Montreal Canadiens: Eric Staal Gives Habs Much Needed Depth at Centre

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 09: Eric Staal (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 09: Eric Staal (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens centres this year have been extremely fortunate when it comes to injuries.

The Habs have played 31 games so far this season and in 29 of them, they had Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Phillip Danault and Jake Evans playing centre ice.

The only two games that were any different were by choice, as Evans sat as a healthy scratch twice and Paul Byron moved over to play the middle of the ice.

When the Canadiens traded Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson, it turned out to be a fantastic trade, but it left them with zero options down the middle. Either Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Danault and Evans were going to work out, or the team was pretty much up a creek.

Well, that’s no longer the case.

Eric Staal was acquired on Friday for third and fifth round draft picks. He is a veteran centre who gives the Canadiens much more depth down the middle of the ice.

Staal isn’t having the greatest season of his lengthy NHL career, but no one is having a good offensive season in Buffalo this year. Just a year ago, Staal was playing for the Minnesota Wild and had 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games. That should show he is better offensively than the ten points in 32 games he put up with the Sabres this season.

Even if he isn’t, his ten points in 32 games is an upgrade on Evans. While the 24 year old Evans is not having a bad season as the fourth line centre, he isn’t contributing much offensively with just five points in 29 contests.

It seems inevitable that Evans will be the healthy scratch to make room for Staal in the coming days.

What Staal does offer the Habs, is a player that could move up to the third line and still produce offence. If Suzuki, Kotkaniemi or Danault ever miss a game this season, having Staal step into a top nine role is a lot more comforting than trying to force Evans into a scoring role.

The Habs have terrific depth on the wings. Right now, Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia are third line winners and Cole Caufield is soon to join the team to improve that depth even more. If Kotkaniemi were injured, having Evans play with scoring wingers on a third line just wouldn’t work.

Having Staal slot in next to a crafty sniper like Toffoli might work out just fine.

And he will only need to play that high in the lineup in the event of injury. Currently, Staal is likely to slide into the fourth line role with Corey Perry and Byron. That’s a savvy, veteran line that won’t get overwhelmed defensively and can produce some offence as well.

Next. 7 Habs talking points on Staal, Caufield, Ylonen. dark

The Canadiens talked all year about their incredible depth, but really didn’t have it at centre ice. With Staal in the fold, they certainly have it now.