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31 in 31

Inside look at Montreal Canadiens

Youth infusion to support Price, Weber in hope of returning to playoffs

by Sean Farrell / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

31 in 31: Montreal Canadiens

31 in 31: Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's E.J. Hradek discuss the biggest questions facing the Montreal Canadiens for the 2019-20 season

  • 06:12 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospects and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens are confident they can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016-17 with largely the same lineup that narrowly missed out last season.

The Canadiens finished with 96 points, after they had 71 in 2017-18, but wound up two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

 

[Canadiens 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]

 

"I think this is a team that is trending towards the playoffs and was very close last year," said defenseman Ben Chiarot, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract (average annual value of $3.5 million) with Montreal on July 4 after playing 305 games with the Winnipeg Jets. "All the pieces are here, and a little bit reminds me of where we were in Winnipeg a few years ago with some of the young pieces and the leadership of guys like [defenseman Shea] Weber and [goalie Carey] Price. I think all the pieces are here for us to be successful. I'll bring what I bring, and I think we should be trending in the right direction."

Chiarot, who was Dustin Byfuglien's defense partner with the Jets, had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 78 games last season.

The Canadiens are built around Price and Weber, the two pillars are bolstered by veteran defenseman Jeff Petry and forward Brendan Gallagher, their leading goal-scorer in each of the past two seasons.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Price

Montreal tried to add restricted free agent center Sebastian Aho to that core, signing him to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet (average annual value of $8.454 million) on July 1. But the Carolina Hurricanes matched it to keep the 22-year-old.

"We felt even though if it doesn't happen, we still have a really good hockey team," general manager Marc Bergevin said.

The addition of Aho would have addressed Montreal's perennial need for a No. 1 center. The Canadiens hope 19-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi will fill that void.

Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, had 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 79 games as a rookie last season. He leads a group of highly regarded young centers, including two selected in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft: Nick Suzuki (No. 13, by the Vegas Golden Knights) and Ryan Poehling (No. 25). Each 20-year-old has the potential to make the Montreal roster out of training camp.

"I think the Montreal Canadiens, with the group of young players they have coming, could be set for a long time," Bergevin said after the Canadiens selected forward Cole Caufield of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team with the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Video: Cole Caufield named No. 25 on the list

Among the returning players is a group of forwards who delivered peak production last season. Gallagher scored an NHL career-high 33 goals after he had 31 in 2017-18. Max Domi, in his first season with Montreal after being traded from the Arizona Coyotes on June 15, 2018, had NHL career highs of 28 goals, 44 assists and 72 points. Tomas Tatar set NHL career highs with 33 assists and 58 points after being acquired from the Golden Knights along with Suzuki on Sept. 10, 2018, as part of the Max Pacioretty trade.

Goalie Keith Kinkaid signed a one-year contract with Montreal on July 1 and will replace Antti Niemi as Price's backup. The 30-year-old went 15-18-6 with a 3.36 goals-against average, an .891 save percentage and three shutouts in 41 games (38 starts) with the New Jersey Devils last season but did not play a game after he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 25.

"I'm just happy to be here, happy to have another opportunity to play in the best league in the world," Kinkaid said. "And to work with a guy like Carey Price is going to be tremendous, and hopefully I can take his workload and lighten it up for him a little bit. I want to be a guy they can count on when they need somebody to win a game and give Carey a night off.

"It's an up-and-coming team, a young team, just missed the playoffs last year, and our goal is to get back to that."

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