Five-year forecast: your 2023-24 Montreal Canadiens

Thanks to a trio of young centers, the Canadiens may finally be able to fill a roster need that has plagued them for years. With enough veterans to stick things together and a couple of high-end options in net, the Canadiens may be ready to contend again.
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Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.

Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Montreal.

FORWARDS

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Thanks to some astute trades and drafts, Montreal’s forward corps looks very promising for the future. The biggest question may be which young centers make the most impact. Kotkaniemi got a head start by playing with the Habs for all of 2018-19, but Suzuki was the OHL playoff MVP and Poehling had a hat trick against Toronto in his NHL debut. So toss those three in the lineup blender - they’re all pretty talented. With that established, Drouin and Domi can play their natural wings, where they will be joined by goal-scoring machine Caufield once he’s done at the University of Wisconsin (I can’t see him playing the full four years; he’s too good). In the bottom six, the Canadiens will have a lot of experience, making this a very well-rounded cast.

DEFENSE

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Weber’s contract runs until the summer of 2026, though retirement before that is certainly possible. If he is still kickin’ in 2023-24, it will have to be in a diminished role despite his salary. Because of this, it would be prudent to keep the veteran Petry to help up top, as Montreal has several promising youngsters (with Romanov obviously being the most intriguing right now). This lineup has a nice variety of skills, from puckmoving and skating to physicality and experience. It’s not a murderer’s row, but it’s pretty good.

GOALIES

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Like Weber, the veteran Price is signed through the summer of 2026 and it’s hard to say what a 37-year-old Price will be like. Elite goalies do age differently than the average netminder, but Montreal also has Primeau coming up the ranks and he has been pretty solid so far. After two stellar seasons at Northeastern University, the big stopper begins his pro career with AHL Laval this year and that will be a great test for him. He will at least back up Price in five years and may even split time or play more.

Overall, the future looks very promising for the Canadiens. For years the franchise has lacked adequate centers, but soon they will have a feast of options in Suzuki, Poehling and Kotkaniemi. The defense is in pretty good shape, assuming some of the higher-end prospects turn out, while goaltending should be solid as long as it’s a meritocracy. Depending on how good some of these prospects become, Montreal may be a contender soon again.

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