All Habs Mailbag: Drouin, MacKinnon, Realignment, Dietz, Thrower, Lineups

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By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — The All Habs Mailbag is as popular as ever! This is the place to send in your questions about all things Montreal Canadiens.

Then check every Thursday to read the answers to the most popular or poignant questions about the Habs. Keep in mind that we will discuss the entire Canadiens organization so questions about prospects and roster players are equally welcome!

Submissions can be mailed directly to [email protected]

Three Guidelines for Submissions:

  • This is not for hate mail or complaints. If you have an issue with what you read on these pages, this is not the place to bring it up. The mailbag is for questions about the Montreal Canadiens organization and the NHL.
  • As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.  Therefore I will not engage in discussion of the validity of rumours — frankly I consider them a waste of time anyway.  For every rumour that was close to accurate, there have been about a thousand duds.
  • Nothing of essay-length please. There will be other people who will have questions and it is a bit unfair if I have to dedicate the Mailbag to answering one very large question or someone who’s asking five questions at once.
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!

All Habs Mailbag (week ending March 21st, 2013)

 

Logan P

Who do you take: Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon?

The debate of Nathan MacKinnon versus Jonathan Drouin is not an easy one, MacKinnon was close to the consensus best forward for the 2013 draft to start the year, but the scoring campaign of Jonathan Drouin this season has made it a serious debate between the Halifax Mooseheads superstar forwards.

At first consideration is the position, MacKinnon is the natural centre while Drouin is the winger. Teams are often eager to stack the centre position due to the versatility of the position and the greater responsibilities that the centre assumes for their team. At the same time, an elite winger is something that is difficult to pass up especially when performing at the level that Drouin has been this season.

The talent measurement is next, while both have played a similar number of games this season, Drouin has clearly been the star when it comes to the scoresheet. While Nathan MacKinnon has a very respectable 75 points in 44 games, Drouin has set the Quebec league on fire with 105 points in 49 games this season. Granted, the playoffs (and a potential Memorial Cup berth) are still to come but right now in pure scoring, Drouin seems to have taken a step ahead. MacKinnon is acknowledged to be the superior skater and believed to possess a more complete game though. It is a difficult debate in this category as the temptation of pure scoring at Drouin’s level is something that is extremely rare but MacKinnon’s all-around ability offers advantages as well.

I try not to involve myself too much into a ‘character’ debate as these are still 17-year old players and while maturity is welcome in a player this age, it should not be deciding factor. Young players mature and that is how things go and neither player is thought to be that much better than the other as a ‘character’ player at present as well.

I think the gap between Drouin and MacKinnon at present is too close to really say one over the other will be the superior player in the NHL but at present I lean to Drouin. His scoring campaign is one of the most remarkable that has been seen in years in the Quebec league and with his ability to excel even when MacKinnon was out of the lineup it shows he is not living and dying on playing with an elite linemate.

 

Veronica

Hey does NHL realignment affect the playoff format?

There is indeed a shift in the playoff format, along with some new twists that are no doubt going to irritate a few people along the way.

One change that will likely not bother traditional hockey fans is the resurrection of the Divisional Playoff Format. In the new system, Divisions will battle it out internally before playing for the Conference Championship and a chance at a Stanley Cup berth. The new playoff seeding arrangement is that the top three teams in each Division will get an automatic playoff berth, but the final playoff spot in each Division will be determined by the new “Wildcard” system.

The Wildcard dictates that the final two playoff spots in each Conference will be determined not by placement in a team’s Division but their overall regular season record. The two teams that have the best regular-season record outside of the top-3 seeds in each Division will be granted a playoff berth, but not necessarily in their division. The team that is their Division leader and the best team in their Conference will face the Wildcard team with the lesser regular-season record than the other wildcard, while the other Division leader will face the Wildcard team with the better record. This could lead to some interesting cross-division rivalries depending upon how the strength of each Division rounds out.

