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What the Kirby Dach injury means for the Montreal Canadiens

By: Adam Floujeh

Before it could really get going, a hopeful start to the 2023-24 campaign for the Montreal Canadiens has been spoiled, with centreman Kirby Dach suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee after being hit into the Blackhawks bench during the Canadiens home opener Saturday night. Both require surgery and Dach will miss the rest of the NHL season.

It’s a worrying sign for a Habs team who led the NHL with 603 man-games lost last season and will want to avoid something similar this year. Still, though Dach’s injury is crushing for the team and fans alike, they still have options on the roster and in the AHL to help fill the gap.

Who can rise to the challenge?

St. Louis confirmed to the media that Alex Newhook will move to centre, with Tanner Pearson presumably taking Newhook’s spot on the wing. Rafael Harvey-Pinard looks to be getting a top-line promotion amongst the line shuffling.

While Newhook lacks the size of Dach, his speed and intelligence with the puck are his biggest assets and part of the reason the Habs acquired him over the summer. He did stumble playing down the middle in Colorado on their second line last year but his play in Montreal’s first two games this season showed he’s a capable top-six player.

Harvey-Pinard spent most of his 34 games last season already on Nick Suzuki’s wing, scoring 14 goals and 20 points in his rookie year. Expecting a 30 goal-pace from Harvey-Pinard seems a bit ridiculous but if he can carve out a role on that top line as a hard-working puck retriever for Cole Caufield, St. Louis and company would have to feel it’s a massive success.

Another player who needs to be talked about is Juraj Slafkovsky. The chemistry of the Slafkovsky-Dach-Newhook line was one of the biggest talking points going into this season for Habs fans. Dach was helping to elevate Slafkovsky’s play and the 19-year-old's confidence was noticeably higher than last season. It’s of the utmost importance that he keeps that mindset even without Dach.

Is a call-up in the cards?

Christian Dvorak isn’t expected to play until November, so while the Habs are carrying Michael Pezzeta as an extra forward, a promotion for a player in Laval is certainly possible. They will want somebody who can really jump into the lineup and have an offensive impact.

Emil Heineman turned heads during preseason and would have been the ideal first choice but in a cruel twist of fate, the Laval Rocket announced that the young Swede is out indefinitely with a concussion. The only bright side is a great opportunity for Joshua Roy, who has scored four points in his first two pro games in the AHL.

Other potential options could be Sean Farrell, who played in six NHL games last season, or even Joel Armia, who was waived before the season began but has been playing well in the AHL. With the salary cap hardly an issue for the Habs this season, Armia’s $3.4 million cap hit – an almost perfect match to Dach’s – should be no real problem, even if inconvenient.

To conclude

While losing their third-most talented forward a week into the season is a hard pill to swallow for the Habs, they can’t let it define their season. If we learned anything from the 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens, it was despite their lack of talent, they never gave up. Martin St Louis needs to make sure his team has that same mindset after such a big loss.


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