May 29, 2024

Top-3 Canadiens Players With Something To Prove In Final Games

While some players have exceeded expectations, several are at risk of being lost in the fray as the team attempts to construct a roster that can take the next big step in the rebuild.

Nowhere Left To Go But Up

The first player that comes to mind is Josh Anderson. His contract carries an annual average value (AAV) of $5.5 million and runs until 2027.

Another way of looking at the situation is to point out that Anderson accounts for 6.6 percent of the salary cap expenditures this year, while only providing nine goals despite being given ample opportunities to find his ryhthm.

We won’t spend too much time discussing his shortcomings this year, as we’re nearing the point of beating a dead horse, but beyond his lack of production, Anderson has been a significant drag on the team’s performance every time he’s on the ice. His underlying numbers are among the worst on the team, not to mention the entire NHL.

Unfortunately, Kent Hughes and Co. missed their mark when it comes to Anderson, as they should have traded him early last season when he actually carried value.

But there is one potential saving grace when it comes to Anderson’s future, and it relates to perceived value versus actual value in the NHL.

Anderson is considered a power forward.  On paper, he has all the tools necessary to become an impact player. He’s fast, he doesn’t avoid heading to the dirty areas of the ice, and he doesn’t shy away from physical altercations. He’s also been labelled as a ‘playoff performer’, even though his production drops significantly once the regular season is over.

Any decent data analysis team will suggest the bad outweighs the good in his situation, but the temptation of acquiring a player of his perceived ilk often overrides any semblance of logic in trade negotiations. As we saw when the Florida Panthers acquired Ben Chiarot in exchange for a first-round pick, perception often trumps reality when it comes to a certain style of hockey player.

He won’t be able to salvage his season, but a strong finish to the 2023-24 campaign could go a long way in convincing teams that he still has a little gas left in the tank, and perhaps he simply needs a fresh start to thrive.

It’s very difficult to work your way up a lineup. Playing on the fourth line involves very few opportunities to shine. It’s why some have suggested Jesse Ylonen is not suited for fourth-line duties.

But last season we saw a player that not only thrived on the fourth line, he played so well that he eventually made his way to the top line of the injury-riddled roster.

And while Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s rookie season was encouraging, his sophomore campaign has been anything but, as he has managed to score just one goal in 41 games.

Injuries complicated the situation, but the issues go beyond health.

There were very poor odds Harvey-Pinard was going to be able to replicate his inflated 20 percent shooting percentage, and therefore, a dip in goal production was to be expected.

But he’s only taking a little over 2.5 shots per 60 minutes of ice time at 5v5, far and away the lowest shot production on the team, including all defencemen. In addition to his production cratering, his possession numbers have imploded as well. Simply put, Harvey-Pinard is hurting the team when he’s on the ice, as evidenced by his negative underlying numbers relative to his teammates.

He’s 25 years old and still has a year left on his $1.1 million AAV contract, the Canadiens can afford to give him another opportunity to earn a long-term role on the team, but his impressive rookie season no longer matters.

He’s a hard worker, which means a rebound season next year is well within the realm of possibilities, but he’d be well served by finishing the 2023-24 campaign in style, seeing as several prospects will be knocking at the door in the next few seasons, prospects who carry much more pedigree than Harvey-Pinard.

Earning Your Keep

It’s tempting to add another forward to close out our list. There are a few perfect candidates in place. Christian Dvorak had a remarkable return to the lineup on Tuesday, including a two-goal performance. It was a great start when it came to reminding Montreal Canadiens management that he still holds value.

Jake Evans is also someone who is at risk of falling down the depth ladder. Evans works hard, but he possesses a very finite amount of talent, and there’s always a player in the AHL waiting to take over the fourth-line centre role. Voir: Owen Beck.

But if we look at the current Montreal Canadiens roster makeup, it’s clear that there are probably too many defencemen in the mix. The organization’s prospect list is littered with talented defencemen who are poised to make their NHL debut in the next few seasons.

That’s why a player like Jordan Harris needs to finish the season on a strong note.

It’s not that Harris plays poorly.

In fact, along with Arber Xhekaj, Harris has some of the best possession numbers on the team.

I’d argue he’s the most underrated player in the lineup now that Xhekaj is getting his fair share of the praise.

But since he’s the type of player that doesn’t particularly stand out during a game, there’s always a risk that his impact will be dismissed.

Once Lane Hutson and Adam Engstrom are ready to make the jump to the NHL, the jobs on the left side of the blueline will be few and far between.

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