Of all the players the Montreal Canadiens have added this offseason, the one you would least expect to improve the offence was Manny Malhotra.
However, I feel that the addition of the veteran fourth line centre will have a big effect on how Tomas Plekanec is used and get him more offensive chances.
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Now, let’s take a look at some numbers. Here are the 10 top vote getters in last year’s Selke Trophy voting. The Selke trophy is given to the best defensive forward. All players are marked with the exception of Ryan O’Reilly. He is the dot between Patrice Bergeron and Joe Pavelski. For information’s sake, I also put in David Desharnais and Manny Malhotra. [You can click the picture for a bigger look]
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Now, what you see is that among the Selke candidates, Plekanec was by far the one used most often in the defensive zone (ZS% is the percentage of face-offs taken in the offensive zone). You will also notice that the trend here is simple: the more offensive zone face-offs, the more points. All numbers here are at even strength which is why the points numbers are lower.
If you look at the bottom-left corner, you will see Malhotra. Malhotra was used most often for defensive zone face-offs because he is so good at them. That is what will free up Plekanec. Sure, Plekanec will still see time on the penalty kill but the more face-offs he can avoid in the defensive zone, the more he opportunities he will get in offensive-friendly positions.
Malhotra isn’t any fourth line centre. He was approached by the Canadiens for exactly that reason. He is a good face-off man that is responsible in his zone and trusted to take those draws. This isn’t a fourth line that will need to be sheltered like Daniel Briere‘s fourth line was for most of last season.
The way Plekanec has been teamed up this pre-season proves his role may just change. His line mates will be Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher who, while not bad defensive players, are there for their offensive production.
The role Plekanec is in now is a lot more similar to the one Bergeron plays with Boston. He will go up against the other team’s top line but play with offensive players.
Plekanec wasn’t bad offensively last year despite playing most of the year with Brian Gionta in a defensive role. With Gallagher on his right, and more offensive opportunities, he may be the wild card improvement for the Canadiens in their quest to return – at least – to the Eastern Conference final.