The Big Four
Montreal’s defensive corps will look radically different this year with the departure of Sheldon Souray.
The club brought in Roman Hamrlik to fill some of that void, but the Candiens will have to see its homegrown defensemen step up their game as well. Hamrlik does not get the attention thrown Souray’s way, but he is an elite offensive defenseman too. He had 38 points with the Flames last season and possesses an above-average shot from the point.
Andrei Markov has improved offensively each season in Montreal and should truly blossom this year as he inherits much of the power-play time routinely handed to Souray in the past. Mike Komisarek had six points in his rookie season two year ago. Last year, he had 19 points. Is another quantum leap in his future?
Since being claimed off waivers, Francis Bouillon has been a steady contributor for the Canadiens during the past three seasons. This year should be no different, especially now that Bouillon has put aside the knee woes that plagued him last season.
Get the point
The Canadiens will try to replace one great player with two good players on the power-play this season. As mentioned earlier, Sheldon Souray was dominant on the power play last year, tallying an astronomical 19 power-play goals. Needless to say, those are huge skates to fill.
But Montreal might have the one-two punch to do just that. Hamrlik had just one goal in man-advantage situations last season, but he did manage 17 assists on the power play. Markov, meanwhile, has toiled on the second power-play unit with Souray around. Still, he managed five goals and 27 assists. The sky appears to be the limit now that Markov will be getting the lion’s share of the man-advantage minutes.
In the Wings
David Fischer – The young defenseman had a rugged first season with the University of Minnesota. But, with the departure of Erik Johnson from the program, Fischer should see a huge upgrade in his minutes, which will help him accelerate his development. He was one of the most effective defensemen at the Team USA summer evaluation camp in August.
Ryan O’Byrne – After a successful first pro season that featured a dominant playoff run with Hamilton, O’Byrne has an outside shot of making the parent club this fall. Unlike most of the Montreal defensemen, O’Byrne does not bring much offense to the table. But he does bring size and menace to the blue line that the club craves.
Pavel Valentenko – After a coming out party at the World Junior Championships as Russia’s best defensemen, Valentenko is ready to bring his game to North America. Montreal is excited about what the rangy Russian can bring to the blue line at the NHL level, but it is more likely that he will be afforded a year of seasoning with Hamilton before that NHL opportunity arrives.
Patrice Brisebois – Montreal tapped into its recent past to bolster its blue line this year, signing free-agent Brisebois to a one-year deal. Brisebois played the first 14 years of his career with Montreal before going to Colorado two years ago. He missed more than half the season last year because of a back injury that required surgery. If he is fully healthy, Brisebois should bring some offensive pop while still being responsible in his own end.