The new format has a pretty significant flaw at present though. The Western Conference and their 7-team Divisions has an arguably easier route to the playoffs with less in-Division competition than the 8-team Divisions in the East. This is arguably a prelude to a likely NHL expansion to 32 teams to balance the league’s playoff format out but for now, it is an easier road to the playoffs in the Western Conference by the numbers game. At present, Montreal will be in competition with Boston, Ottawa, Detroit, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Florida to earn a Top-3 seed to avoid a less favourable wildcard arrangement.

One can take solace though in that there will be less chance of a team earning an undeserved high playoff seed based off of being in a weak division. The new system should be better at awarding playoff seeds on merit over convenience of a team’s division.

 

Dan P

What’s your long term take on Dalton Thrower and Darren Dietz? AHL bound next year? Replacements for Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu in two years?

With Darren Dietz now signed to his Entry-Level contract, his next destination is almost certainly the Hamilton Bulldogs. He is not likely to contend for a spot on the Canadiens out of camp but should fit in to the deep group of NHL prospect defencemen that has been assembled with the Canadiens farm team. Dietz’s potential place with the Canadiens is a bit hard to determine at present, as he is arguably a potential No. 4 defencemen at his best projection, but present hopes would hold that he grow into a serviceable bottom-pairing defencemen. The issue will be whose spot he can potentially inherit. There will be four pending unrestricted free agents for the Canadiens in 2014 in Andrei Markov, Francis Bouillon, Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz and P.K. Subban will be a restricted free agent as well. Assuming at the minimum that Emelin, Diaz, Subban are all extended and Gorges is still on board, Darren Dietz still finds himself arguably behind Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Morgan Ellis for an NHL spot. Dietz could overtake some of his competition but he will likely see at least two seasons of AHL play barring some outstanding play on his part in the minors.

Dalton Thrower is a more difficult case to assess. After an excellent draft-year performance of 18 goals and 36 assists in 66 games, Thrower stumbled this season with 6 goals and 21 assists in 54 games amidst injuries and middling play. Thrower is still eligible to return to play next season in Saskatoon, but due to his turning 20 in December of this year he is also eligible to begin playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs. The decision may rest on Thrower performs in the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, as his team the Saskatoon Blades are the hosts of the Tournament this year. If Thrower can show his best form, he may earn an entry-level deal. Otherwise I suspect Marc Bergevin and his player development staff may decide Thrower would be best suited to play another year of junior hockey. Thrower’s projection into the NHL is very hard to read at this point given his difficult season, it is arguable he is at least three years from serious consideration given all the defensive depth Montreal now enjoys in their farm system and his disappointing season so far.

 

Josh P

What will the line combos be with a healthy Rene Bourque and Brandon Prust? …and don’t you dare scratch Gabriel Dumont!

At present, I’d be looking at the forward lines like this.

Ryder-Plekanec-Gionta : No reason to mess with a line that is working well right now and to ease Rene Bourque back in, it might not be best to assign him top-line minutes.

Pacioretty-Eller-Galchenyuk : Lars Eller is due for better ice time and linemates and it should also serve as a wake-up call to David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, as Desharnais’s lazy defensive play is becoming a bad influence on Pacioretty. Alex Galchenyuk will also have another skilled forward to feed the puck as while he is battling some bad puck luck, he is still making some very good passing plays.

Bourque-Desharnais-Gallagher : David Desharnais will continue to get his sheltered zone starts and start the majority of the time in the offensive zone but he needs to be held to account on his declining play of late. Losing ice time and Max Pacioretty to Lars Eller should help remind him he has to be better than he has been lately. Rene Bourque can provide the physical element of the line, while Brendan Gallagher will continue to help drive play as he is being deployed by Michel Therrien in the same exploitation-type role as Desharnais has been.

Moen-Dumont-Prust : No offence to Colby Armstrong and his two-game scoring streak, but he has not brought a particularly useful element this season and Ryan White seems to still be figuring out the right balance of toughness and responsibility. Travis Moen remains one of the team’s better penalty killing forwards, even if his physicality is not what people wish it was right now.

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