Montreal Canadiens: Pierre-Luc Dubois a Luxury, Not A Necessity

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Montreal Canadiens Nick Suzuki (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Jesperi Kotkaniemi Montreal Canadiens Nick Suzuki (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens centre depth has been in question for years, no, make that decades. For a few years the Canadiens had Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec down the middle, but both would probably have been best suited as second line options.

Had a first line centre ever become available via trade, the Habs needed to be in the mix to try and acquire them. There were plenty of rumours over the years of their interest in signing Daniel Briere or trading for Vincent Lecavalier, but it never worked out. At least not until Briere was in the twilight of his career.

A search that trudged on for decades led many to connect the dots between Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Montreal Canadiens when the player became available.

Dubois was ultimately dealt to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. The return for Dubois was hefty and the fact he ended up with a division rival of the Habs will sting this season. But the craziest thing about the whole Dubois drama and trade is that the Canadiens didn’t need him.

It seems shocking that the Habs don’t need a big, two-way centre who is just 22 years old and has already proven to be a handful in the offensive zone. But it is definitely the case.

I’m not saying that the Habs couldn’t use Dubois or that he would be battling for a spot in the lineup if he were traded to Montreal. But he didn’t end up in Montreal, and the Habs are just fine down the middle of the ice without him.

The reason for that is a couple of savvy trades by Marc Bergevin and a top draft pick starting to show he belongs at the NHL level.

At the trade deadline in 2016, Bergevin traded Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, both of whom were on expiring contracts, to the Chicago Blackhawks for Phillip Danault and a second round pick that would ultimately become Alexander Romanov.

Then, about two years later, Bergevin turned a lemon of a 2017-18 season into lemonade when he selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick, and then traded Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Nick Suzuki as well as Tomas Tatar and another second round pick.

Now, Suzuki looks like a budding two-way star who has five points in the team’s first five games. He’s just 21 years old and in his second NHL season, but he is a first line centre already.

Danault has played as a first line centre for most of his Habs tenure. That’s mostly been out of necessity as, like we mentioned, the Habs centre depth has been awful for decades. He does play a terrific defensive game and has fit well on a two-way line with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. He is a key penalty killer and gets tons of ice time when the team is protecting a lead.

Kotkaniemi is in his third season with the Habs and is showing plenty of signs that he is ready to break out offensively this season. He had a decent rookie season as an 18 year old but struggled last year. He was sent to the minors and looked great with the Laval Rocket and then in the fall he played well in Liiga as well.

Now, he is proving he is more mature and physically ready to play at the NHL level. He isn’t being pushed off the puck nearly as often as he did as a rookie and he is constantly creating offensive chances for his wingers. He has three points in his first five games but is creating chemistry with Tyler Toffoli and the pair look better every game.

Even the fourth line centre is playing well. Jake Evans made his NHL debut last season but he has showed tremendous speed and smart, defensive play this season. He has been a regular on the penalty kill and already has a shorthanded goal.

We haven’t seen this kind of depth down the middle of the ice since a young Saku Koivu arrived on a team that had Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse on it. Of course, Rejean Houle made sure that didn’t last long and got rid of Turgeon for spare parts.

Danault turned down huge contract offer. dark. Next

Now, the depth is finally back to where it was in 1996. It seems unbelievable to think, but the Habs missed out on Dubois and they will be just fine down the middle of the ice anyway.