The loss of Andrei Markov has created uncertainty…let’s not forget the opportunity also created from it
For a team who’s past off-seasons have been spent marvelling at the difficulties one faces in the pursuit of top line centres —go figure—, the Montreal Canadiens now find themselves with another gaping hole.
Never-mind the departure of Alex Radulov, who was essentially replaced in the Jonathan Drouin trade, the shocking departure of lifetime Hab Andrei Markov was the team’s biggest loss this off-season, and leaves a serious void on the team’s top pairing.
The search for a No.1 centre is an ongoing investigation, albeit with a suspect in custody. Adding Finding Shea Weber a partner leaves the Habs with have two glaring issues to resolve heading into a pivotal season — Once again, thank you hockey Gods for Carey Price. Worth every penny.
Markov, even having lost a step was still a top four defensemen in the NHL — on this team, he was a top 2. Ten games shy of 1,000, and one knee surgery short of a hat-trick, the end was near for the aging Russian. But it wasn’t meant to go down like this…
The silver lining to Markov’s departure is the opportunity it presents for others. The Habs will have several options when it comes to finding a replacement.
One of the possibilties going into camp was 20-year old Noah Juulsen. The 2015 first round pick wrapped up his junior career last season — 34P in 49 GP — and looked ready to challenge for an everyday spot before suffering a fractured foot in pre-season. Facing a minimum six-week recovery, winding up with the Habs to start the season doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
Some other notables include Jakub Jerabek, the 26 year old Czech who played last season overseas for Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL. Tallying 34 points (5G, 34A) in 59 games, Jerabek is billed as an offensive minded puck moving d-man, much like Markov. At 26, he brings more experience from a years standpoint than Juulsen but both are rookies as it pertains to NHL service.
Throw in Brandon Davidson, Eric Gelinas, Brett Lernout, Joe Morrow, and Zach Redmond — all of whom I believe wind up on the outside looking in, and it becomes clear that replacing Markov’s skillset and production while complimenting Weber on the top pair won’t be easy…
Enter Victor Mete…the darkest of horses
A 19-year old smooth skating *oh so smooth* defensemen with zero professional games under his belt. Drafted in the 4th round (100th overall) in 2016, you’re not alone should you not have a clue who Victor Mete is. Describing his chances of cracking the opening night lineup as slim would be putting it lightly.
However, in watching the London Knight product, Mete’s skillset projects him to be an intriguing and appealing partner for Weber. And while still junior eligible, his training camp and pre-season performances thus far at least puts him in the discussion.
Playing 25+ minutes per night is a lot to ask of a 19-year old, against other teams top lines to boot. There may be nights he gets exposed and looks every bit his age — he won’t be alone.
The luxury a goalie like Carey Price affords the Canadiens should benefit the likes of Victor Mete. Price masks up defensive gaffs made by those playing in front of him. As a young defensemen, can you think of a more perfect learning environment than playing alongside Shea Weber in front of Carey Price?
As the pre-season wraps up and another regular season grind begins, Molson’s Canadiens could help themselves by thinking outside the box — a concept often lost on a franchise much more comfortable developing young talent along a traditional timeline.
Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi come to mind when I think of the NHL via AHL route.
Bergevin, Julien and Co. will be faced with many difficult decisions in the days and weeks ahead. Among them will be how to replace a defensemen who since 2000-2001 has tallied 572 points in 990 games…all with the Canadiens. Not bad for a guy drafted 162nd overall in 1998.
Why not go off the board with his replacement?
It worked with Markov.