The Grades Are in Up Front - Part 2
After discussing the defence and the first half of the forwards, here are my grades for the bottom 6 of the line-up. This wasn't an easy exercise since some of those guys played very little with the Canadiens this season but I tried to grade them nonetheless.
Max Domi - C
Last season, nobody would have thought that Domi belonged on the Canadiens' third line. He was playing well at centre and racked up a personal best 72 points in 81 games beating the mark he established in his rookie season by 20 points. He was gritty, he was quick and he loved the Montreal pressure cooker. It looked like the Habs had found a game breaker. Fast forward a year later though and the picture is nowhere near as pretty. The truth is Domi struggled this season. The first month wasn't all that bad (11 points in 13 games) but November (6 points in 13 games) was very difficult and while the Canadiens were trying to find a way out an 8 games losing streak they couldn't rely much on the guy that was such an important piece of their attack the year before. December saw him get 13 points in 14 games while in January he only registered 4 in 12 games before going back up to 10 points in 15 matches in February and wrapping things up pointless in the 4 March games. In the end, he finished his rollercoaster of a season with 44 points in 71 contests. The best way to describe his performance this season would probably be inconsistent and that's not what you want in a contract year. Furthermore, his attitude wasn't the best at all times as he was clearly sulking when he was asked to play on Suzuki's wing and that's not something you want from a good teammate. Paul Byron's return to the line-up was great news for Domi though and it did seem like some chemistry was developing there. This summer, Domi will become a UFA and what will Marc Bergevin do with him? Does he sign him base on last season or on this one? Does he give him a bridge deal so that he can prove that his first season with the Habs wasn't a fluke and Domi can bet on himself to show what he's really made of? I know that some of you want to see him traded but personally, I'm not there. It was a tough year for Domi but I am confident that he will come back stronger.
Arturri Lehkonen - B-
I had hope to see a scoring increase from Lehkonen this season. Last year, he missed so many of the great opportunities KK made for him but unfortunately, we saw more of the same this season. It's time to face the fact that Lehkonen is a great player without the puck and can be very useful to this time but not in a scoring capacity. At one stage this season, Claude Julien even made him a healthy scratch saying he'd like him to contribute more scoring wise but the thing is, it's not for lack of effort of trying that Lehkonen doesn't score, he's just not a scorer. He finished the season with 27 points in 70 games and from now on, I think a 30 point season is pretty much the best we can expect from him. Take the good sides of him and build on that. You cannot ask a leopard to change its spots just because your team needs more scoring...
Paul Byron - B-
It was a tale of two very short seasons for Byron. The one before the injury and the one after. Before, he didn't look like the shadow of his former self but to be honest he wasn't used that much by Claude Julien anyways. As for after the injury, he kind of acted as a catalyst for Max Domi and had an immediate impact on the team. This is why I'm giving him a B-, Byron is a leader and wants to help in any way he can. Will he still be here to do so next season? I'm not sure...Julien didn't seem like a fan early on but perhaps, his return post injury will have convinced the bench boss of his worth.
Jordan Weal - B-
I think we all saw much more of Jordan Weal that we would have liked this season. Yes, he was only dressed for 49 games but when he did play, he often landed on the power play. While he might not have been given the opportunity to play on the man advantage if it hadn't been for the numerous injuries the team had, you cannot justify putting him on the power play while Brendan Gallagher was on the bench and that happened way too many times. Weal is not an offensive dynamo and no one expected him to be so you can't fault him for delivering 15 points in his 49 games. He works hard and does his beat with the talent and abilities he does have. The bottom line is though, this team cannot hope to content if they put Jordan Weal on the power play...we'll see if Julien sees it the same way next season or if Bergevin gives him some more talent to work with.
Dale Weise - C+
The injuries and the trades added up and meant that Weise played 23 games in the NHL this season. His best days are far behind him but he did what he was asked too and worked hard every night. When he was down in Laval, he was a great veteran presence and an asset for Joel Bouchard's team. He was on the last year of the 4 year contract the Flyers gave him after a couple of solid season in Montreal and it would be surprising to see him back in the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge come next season.
Jake Evans - B-
13 games is not a lot to go on but did you hear Nate Thompson's comments about him when he was traded? He basically said that the kid was ready for the big show and that he was keen to learn and a hard worker. Evans registered 3 points in 13 games and if all goes according to plan, he should be pivoting the 4th line with the Habs when the puck drops on the next season...whenever that is. I know i'll look forward to seeing him grow and take the next step in his game.
Charles Hudon - C-
Granted he only got 15 games in Montreal but I'd describe his season as a series of missed opportunities. He can be a consistent threat scoring wise in the AHL but when it's time to do it in the big show, he just cannot do it. Perhaps he's all too aware that he's running out of trial runs and that's why he's struggling but the fact is that he cannot seem to perform on the biggest of stages. He will be a RFA this summer but it remains to be seen if the Canadiens decide to sign him or not and even if they want to, perhaps it's time for Hudon to explore other options. If he doesn't want to become a career AHLer, he might need to look over the pond at European opportunities...Although right now, I don't think many players are contemplating that kind of move.
As for Nate Thompson, had he still been with the Canadiens, I think I would have given him a solid B+. He did what he was asked to do and he did it well. As for the others who have left, I'd give Nick Cousins a C, he had his uses but didn't really make a big impact on the team and wasn't the go to guy in any situations really. Finally, the fan in me cannot help but give Kovalchuk an A-, he showed up, put some colours back in a rather gray season and made us all smile for a short while anyway...There you have it. Let's hear your thoughts on those players!