In yesterday’s blog, we did a poll asking what you thought was the biggest need the Montreal Canadiens have to address this offseason. The results were pretty overwhelming, as 69% of the vote went to right wing.
This makes a lot of sense as both Thomas Vanek and Brian Gionta are currently unrestricted free agents, and Daniel Briere would be the second line winger on that side if this roster goes unchanged into next season. This is clearly a lack of depth, and the Habs need to find a player or probably two to slot in behind Brendan Gallagher next year.
Before the Canadiens go out and make a big trade or throw millions of dollars at a free agent, they should take a long look at an option they already have in the organization.
Sven Andrighetto made his professional debut with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League this season, and was one of the best players on the team. The 21 year old from Switzerland finished second on the Bulldogs in scoring with 44 points in 64 games on a young and low scoring Hamilton team.
His numbers don’t exactly jump off the charts at you, but they compare favorably to a couple of young Habs who made a surprising jump from Hamilton recently. In the lockout shortened 2013 season, Brendan Gallagher made his Bulldog debut and scored 20 points in 36 games. When the lockout finally ended, Gallagher impressed at Canadiens camp and made the jump to the big club and scored at a higher pace in the NHL with 28 points in 44 games. It was not his point totals that made the difference, it was his unique perseverance and determination that earned him an NHL roster spot.
Michael Bournival showed up at Canadiens training camp this season a longshot at best to make the roster. He played the entire 2012-13 season in Hamilton and scored 30 points in 69 games, but impressed Habs management with his work ethic and speed and stuck with the Canadiens all season.
Andrighetto is a tremendous skater and has a great work ethic that led to him being selected by the Canadiens in 2013, after not being selected in two consecutive drafts. After being passed over a pair of times, Andrighetto went out and proved everyone wrong by scoring 98 points in 53 QMJHL games, and led Switzerland at the World Junior Tournament with five goals and eight points.
Sven also brought a solid amount of offense to the Bulldogs this season, and has a ton of skill which won’t hurt him in training camp next season.
The biggest knock on Andrighetto is, like plenty of other Habs players, his size. He is just 5’9” and the Habs are already full of sub 5’10 skaters. However, you can not ignore a skilled player just because of his height. What Andrighetto could bring to this team includes blazing speed, great skill, and a perfect right winger for Lars Eller.
The NHL is increasingly becoming a young player’s game. Look at the two teams playing for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup right now. The New York Rangers have Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider playing huge roles in their top six. It didn’t matter to them that Hagelin is small, or that Kreider didn’t dominate in the AHL, they found a role for the young guys to fill and gave them a chance.
The Los Angeles Kings weren’t too worried that Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli aren’t their most physical players, they found them a spot on a line with Jeff Carter anyway, and both are on the verge of helping the Kings win their second championship in three years.
In fact, Pearson is a close comparison to Andrighetto as both were ignored in their first NHL draft and Pearson’s numbers in the AHL last season, (47 points in 64 games) are almost exactly the same as Andrighetto’s this year (44 points in 64 games.)
The Canadiens could go after a bigger player via trade or in free agency, but bigger is not always better in the NHL. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs who signed David Clarkson to an enormous contract last summer. The big, physical winger was supposed to be the perfect second line player, but scored just 11 points in 60 games, and is signed at 5.25 million for six more years.
Andrighetto may be undersized, but I am suggesting he replaces either Brian Gionta or Daniel Briere in the lineup, so the Habs would not get any bigger, but wouldn’t be getting smaller either. Sure, it would be nice if he were 6’2” and skilled, but the most important thing is how he would fit in the lineup, and I think he would be excellent on a line with Eller and Alex Galchenyuk next season.
Chasing big name free agents always appears to be the best way for a quick fix, but as Gallagher and Bournival have shown us, sometimes the perfect fit is right in front of you. Andrighetto could be that perfect fit, and should be given a long look at camp next season.