A First for Habs’ First Rounders
October 23, 2017
By Grant McCagg
It’s often noted that adversity makes you stronger, and in the Canadiens’ case…they should be all-powerful right about now.
The move may seem insignificant to many as they are presumed to be the fourth line, but the coach’s decision to put Alex Galchenyuk, Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak on a line together signals what may be an important turning point in the team’s fortunes, not just short-term, but long-term as well.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the club’s brutal 1-6-1 start and abhorrent lack of offence have resulted in management deciding for the first time in the Bergevin era to throw conservatism out the window and have a significant amount of drafted youth in the lineup.
Mainly out of necessity, but also because the young players simply weren’t ready to contribute until this year as the crop of top 60 picks Bergevin had accumulated – unlike the previous regimes – is finally beginning to bear fruit.
One has to reach back deeply into the memory bank to recall the last time the club played a game with three of its former first-round picks on a line together. You may have to go all the way back to the 1970’s when Sam Pollock used to have four or more first-round picks per season. The last one I vividly remember was New Year’s Eve 1975 when Scotty Bowman started that famous game versus the Red Army with a line of Lafleur, Gainey and Wilson, and even that was a “one night stand.”
Scherbak and McCarron through the early part of the AHL season were quite possibly the most dominant duo in the league..taking over several games for periods at a time with sustained offensive pressure and chances. Scherbak at the time of his recall was leading the AHL in assists, and setting up tons of glorious chances on Laval’s power play working on the left wall in tandem with Matt Taormina.
Meanwhile, on the big club, Galchenyuk has been a lone wolf of sorts, bounced around the lineup from the first line to fourth with countless line combinations and never finding the right partners.
Throwing the three former first-round picks from consecutive drafts together at home on a line Julien will at first be able to match up against other team’s fourth lines may end up being a brilliant strategy, as there is no question that the trio possesses loads of promise. There is size, puck skills, playmaking, goal-scoring, truculence all wrapped up into one; no one player possessing all of those traits, but in combination, it may well be a line that ends up clicking when effectively utilizing the sum of its parts.
The Habs are at a crossroads at this point in the season. You never want to say a game in October is a must-win one – this time we are making an exception. The Habs MUST beat Florida if they have any intentions of getting back in the playoff race. Price MUST be better..and in my opinion, this line MUST be given every opportunity to succeed from the moment the puck drops on Tuesday…not only from a “salvage-the-season” standpoint but from a long-term standpoint as well.
Clubs become successful that give their young talent opportunities to prosper, and if there has been one stinging criticism of the Canadiens’ approach since the Serge Savard era it is that more often than not NHL journeymen with little offensive upside have been placed in bottom-line roles; players with little opportunity to move up in the lineup through talent and improvement.
One of the rare times that there was an exception was when Therrien decided to put Galchenyuk on a line with Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher to form the EGG Line. It started out as the fourth unit, and soon enough the trio was getting lots of ice time as on many nights it was the best line on the team. The EGG Line brought youth, talent and enthusiasm to a squad that needed plenty of all three..and there’s no reason why this new “Kid Line” can’t do the same at a time where the club is in even more dire straits.
When McCarron was drafted, Montreal’s head scout Trevor Timmins noted that he would need time to develop, as is often the case with 6-6 forwards who still have to grow into their bodies and adapt to the NHL pace. McCarron has shown at both the OHL and AHL levels that he isn’t just a mammoth forward who will drop the mitts and protect teammates – he has some offensive skills that also should translate to the NHL level at some point. McCarron gained another step through heavy training in the offseason..now he needs to gain his confidence in the NHL, and the odds of that happening with talented linemates, including one he has clicked with in the AHL, as opposed to the likes of Brian Flynn and Dwight King, are infinitely higher this time around if Julien remains patient.
Ideally, this line meshes, stays together, and becomes one of the club’s three main lines, garnering 15 or so minutes per game. It would mean that other lines would get more favourable matchups and there would be less reliance on Paul Byron to often be the main offensive sparkplug when it should be left to the players with the most offensive upside.
Let’s see what transpires. Management has been patient in letting their first-round picks develop on the farm and in protected NHL roles…let’s hope they will be equally patient in giving them every opportunity to succeed now that the team truly needs it.
It is about time