Dan Robertson: The ‘CH’ need another ‘C’

Montreal Canadiens' Mathieu Perreault salutes the crowd following an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Montreal, Saturday, October 23, 2021. Perreault scored three goals in the game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Mathieu Perreault was the centre of attention last Saturday at the Bell Centre.

He should not be the centre of the team’s third line.

With a natural hat-trick that triggered an ovation that only the Bell Centre fans can provide, it was a magical night for Perreault.

“You don’t even dream about a moment [like this],” said Perreault during the Habs’ post-game press conference. “You just dream of playing in the NHL and maybe playing for the Canadiens and not to actually score a hat-trick in your own building.”

After opening the season with five consecutive losses, Montreal desperately needed the two points against the Red Wings, and they got them with a 6-1 victory.

However, with respect to Perreault, he is miscast as Montreal’s third line centreman.

The 33 year-old Drummondville, Que. native wasn’t signed to skate between the likes of Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield, certainly not for the long term. That combination might work in a pinch, but Perreault and the team would be better off if he were battling for a spot on the fourth line, preferably as a winger.

He hasn’t played centre with regularity for a few seasons and was being used in Winnipeg as an energy winger with some grit and a touch of offensive flair. He isn’t the answer at the three spot for Montreal.

The truth is, that player isn’t on the roster.

In a better scenario, Ryan Poehling and Jake Evans would be battling for the number three centre role. Coming off a strong AHL season and with some sorely needed size down the middle, Poehling was given every chance at training camp to make the team, but couldn’t get the job done.

He’s still just 22 years old and could some day play in the top nine, but it seems far from a sure bet. When Jake Evans centres Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, the makings of a solid defensive trio is clear. When Evans is on the third line and is needed to chip in with some offence, it’s evident he’s not a great fit in that role.

To this point, Toronto castoff Adam Brooks has played one game at third line centre while veteran Cedric Paquette is best suited for spot duty on a fourth line.

Montreal’s General Manager Marc Bergevin said recently he is not going to make a trade "just for the sake of making a trade." Nor should he.

But with plenty of road ahead to right the wrongs of the first two weeks of the season, it would make sense to find someone better suited for third line responsibilities. Granted, early season NHL trades are as rare as a Canadiens victory, but finding diamonds in the rough is one of the GM’s strengths.

If the Habs can acquire someone in the league who could thrive with a fresh start at the right price, they need to get it done. Then the Perreaults and Evans of the world could be slotted properly and things might just fall into place.

The Canadiens have no shortage of issues on their hands right now, but solidifying things down the middle at the right cost would certainly be a step in the right direction. 

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