Habs EOTP: Can the Canadiens find a first-line right winger from within?

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At this year’s trade deadline Marc Bergevin did more shopping than a teenager with their parent’s credit card. He set a franchise record for number of trades on deadline day. He acquired a defenceman, two centres and also a winger in the days leading up to the deadline.

While I’m not here to dispute his wheeling and dealing skills – there was a need that was not addressed by the GM. The Montreal Canadiens are still a team with a vacancy – and it’s a big one: top line right wing playing alongside Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais.

Michel Therrien is the one taking resumes for the job and handing out try-outs. Let’s see how the candidate pool stacks up.

NOTE: (All numbers assuming Desharnais and Pacioretty are two of the three top line mates)

Gallagher

Of course the obvious choice to complete the trio is the guy who’s already got the job. Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher has been the most common combo for the Canadiens this season with Therrien putting the three together just over 20% of the time.  Brendan Gallagher brings some grit to the line and will be the guy in the corner digging the pucks out. One of his most valuable assets on the top line is getting in the face of goaltenders thereby tying up a defenceman who will try to move all 5’9″ out of the way.

Since moving up to the top line in mid-February he’s produced five goals and four assists. The only downside is that Gallagher is good no matter where you play him so he could be used on every line. Once Marc Bergevin fixes the bugs in the cloning machine we won’t have to worry about this problem anymore.

Parenteau

When Parenteau arrived in Montreal it was like the prodigal son arrived to fill the spot on the top line. That’s exactly where he started … for the first game. Then he spent a month bouncing around the second and third lines.  It wasn’t until the beginning of November that Parenteau found his way back to the top, only to be dropped down again a month later for the Dale Weise experience. In that run as number one he produced a paltry four goals and two assists. He returned to the team against the Sharks yesterday after being sidelined with a concussion on the fourth line with Malhotra and Weise. Considering the number of bottom-6 forwards now entering the lineup, Parenteau will very likely get a promotion, likely to the second line.

While he’s pegged as a likely candidate to get more minutes with Pacioretty and Desharnais, he hasn’t wowed the management with his skill. Compare his time on the top line in November with the elite right-wingers in the league in that stretch- Chicago’sPatrick Kane (9G, 8A), Toronto’s Phil Kessel (7G, 6A) or the Rangers’ Martin St-Louis (6G, 5A). It’s clear Parenteau will need to earn that top-line spot by getting on the score sheet.

Weise

Dale Weise came out of the woodwork to surprise everyone on the top line. He’s the duo’s third-most common winger and by far the most controversial.  Weise was lambasted for not being able to keep pace and dragging the first line down to the level of the third.

The dark horse here is always Weise, whom Therrien can throw into the mix to keep things fresh.

What Weise has going for him is that the expectations for him were set so low that any production was a pleasant surprise for the team. Indeed, Weise is having a career year with 9G and 15A. Is that reason enough to keep him on the top line? No. What it did do was make the other contenders pick up their game. For Michel Therrien it allows him to use his depth if needed. Since dropping off the first line Weise has played on every single other line.

Smith-Pelly

Devante Smith-Pelly’s strength is just that; strength. He started his tenure here on the top line but was quickly dropped down to the third to play alongside fellow grinderBrandon Prust and speedster Jacob De La Rose. While he’s got a powerful shot and can bring a physical aspect to the top line (someone has to look out for little Davey) he by no means is a finesse player. In his time with the Ducks he only manage to generate 26 assists over four seasons so using him as a set-up man is also a weak excuse to put him with the scorers.

Then there’s the speed issue. The Canadiens are focused on being one of the fastest teams – Therrien knew they were trading away a skater in Jiri Sekac for a grinder in Smith-Pelly.  “We went to pick up a player who’s tough to play against, will finish his check and has a good pace to his game, kills penalties. When you get players like that you give up a great skater like Sekac, but both teams filled their needs,” he said just after the trade.

What to expect

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