BROSSARD – If anyone understands the inevitable risks and rewards that come with the opening of the unrestricted free agent market on July 1, it’s general manager Marc Bergevin.
On Thursday, Bergevin met with members of the media at the Bell Sports Complex to address several moves the Canadiens’ brass elected to make on Canada Day, including trading veteran Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for 24-year-old Zack Kassian and a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
“When you make a trade, there’s always risk involved. You have to look at the potential upside, though. We know that when it comes to the level of consistency and stability [in Kassian’s case], it might not be there. That’s the case with a lot of young players, though. He’s just 24 years old. If he reaches his potential, I think we can have something good going for a long period of time,” offered Bergevin, who insisted the Canadiens did their fair share of homework on the Windsor, ON native prior to bringing him on board. “That’s what we’re hoping for. There’s always a risk. It will be up to him to perform and do what he needs to do to have a good career in the NHL.”
That being said, Bergevin isn’t exactly certain where Kassian will fit in the Canadiens’ lineup come early October. While he does believe the right-winger has the potential to be a top-six forward in time, the former 13th overall selection of the Buffalo Sabres back in 2009 will ultimately have to earn that type of role and responsibility with consistent play within the confines of head coach Michel Therrien’s system.
“Zack is a young guy who is trying to find his way. He’s a young player with upside. We feel that if he does reach his potential, we might have something here. He has a one-year contract and so does Brandon. It’s pretty close that way. We do save money on the cap, but at the end of the day we feel that he can provide some offense if he reaches his full potential. He has that. We can’t do it [for him]. He has to do it. He has a chance to do it here,” mentioned Bergevin, before expanding upon some additional qualities the 6’3”, 214-pound forward will bring with him to Montreal. “You need to be able to influence the puck. He’s a big body. He needs to take time and space [away from opposing players] and lean on people. I don’t expect him to run people over. For a big man, he has skill and some hands. We expect him to provide that.”
In addition to praising the steady progress Greg Pateryn made during the 2014-15 campaign which earned the Sterling Heights, MI native a two-year contract extension on Wednesday, Bergevin also briefly discussed the ongoing contract talks with restricted free agent Alex Galchenyuk, who received a qualifying offer on July 24. Confident a deal will be struck with the American youngster sooner rather than later, Bergevin again emphasized that the position No. 27 will play in 2015-16 is still somewhat up in the air.
“[Alex playing center] isn’t something we’ve put by the wayside. I never said he wouldn’t become a centerman. There’s still a possibility that he becomes one. I don’t want to put any pressure on a young player that if he plays, he has to play center. He’s a player that we drafted. Even in Junior, he was playing left-wing,” explained Bergevin, who saw Galchenyuk put up 20 goals and 46 points in 80 games last season while plying his trade primarily at wing. “Center is a tough position. You have to be responsible in all three zones. It takes a while to get that. I hope he will, but I can’t tell you that today.”
Bergevin did confirm, however, that his efforts to improve his lineup certainly aren’t done yet. The free agent period has just begun, so he’ll continue to explore any and all viable options to give his hockey club a chance to take another important step forward next season. Nevertheless, Bergevin insists he’ll also be looking within the fold for additional help, meaning that youngsters like Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto or Christian Thomas might just get a chance to strut their stuff with the CH on a consistent basis next year.
“In our line of work, you always have to keep an eye open to improve your team. But, at the same time, that’s the reason why there’s the NHL Draft every year. At a certain point, you have to look at what you’ve got. We’re really looking to give our young guys a chance to show what they can do,” confided Bergevin, who also plans on giving first-rounders Nikita Scherbak and Michael McCarron every opportunity to showcase their progression leading up to the start of a new campaign. “There’s always place for young guys. You can improve your team in three ways. Via a trade, free agency and the NHL Draft. Ask any general manager and he’ll tell you that the best of those three ways is to develop young players and bring them to the next level.”
Fortunately, the Canadiens are rich in that department already.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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