What are the ideal defense pairings next season?
The Montreal Canadiens’ 2022-23 season will be a bit like watching a historical documentary about a famous incident. You already have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to end, but you’re not really sure about all the events that unfold before the end.
We’re pretty sure how the season will end for the Canadiens. Game 82 will be played against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Center on April 13 and that will be it. Maybe they’ll lose this game or maybe they’ll score ten like they did in Game 82 last season, but the playoffs are unlikely to follow.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of learning about this team throughout the season. While the 2023 playoffs aren’t the Canadiens’ time to shine, if the players develop properly and the right additions are made, the Canadiens could make some noise in the 2025 playoffs.
One way to do this is to turn the current group of young, developing defenders into a formidable group in a short period of time. It’s easier said than done, but the Canadians have the horses in the stable to build a nice blue line.
Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Logan Mailloux, Arber Xhekaj, Justin Barron, Mattias Norlinder, William Trudeau and Lane Hutson give the Habs plenty of defenders with extremely high potential. The key is to ensure that enough of them reach their potential so that the Canadiens have a formidable blue line for many years to come.
How they use their defenders in 2022-23 will be quite fascinating. They have a large number of defensemen who could play their first full professional season with the Canadiens or the Laval Rocket. The team will want to kind of make sure that all of these young blue liners play enough minutes, but also don’t play in a role that is beyond them at this stage of their development.
With that in mind, what are the ideal defense pairings for the 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens? They have a number of veterans on the roster, including Joel Edmundson, David Savard, Mike Matheson and Chris Wideman as well as Otto Leskinen and Corey Schueneman who don’t have a ton of NHL experience, but at 25 and 26, is older than many of the other prospects mentioned.
The locks that will be part of the NHL team are Edmundson, Savard, Matheson and Wideman. Harris is also very close after skipping the AHL and playing ten NHL games to wrap up last season after his college career. Guhle could also be set to skip the AHL after a terrific season with the Edmonton Oil Kings, a WHL playoff MVP and a Memorial Cup appearance as the team’s number one defenseman. .
That essentially leaves the Habs with two options for the blue line next season. The first option is this safe route. This would keep all young players in the minors and all older defensemen at the NHL level.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that Edmundson and Matheson will play on the left side of the top two pair. Savard will play more than anyone on the right side, and Wideman fits better on the right side of third pair. This leaves an opening on the right defense on second pair and the left defense on third pair.
The safest route is to put the younger defenders in the minors to develop and have Schueneman on the right side of the second pair and Leskinen on the left side of the third pair. So:
And that would give the Laval Rocket the following depth chart:
That’s a lot of young defensemen and it likely means Trudeau will be sent back to the QMJHL for his outdated season. It also means Gianni Fairbrother doesn’t have a permanent place, which isn’t ideal for a 21-year-old.
Of course, the Canadiens might not send all of their youngest defensemen to the AHL, especially since Harris may have already graduated to the NHL level. Guhle will probably jump right there too. So it might not be the safest route, but the most realistic pairings at the NHL level will be:
That would put Harris on the right side, which is his offside, but he would also be protected by having Edmundson on the ice with him the whole time. Guhle would get his feet wet at the NHL level and have the safety net of being on third pair and not having to face the toughest competition. Schueneman could hang around as a 7th defenseman and Leskinen would be sent to the Rocket as organizational depth.
Seems like the most logical way to set up pairing right now. If Guhle struggles for a while, he could still be fired and a young defender like Norlinder, Xhekaj or Barron could be brought in to replace him. If none of the young defenders are ready then Bowey or Leskinen could be called up. full time.
If Matheson, Savard, Edmundson, Harris, Guhle, Wideman and Schueneman start the year in the NHL, the Rocket defense on opening night could be:
Fairbrother – Norlinder
The Rocket also signed Alex Green, a right-handed defenseman who could rotate during third pairing.
Bottom line, the Canadiens’ blue line isn’t going to be great. The team aren’t expected to win many games, but it will be interesting to see how Harris and Guhle develop this season and whether they can both be counted on for the first four minutes in 2023-24. If so, Edmundson could be a bait in the NHL Draft next year.
We all know the upcoming season will end without a playoffs, but it will be worth keeping an eye on how the blue line develops between Game 1 and Game 82.
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