Montreal Canadiens: Player Projections for the 2011-12 season – part 1, forwards

With only one month before the NHL training camps begin, the Montreal Canadiens’ roster is almost set in stone as the team has 12 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goalies already signed to NHL contracts. The Canadiens have 21 players signed for a total of $59,120,510, which gives GM Pierre Gauthier a $5,179,490 cap space to address injuries and improve his team during the regular season in anticipation of the playoffs.

The core of the roster will be fairly similar to that of last year, especially in front, the notable departures being Roman Hamrlik (Washington), James Wisniewski (Columbus), Brent Sopel (KHL), Paul Mara (unsigned), Alex Auld (Ottawa), Jeff Halpern (Washington) and Benoit Pouliot (Boston). The newcomers are Erik Cole (Carolina), Alexei Yemelin (KHL), and Peter Budaj (Colorado).

With a healthy Andrei Markov during the whole season, the Canadiens’ already dynamic powerplay will become devastating and should finish in the top-three powerplays in the league. This key addition, and the fact that Erik Cole will cement the first line, will prove very useful over the long NHL season.

Below you will find my predictions on the 2011-12 Canadiens’ players:

Tomas Plekanec: 80 games, 27 goals and 46 assists for 73 points
Coming off five consecutive 20-goal seasons, Plekanec has been the most consistent Habs forward in the past few years, but his production suffered last season when Mike Cammalleri went down with an injury and because of the lack of stability at left wing during the season. Expect Plekanec to rebound offensively with a healthy Cammalleri and the addition of power forward Erik Cole.

Mike Cammalleri: 75 games, 31 goals and 36 assists for 67 points
After missing 17 and 15 games respectively the past two seasons, one has to wonder if Cammalleri will finally be spared by injuries in 2011-12. His head coach Jacques Martin certainly hopes so as Cammalleri is a deadly weapon on the power play (he is only two years removed from a 19-PPG season) and a key cog offensively for Montreal.

Brian Gionta: 81 games, 30 goals and 27 assists for 57 points
After scoring 28 and 29 goals since joining the Canadiens as a free agent, Gionta has proven his scoring abilities despite playing with a disappointing Scott Gomez most of last season. This season, Gionta should benefit from a more mature and healthy Max Pacioretty, and more consistent Gomez. With more stability, I expect Gionta to finally break the 30-barrier with the Canadiens.

Erik Cole: 76 games, 25 goals and 29 assists for 54 points
After a bounce-back season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Cole signed a multi-year contract with Montreal during the off-season. Coming off a 26-goal season, the oft-injured Cole played all 82 games after a 2009-10 marred with injuries. The newly acquired power forward will slot alongside Plekanec and Cammalleri on the Habs’ first line and his mandate will be to create space in front of the net, battle pucks along the boards and lay big hits to make room for his diminutive linemates.

Scott Gomez: 78 games, 11 goals and 40 assists for 51 points
Dubbed the most overpaid player in the NHL by many pundits, Gomez had is worst season of his career, scoring only seven goals and notching a miserable 38 points despite playing 80 games. He also finished the season with a horrible -15 plus/minus ratio. Yet, he had moderate success on a line with Max Pax and Gionta before Chara ended Pacioretty’s season, so there is no reason Gomez cannot reclaim back his confidence and improve on his numbers and hit the 50-point mark for the 10th time of his career.

Andrei Kostitsyn: 81 games, 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points
The most enigmatic Canadiens forward, Kostitsyn can dominate a game both offensively and physically at times before disappearing for a few games. After scoring career highs of 26 goals and 53 points in 2007-08, the older of the Kostitsyn brothers has been fairly disappointing and inconsistent the past few seasons. At 26 years of age and an impending UFA, Kostitsyn needs to perform offensively to land the biggest contract of his career, or else he could be heading to the KHL. Expect Kostitsyn to play on the third line and get some powerplay time.

