Montreal Canadiens, Tom Wilson

Canadiens Need Size and Strength at Forward

The Montreal Canadiens wrapped up their mini-road trip on Sunday afternoon with a 4-3 regulation loss to the Minnesota Wild. The day before, the Habs defeated the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues 5-2. Despite the 1-1 record on the road trip, the Canadiens have struggled against both the Blues and Wild in recent years. Both teams have historically been built on size and strength, a trait that has done well against Montreal.

Looking at Saturday’s game in St. Louis, the Canadiens were able to take advantage of Jake Allen’s struggles in net. However, as the game went on and the Blues started to press in the third period, Montreal struggled to gain puck possession and get the puck out of their zone. This trend continued into Sunday’s game versus the Wild.

While the Wild have struggled out of the gate this season (2-6-0 record), they are a team built on size upfront. On Sunday afternoon, Montreal struggled to keep Jordan Greenway and Eric Staal out of Keith Kinkaid’s crease. The Canadiens forwards also struggled to gain puck possession in the offensive zone, particularly in the middle of the second and third periods of the game. This is a growing theme.

Wild left wing Jordan Greenway
Wild left wing Jordan Greenway (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

While Montreal has an excess of speed and depth on their roster, their lack of size up front is a growing concern. It causes them to lose puck battles and prevents them from getting to prime scoring areas around the opposition’s crease.

Canadiens Need a Tom Wilson

The Canadiens struggle in piercing the opposition’s interior for both primary and secondary scoring chances. Their lack of size keeps them to the exterior far too often. Unfortunately, under the tenure of general manager Marc Bergevin, when the need for size upfront has been addressed, it has been in the form of fourth-line players. The Habs don’t need a Steve Ott or a Dwight King, they need a top-six player with size and skill who can create havoc in the opposition’s zone. They need a Tom Wilson.

Tom Wilson Capitals
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals, March. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the Washington Capitals, there is a reason why Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and their other key players have extra room and space to use their skills. Ovechkin has talked a number of times about the importance of Wilson to their team, even comparing him to Eric Lindros at one point.

How to Add Missing Element to the Canadiens?

Looking at the Canadiens’ prospect pool, there isn’t really anyone who fits the bill as a Wilson upfront. Ryan Poehling is a sure bet to be an impact center with an interesting combination of size and skill, but his game doesn’t have an edge as Wilson does.

Micheal McCarron has had more chances and mulligans to be an impact player with the Canadiens than any player in recent memory. Yet, he hasn’t been able to fulfill the hope the organization had when they drafted him as a contingency for missing out on Anthony Mantha.

Joel Teasdale is a prospect who plays the interior game and brings both an edge and scoring touch that could make an impact in Montreal. The bad news is that Teasdale is currently out long term with a knee injury.

Going Outside the Organization

Going outside the organization is probably the most viable route for the Canadiens to add a scoring power forward. Some names that come to mind are Josh Anderson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers) and Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars).

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

James Yates (The Hockey Writers), recently mentioned Benn’s name as a possible trade target for the Canadiens. If Benn is available, the cost to acquire him would be high, but this is exactly the type of player the Canadiens need. In fact, I would go further and say that if Montreal wants to compete in the tough Atlantic Division, acquiring this type of power forward is a necessity.

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