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In Hainsight: The Blue Line Conundrum

May 1, 2024, 1:39 PM ET [354 Comments]
Karine Hains
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

If the Canadiens’ blue line already looked full last season, it’s about to get even fuller. At the end of the season, we saw both Lane Hutson and Logan Mailloux play their first NHL game, but a third defenseman could have done the same had his team not gone so far in the Swedish Hockey League playoffs. Adam Engstrom had a great season in Sweden and helped his team Rogle BK reach the final of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Engstrom, Rogle lost the series 4-1. On the other hand, the Engstrom watch has started, and he will likely sign his Entry Level Contract soon.

The Canadiens have two veterans on the blue line; left-shot Mike Matheson and right-shot David Savard. Then, there’s a whole bunch of younger blueliners; Justin Barron and Jonathan Kovacevic are right-shots and Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj are left-shots. Then, there are the young prospects who are knocking on the Canadiens’ door, we saw a lot of Jayden Struble last season and we had a brief look at Lane Hutson and Logan Mailloux. Finally, Adam Engstrom and David Reinbacher will get a good hard look at the next camp.

That’s 12 defensemen for just six roster spots and perhaps a seventh defenseman to keep in case of injury, there will be room for that option now that the Habs won’t have to carry three goaltenders. Logic dictates Engstrom and Reinbacher will probably land in Laval. Even if both are very good, they’ll need to get used to North American hockey and the all-important size of the ice.

I believe keeping Savard and Matheson makes sense, you need some veterans to lead the way. However, should five youngsters shine brightly, I’d keep Savard around as the seventh defenseman. Savard seems to like the “big brother” role he took last season, and he is a true pro with a fantastic work ethic. I’m aware that some people would like to trade Mike Matheson when his trade value is high after having a career season but moving him might put too much pressure on the young defensemen who are labeled as offensive. Unless a general manager is ready to pay a king’s ransom of course. The ransom would have to include some NHL-ready top-six talent.

I would keep Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj in the defense corps and then, I’d offer up Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, and Jonathan Kovacevic on the trade market. I don’t think Xhekaj and Struble can both be kept and between the two, Xhekaj has the upper hand. Harris will forever be a good all-around defenseman, but never a great one. He’s good at everything but he excels in nothing. Of course, those on their own will not bring a significant return, but the Canadiens have five first-round picks in the next three drafts, so there might be a deal to be made there. I’d also add Justin Barron to the trade bait list, he might just be a late bloomer, but I don’t see him beating Mailloux or Reinbacher to a roster spot.

As for the two other spots on the blue line, I’d like to see Lane Hutson stay in the NHL. I know, he’s young but you’ve got to admit he didn’t look out of place in the limited sample we’ve seen. I’d be reluctant to send him to the AHL because there are players there whose sole mission is to hit everyone and everything they see. So, unless he fails his first audition, I’d keep him with the Habs and send him to Laval only if it’s felt necessary. My last spot would go to Logan Mailloux. He’s had a full season in the AHL under his belt and he was dominant. Who am I keeping around as a seventh defenseman? Whoever Hughes doesn’t manage to trade in my trade bait category. They can get a game here and there when young guys hit the proverbial wall or need a night off. Needless to say, I do not want to see a rookie be the odd man out. Those are the guys who need their reps as head coach Martin St-Louis would say. I’m very happy I’m not Kent Hughes right now to be honest…

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