Max Pacioretty: 70 games, 23 goals and 22 assists for 45 points
The biggest question surrounding Pacioretty this season is not his health, but rather his confidence and his fear of being hit hard again. We all know what happened last season when Zdeno Chara hit him hard into the stanchion at Bell Centre, but Pacioretty now appears to be fully healthy heading into training camp. It is expected he will a few games to find back his rhythm and confidence, but the young American should be able to provide a fairly consistent offensive output alongside Gionta and Gomez.

David Desharnais: 77 games, 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points
Coming off a surprising rookie season, Desharnais showed great hockey sense after being called-up from Hamilton in early January. The diminutive center managed to earn a one-way contract for the upcoming season after going undrafted and being signed as a free agent by Montreal. Desharnais will most likely man the fourth line, while getting powerplay time on the second unit and also killing penalties.

Lars Eller: 75 games, 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points
Ahead of schedule in his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery, Eller should be ready for the regular season. The young Dane had a very inconsistent rookie season with Montreal, showing flashes of brilliance at times while going AWOL for long stretches still trying to adapt to the rigors of the challenging NHL season. Eller should improve in all aspects of his game, but don’t expect big numbers from him as he is buried down the depth chart at center.

Mathieu Darche: 78 games, 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points
The hard-working Darche had a very surprising season in 2010-11, recording 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in only 59 games, missing 23 games mainly because of a broken ankle. Darche is the perfect veteran to play on a third or fourth line and will never complain if he is made a healthy scratch.

Travis Moen: 80 games, 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points
The rugged veteran with cement hands is the Canadiens’ tough guy even though he’s not very good at it. Moen is an efficient penalty killer, but is not an offensive weapon. Jacques Martin utilized Moen on the Habs’ first two lines during the past season without great success and with the addition of Cole and the emergence of Pacioretty, Moen will remain on the bottom two lines.

Ryan White: 70 games, 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points
Promoted in late January when the team was decimated with injuries, White played well in a fourth line role, dropping the gloves when needed and laying big hits despite being only 6’0” 200 lbs. His dedicated play earned him a one-way contract and White will act as the team’s agitator.

Do you agree with the above predictions? Which player is the most likely to have his best season? The worst season?

Next week I will have a look at defensemen and goaltenders, but in the meantime don’t hesitate to comment on the above blog and follow me on Twitter for news on the Canadiens and the NHL in general.

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About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish.

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  1. HabFan says:

    We at my site, Hockey Inside/Out took a poll and we think the Canadiens wont make the playoffs this year, and your prostications as to the fowards seems very optimistic, to say the least. Hopefully, a few players get injured and we can use the Injury Excuse to explain why the team stunk again.

  2. HabsFan says:

    Hockey Inside/Out site predicts the Habbies not making the playoffs and all management is fired.

    • Fred Poulin says:

      Where do you this bold prediction? I usually visit Hockey I/O every week! If the Habs can avoid long-term injuries, they will finish 7th or 8th in the conference once again, but that’s a playoffs team IMO.

  3. Mary Ann says:

    Barring any really heavy injuries, I cannot see how the Habs don’t make it to the playoffs. That first line with Cole, Cammy and Plekanec is going to be lethal. The Habs strength in goal adds to the mix as well.

    I would call HabsFan’s prediction bold – more like wild!

  4. levy says:

    In my opinion your pole could not be more wrong … Montreal finished 6th last year with the abscense of markov and Georges. Plus add a years experience to subban, pacioretty, eller, and desharnais and you can expect them to improve. Top it of by adding a dependable 5 on 5 scorer, Erik cole, and a dirty tough defenceman, alexai yemelin, that obviously means improvement… I’m looking for a battle between Montreal and buffalo for the division title, followed by Boston, Toronto and then obviously last Ottawa.

    • Fred Poulin says:

      I predict a little under 100 points to the Canadiens and they will battle with Boston and maybe Buffalo for the division title, but they will ultimately fail and finish between 6 and 8! That’s only if they can avoid long term injuries. If Markov goes down again, they are in trouble as their defensive corps is thinner.

      • levy says:

        Boston won’t have a good a season as last year due to the fact that Collin cambell finally stepped down so the referees won’t be afraid to make a call against his son and not have to lose their jobs Collin Campbell was a joke and I am looking forward to a hopefully nuetral Brendan shanahan…