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Man for all seasons

A player as multi-talented as Plekanec may have wanted to do more offensively in 2016-17, but his unsung contributions to the team did not go unnoticed

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL -- If there were an award for the Canadiens' all-utility player of the year, it would almost certainly have gone to Tomas Plekanec for many, if not all, of the 12 seasons he's played in Montreal.

The 34-year-old center is the Czech version of a Swiss Army Knife, given his ability to waver between goal scorer, playmaker, faceoff specialist, top-line defender, and team Iron man. 

Unfortunately for Plekanec, the 2016-17 season marked a dip in his normally-steady offensive production. The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season aside, one would have to look all the way back to 2008-09 to find the last time he registered less than 40 points in a season. 

So when the veteran forward reflected on a season in which he collected 10 goals and 18 assists in 78 games, he admitted he wasn't pleased with the output.

"Yeah, it was frustrating, and I was disappointed," confessed Plekanec, who has potted 20 or more goals in eight separate seasons. "I should've done much better, I should've handled things a little bit better, but I tried to do my best and it doesn't always work the way you want it to."

But being the Jack-of-all-trades that he is, Plekanec still brought a wealth of contributions to the table, even though they might not have been reflected on the scoresheet. His teammates and coaches certainly took notice, recognizing that the Habs assistant captain's work - invaluable as it may be - doesn't always garner much glory. 

"He's not a guy that's going to outright say it, but you know that a guy that expects a lot, demands a lot of himself, could get frustrated at times," defenseman Shea Weber told LNH.com's Arpon Basu in April. "Especially when he's asked to play a certain role and he does it really well. He's good on faceoffs, he's on the penalty kill, it's kind of an unsung thing."

The Canadiens' coaching staff placed their trust in Plekanec once again this season, sending him into the faceoff circle more often than any other Habs player, for a total of 1,352 draws. The veteran pivot led the team in faceoff wins (692) and defensive-zone draws and wins.

The Habs enjoyed another solid year fending off opposing power plays, finishing 14th overall in penalty kill efficiency at 81.1%. Long hailed as a PK specialist, Plekanec now sits tied for second all-time in franchise history with Bob Gainey for shorthanded goals scored (20). He played a big part when down a man again this year, logging 153:48 of shorthanded ice time over the season, second among Canadiens forwards in that category. 

Snuffing out opposing snipers while shorthanded is just one way Plekanec's defensive game manifests itself and helps his squad.

"As far as his teammates are concerned, they see him [making] all the sacrifices of playing against the top lines on most nights, and most shifts, and he's doing a really good job of shutting them down," praised coach Claude Julien. "Sometimes, it's not the most fun job. It's not the job you enjoy the most, but he takes pride in it, and he does it well."

Being one of the more senior members of the roster, Plekanec also had a significant impact on his younger linemates. Rookie Artturi Lehkonen recorded three points in his first 10 NHL games, and added six goals and four assists in 22 games from mid-December to mid-February, primarily while skating alongside Plekanec. 

Towards the end of the season and throughout the playoffs, Plekanec found himself on a line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron. Gallagher, recovering from injury and his own dip in productivity, was kickstarted by his new linemates, collecting 10 points in 13 games in March. Byron, meanwhile, scored eight of his 22 total goals between late February and the end of the season, mostly while flanking the reliable Czech centerman. 

Playoff redemption

If the regular season was a blip on the stat sheet radar for Plekanec this year, it certainly didn't hold him back in the playoffs. With his newfound linemates, Byron and Gallagher, Plekanec roared back to life in the first-round series against the Rangers.

He scored a crucial game-tying goal in the dying minutes of Game 2, which the Habs would go on to win in thrilling fashion in overtime, and assisted on the first career playoff goals of both Byron (also in Game 2) and Lehkonen (Game 3). That is, of course, on top of the fact that he led all Canadiens forwards in shorthanded ice time - helping Montreal to a 93.3% postseason penalty kill clip - in addition to being the most-used faceoff man on the roster.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Plekanec ties game with late tip-in

Plekanec will be looking to build on a spectacular spring effort and improve on his totals in 2017-18. After all, there are some significant milestones that await: his 581 career points are just three shy of vaulting him into 15th place all-time in Canadiens history in that category. And given his durability - he has missed just seven games in total over the last six seasons - he could also reach the 1,000 games played benchmark next season, currently sitting at 921 games played, all with the Canadiens. 

Still, Plekanec recognizes that, professional hockey being a business, certain things - such as the looming Las Vegas expansion draft - remain out of his control. But if he had his druthers, the Canadiens' second-longest-tenured active player would prefer to stay where it all began.

"I have another year on my contract," Plekanec concluded. "I like Montreal, and I love being a part of this team."

Video: Tomas Plekanec on the future of the organization

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