The Montreal Canadiens have done a great job addressing, what was a weakness in the organization. Since Shea Weber retired, and Jeff Petry was traded away, the right side of the blueline had a downgrade in talent.
Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle and many high-potential left-handed defenders represent the strong depth on the left side, but the opposite side has been spotty at best. This is why Kent Hughes continued addressing the weakness with the Canadiens’ fifth overall selection at the 2023 Draft, and via trade with the Colorado Avalanche, adding to Marc Bergevin’s 2021 first-round selection.
While the likes of David Savard, Johnathan Kovacevic and Gustav Lindstrom are a fair bet to fill the Canadiens’ right defence this season, it could very well be the last with at least two of the three in the organization, with the third guy seeing significantly fewer starts.
If the Canadiens want to compete, which obviously they do, those three manning the right side of the blueline just aren’t going to cut it. Their presence this season will be important, as the three guys nipping at their heels could do with another season of development in Laval for two of them, and the third one in Switzerland’s professional league, the NL.
The three defensemen all bring different, but intriguing elements to the table, and have shown glimpses of what they can turn into during their prime. Two of them have just one NHL preseason game of experience under their belts, while the third has some NHL experience. They are young, all under 21 years old, and ready to take over the Canadiens’ defence in the near future.
Logan Mailloux was both the final first round selection of Marc Bergevin’s tenure as general manager for the Canadiens, and the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft. He is big and physical and his skating is one of his best attributes, especially for a guy who is 6’3″ and 220 lbs. His draft stock dropped quite a bit, for reasons that have been discussed at length, but he has managed to still develop smoothly despite the missed game time, and he could prove to be a draft steal.
Since PK Subban was dealt to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, the Habs haven’t had a defenseman who skates so smoothly and has legitimate high-end offensive skills. I’m not saying that Mailloux is a lock to be a top-pairing, point-producing defender in the mould of Subban, but he has some nice flash and loves to have the puck on his stick. His mobility is the biggest threat in his toolkit; it allows him to evade pressure and keep forwards honest, as they know a poor play with the puck, could end up going back to their zone quickly.
Mailloux’s complete package and potential are brilliant, and with him and Lane Hutson in the fold for the future, the lack of production on the back end should be a thing of the past. With the offensive units trying to take big strides, and a focus on having a speedy and skilled lineup, Mailloux will play right into that style.
He can also hold his own against bigger forwards and has no issue using his frame to protect the puck and separate the opposition from the puck with a booming body check. He is likely a year in Laval away from playing for the Habs, but he has the ability to play a large role for the team, once he is ready.
David Reinbacher is a defenseman with a lot of poise and intelligence, for an 18-year-old, and the fact that he already played a full season in Switzerland’s professional league, the NL, before being drafted goes to show what sort of play he could develop into.
Throughout training camp, he has looked comfortable and confident, and with more reps, he will surely feel like he can try to do a little more with the puck. He has shown flashes of his skating, and when he played alongside Kaiden Guhle vs. the New Jersey Devils, he was given plenty of time to handle the puck, and he didn’t look out of place.
The plan is for Reinbacher to head back to Switzerland for another season with HC Kloten, and to finish up his education, but he could very seriously usurp a couple of guys and etch a spot on the Canadiens roster. He skates beautifully, and while he isn’t physical, he has the frame should he be tested in the toughened Atlantic Division. He activated from the blueline a couple of times in the attacking zone to support his forwards, and he showed great maturity and skating ability to get back to his position and disrupt any plays by the opposition.
With more playing time, I think his offensive tools will start to appear, and he would benefit from using his shot and smart passes more often. He is by no means a slouch on offence, but because his 2022-23 season was his first in the pros, he was just trying to stay in the lineup, by making smart plays with the puck and focusing on defending, which makes sense for such a young defender in a league filled with veterans.
He brings a high potential, effective element to the Canadiens blueline, that Savard and Kovacevic don’t, and he is far from done developing into what he will be in his prime.
Justin Barron was acquired in the Artturi Lehkonen trade, and he has put in a lot of work to complement his already impressive game. He has always been mobile and had a knack for jumping in on the offence, but the defensive side is where he was prone to miscues. But, he has continued to work on that and to sharpen his already strong tools, which should translate to a big year for him.
He looks faster and more confident with the puck, and I think that he had a strong offseason based on a small sample size thus far. He is the only one to play an NHL game, out of the three guys on the list, and while the Habs lineup looked like a waiting room at the emergency room, he showed some great things. He has been rumoured to train back home in Halifax, with NHLers Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand, which are some premiere players to practice your craft against.
There are 50/50 odds that he plays for Laval, and it certainly wouldn’t discourage his offence, but give him some big minutes on a very young and inexperienced blueline with the Rocket. There’s also the fact that Barron could develop into a nice piece on the powerplay, and playing alongside the young talent headed for the Laval roster this season, he could benefit greatly from the reps with very offensively talented forwards.
Maybe it won’t be this year to start, but he could very well find his way onto the roster, as one of the most experienced right-handed defenders, either drafted or coveted by the Canadiens.
The future is looking bright in Montreal, and a once weak right defence has caught up to speed and could see some reinforcements very soon.
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