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Season Preview 2019-20: Montreal Canadiens

Questions remain down the middle, but the return of peak-form Carey Price is the ultimate difference-maker in Montreal.

Does Montreal have a first-line center?
The Sebastian Aho “offer sheet,” far too easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to match, could’ve given the Canadiens a bona fide star pivot. They don’t have one now but possess a collection of solid secondary options. Phillip Danault handles the shutdown duty. Max Domi was the team’s best offensive player last season. Jesperi Kotkaniemi held his own as the NHL’s youngest player. Ryan Poehling teased with a late-season hat trick, though it may have created unrealistic expectations for a player whose calling card is 200-foot play. And then there’s top prospect Nick Suzuki, who has torn up the OHL. Montreal, then, has achieved depth at what was recently perceived as a weak position. But it needs top-drawer production up the middle to truly threaten the Atlantic’s high-flying teams. Ceiling wise, Kotkaniemi and Suzuki have the best chance to reach that level.

Can Carey Price stay healthy for consecutive seasons?
Price’s games played since his epic, MVP 2014-15 season began: 66, 12, 62, 49, 66. According to his alternating healthy-hurt pattern, 2019-20 should be a “hurt” year, and it’s well established the Habs sink when their star netminder can’t help them. Their Atlantic finishes across his last two “hurt” years: sixth and sixth. He helped them become a bubble team last season. The bubble bursts without him.

Is Max Domi a one-year wonder?
In two ugly seasons before getting traded to Montreal, Domi had 18 goals and 83 points across 141 games. Last season: 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games. Domi was a force, recapturing the form he showed as a dazzling major-junior player and NHL rookie. He had the highest shooting percentage of his career but also smashed his personal bests in shots per 60 minutes, shot attempts per 60 minutes, scoring chances per 60 minutes, high-danger chances per 60 minutes and rebounds created per 60 minutes. In other words, his breakout wasn’t a series of lucky bounces. Domi was a monster, significantly improved across the board. Perhaps his feisty personality makes him better suited to a high-pressure environment such as Montreal than he was to half-full buildings in Arizona.

Stanley Cup Odds: 45/1

Rookie Watch
Hockey Night in Canada,
one game, three goals. Debuts don’t get much more exciting than Ryan Poehling's. But Habs fans have to temper their expectations. He’s no sniper. He’s a promising prospect – because of his intelligent 200-foot game and playmaking. He likely tops out as a middle-six center.

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