Sorting Out A Crowded Montreal Canadiens Blue Line

The Montreal Canadiens have plenty of depth on the blue line but not a lot of talent up front.
Montreal Canadiens Lane Hutson
Montreal Canadiens Lane Hutson / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Montreal Canadiens will have a crowded defense room in September's training camp. All seven regular defensemen are eligible to return from last season's roster (assuming the restricted free agents sign), and four more defensemen will be competing to make the team out of camp. 

General Manager Kent Hughes will soon need to address the situation, as some of their stud rookies won't be happy spending more time in the American Hockey League. The Canadiens also had defensemen who came up from the AHL and performed well when the NHLers had injury issues.

The Locks

Mike Matheson
Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson / Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photo/GettyImages

Mike Matheson was the Canadiens' number-one defenseman this season. He played in all 82 games, tallying 11 goals and 51 assists while quarterbacking the No.1 powerplay unit. Matheson has been everything Kent Hughes could've wanted when he acquired him from the Penguins for Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling.

Kaiden Guhle has cemented himself as one of the Habs' top defensemen. He played in 70 games this season and chipped in 22 points, but his bread and butter is being a good shutdown defenseman for the team. Guhle is now playing at the Men's World Championship at 22 years old, making him one of the pillars of the Habs' future.

David Savard is a lock as long as he's on the team. Savard is the player whose name has been around the most in trade talks, but Hughes didn't move him at the trade deadline, so he may be considering keeping him around.

The Rookies

David Reinbacher
Canadiens rookie David Reinbacher / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

David Reinbacher didn't leave Switzerland to play in Laval. He played 35 games with Kloten in the National League before coming to North America. Reinbacher recorded five points in 11 games in Laval, proving that his poor play in Switzerland may have been a product of his environment. Reinbacher will do everything he can to stick around out of training camp.

Lane Hutson is another player who didn't come to the pro ranks to play in Laval. After leaving Boston University, Hutson didn't look out of place in his two games with the Canadiens, tallying two assists and looking like a future No.1 powerplay quarterback.

On The Bubble

Arber Xhekaj
Canadiens defenseman Arber Xhekaj / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Jonathan Kovacevic doesn't deserve to be included in the bubble, but he's a victim of the crowdedness of the position. Kovacevic has been a regular with the Canadiens for the last two seasons, playing 139 games with the team. It's an unfortunate part of the business, but Kovacevic may not see much ice time in the final year of his contract.

Arber Xhekaj is a fan favorite due to his physical nature and incredible success story. However, he has some injury concerns due to his playstyle, and some defensive issues arose in his game this past season. Xhekaj played 17 games in Laval after losing his spot in the lineup, which could cause him to go back down to start 2024-25. 

Justin Barron was another player who spent time between Montreal and Laval this season. Barron played 48 games in the NHL and 32 in the AHL and didn't look out of place in either lineup. He also split time in 2022-23 before playing ten games with Canada at the World Championship. It's soon time for the Canadiens to elevate him to full-time status in the NHL.

Jayden Struble was another fan favorite during his time with the Canadiens this season. Struble filled in for 56 games, scoring three goals and seven assists. However, his physical, pestering style of play made the fans fall in love and hope for his full-time insertion into the Habs lineup.

Logan Mailloux made his NHL debut at the end of the season, recording one assist in his lone game. Mailloux was a star with Laval, playing in 72 games with 14 goals and 33 assists. His defensive play can leave some to be desired, but he's another player who can't be kept in the AHL forever.

What do the Habs do?

All ten defensemen on this list deserve to play in the NHL next season. It's hard for a team with so much young talent to navigate their next step. A couple of players could be moved for help up front, accelerating the rebuild and increasing a position of weakness for the Habs.

If the Canadiens draft another offensive talent with the No.5 overall pick, they will be contending in the Eastern Conference sooner than people may believe. 

Todd Matthews outlined what a trade for Trevor Zegras or Joel Farabee may look like in recent articles, and both theories have defensemen going the other way.

I feel like the Habs may want to look at moving Mike Matheson. By the advanced metrics, his play is declining as he enters his 30s. The emergence of Lane Hutson will make him less valuable on the powerplay, and his defensive play alone isn't worth keeping around if your young players are stuck in the minors.

Too many options are never a problem, but if Kent Hughes doesn't move soon, this could become a bigger headache than he would prefer.