling of the team showed that the Canadiens had a depth problem. I think Bergevin adequately solved the depth problem, signing Douglas Murray, re-signing Francis Bouillon and Davis Drewiske, who can all fill a certain role to varied levels of success. Though overall, these signings aren’t huge risks, I think the trickle-down effects on prospects/rookies was what stood out to me. It certainly looked like the two most NHL-ready D-prospects in the organization, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, were going to have to force his hand to make the team over the slew of 6-7 D-men available for the bottom pairing. With the injuries to Emelin, Drewiske as well as the day-to-day status of Bouillon and Murray, the door has opened wide for one of Tinordi or Beaulieu (his injury isn’t long-term and he’s back at practice) to snag a roster spot and open the season with the Canadiens on October 1st. Beyond P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Emelin (when healthy), the Canadiens have their top-4 pretty set.Beyond that, it’s a hodgepodge of the aforementioned depth defencemen and Raphael Diaz.
I think there’s a potential breakout candidate that can play on the final D-pairing and add a physical dimension to the team: Jarred Tinordi. As camp and preseason began, I assumed that he’d have in tough trying to unseat some of these veterans for a spot on the final pairing, but his performance so far makes me believe that he’s earned a spot. Just imagine a blue line of Subban-Emelin-Tinordi – one for those guys on each pairing should give opposing forwards something to think about coming across the blue line. In my opinion, a pairing of Diaz-Tinordi would be a fantastic third pairing. Bouillon, Murray and Drewiske can and probably should be shifted in and out of the lineup on need, but in my opinion, they deserve to be extras. There will be injuries, so having some extra depth can’t hurt.
I would want the D-pairs to look like this, once everyone is healthy. With the injuries, I’d probably make it Subban/Murray and Markov/Gorges. My reasoning is that a pairing of Markov-Murray would be horrific in terms of mobility, and Subban could largely carry any anchor on the ice on his back.
I think Tinordi’s skill set can make a huge difference. His play in last night’s preseason game in particular – solid play in his own zone, a good first pass out of his zone, calmness under pressure and the ability to line guys up for clean shoulder-to-shoulder hits is something the Canadiens are lacking in their lineup. He also kills penalties, and uses his long reach to clear passes and clog up passing & shooting lanes. There was one sequence last night where he reminded me of Hal Gill‘s penalty killing on 5-on-3s with his kneeling and stretching out to clog up the crease. He’s also a decent skater for someone whose 6’6 and 227 pounds. I think he’s coming along nicely, and he played well down the stretch and into the playoffs last season.
If he can force Bergevin’s hand and snag a full-time role on this team, I expect big things from Tinordi and I think he makes the Canadiens significantly tougher to play against.