With Max Pacioretty lighting the lamp on a regular basis this season, Habs fans are arguably watching their finest goalscorer since Mats Naslund. Pacioretty finished this season in the top five in the NHL in goals and it feels like it has been ages since Habs fans were able to say one of their own is among the NHL’s best in offensive production. It’s no major secret the Montreal Canadiens haven’t hoisted a Stanley Cup in over 20 years. They simply haven’t had the elite players necessary to win cups. Andrei Markov was among the best defencemen in the league in his prime and the Habs have had elite goaltending at times (Jose Theodore in his prime, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak in 2010) but have never quite had the best of the NHL’s forwards, be it a top goalscorer, playmaker or power forward. It appears they have one in Pacioretty (and Thomas Vanek if he resigns). What the Canadiens have had in the past 20 years are some good forwards. Here are the top 10 forwards who have donned the CH since the Habs Stanley Cup win in 1993. Longevity with the Habs and what they produced while being in Montreal factors in to this list.
10. John Leclair (1987-1994)
John Leclair was a part of the Canadiens’ cup run in 1993, scoring two big overtime goals in the Cup final against Los Angeles. He was drafted by Montreal in 1987 and by 1992 was a mainstay on the Habs’ roster.
It’s a shame he was traded before really hitting his prime, as Canadiens management of the mid-90s seemed to make mistakes like these on a regular basis. By 1994, Leclair was hovering around as a 20-goal scorer, but was set for a breakout. He was traded to Philadelphia along with Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne for Mark Recchi. Not that Recchi wasn’t a good player, but it was a steep price to pay. Look where the Flyers went after the trade, and look where Montreal went.
Leclair would be higher on the list if he had stayed longer, but he hit his prime in Philly, breaking the 50-goal mark several times.
9. Pierre Turgeon (1994-96)
Yet another player who would’ve been a lot higher up on the list, but Pierre Turgeon’s time with the Habs was painfully short. He played just one full season for the CH, in 1995-96. All he did was score 38 goals and have a 96-point season.
Having traded for Turgeon in 1994 from the Islanders along with Vladimir Malakhov for Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby. The trade looks bad now because Turgeon played just 104 games for the Canadiens.
The Habs then dumped Turgeon in 1996 to St. Louis along with Rory Fitzpatrick and Craig Conroy for Murray Baron, Shayne Corson and a fifth-round pick. While Turgeon was past his most productive years, he still had several good seasons in St. Louis, scoring over 20 goals for five straight seasons and even hitting the 30 goal mark a couple of times. His short time with the Habs prevents him from being further up on the list.
8. Martin Rucinsky (1995-2002)
This in no way condones the Patrick Roy trade in 1995. While Martin Rucinsky was a consistent 20-25 goalscorer, trading away perhaps the best goaltender in NHL history will never look like a good move.
Rucinsky was a part of the minuscule return the Canadiens got for Patrick Roy and Mike Keane.
Rucinsky scored over 20 goals in four of his six seasons with the Canadiens. In the 1995-96 season, he scored 29, but he missed the Habs’ opening round series against the Rangers. Rucinsky wound up with just three goals in 15 playoff games with the Habs.
His 134 goals with the Habs is good for 41st in franchise history.
7. Brian Savage (1993-2001)
The Canadiens did have some good players in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. They were simply overmatched by better teams. Good players will lose to great ones and the Habs simply didn’t have great ones.
Still, guys like Brian Savage prove they had good players.
Savage netted 155 goals as a member of the Canadiens. He regularly posted 20-goal seasons. However, he became very injury prone towards the end of his run in Montreal. He had a 60-point season in 1996-97 and was on pace for a 30-goal season in 1997-98, but he only played 64 games and ended up with 26 goals.
Savage was eventually traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2001-02 season, which was the season the Habs returned to the playoffs after a four-year absence. Still, his eight years with the Habs were generally productive ones from an individual standpoint.
6. Max Pacioretty (2008-Present)
Don’t worry Habs fans; Pacioretty will shoot up this list in no time. Hitting 30 goals twice in four NHL seasons is a great start to his career. Plus, he hit 15 goals in a lockout shortened season last year. He very well could’ve had three 30-goal seasons already had the NHL played a full schedule in 2012-13.
What Habs fans know for sure is the franchise has a keeper in Pacioretty. The best part is, Pacioretty’s best years are likely still ahead of him, as he is just 25 years old. Who’s to say he won’t be a bonafide 40-goal scorer for years to come? He’s also the best bargain of any top forward in the league, as he’s locked under contract for five more seasons at a $4.5 million cap hit. That’s insanely good value.
Pacioretty may very well be number one on this list in a couple of years if he keeps his pace.
5. Tomas Plekanec (2001-Present)
It’s time to show Tomas Plekanec some love. He had a great 2013-14 season, possibly playing at Selke Trophy level as one of the game’s best defensive forwards, and he still produces offensively.
While his offensive production is a little too inconsistent for detractors’ liking and his playoff performances leave a little to be desired, he’s a good hand for the Habs.
He’s surpassed the expectations he was given when he was a third-round pick back in 2001. He’ll likely have 500 career points by the end of next season, sitting at 439 now. His best season offensively came in 2009-10 when he hit 70 points and played in all 82 games. He has scored over 20 goals in a season six times.
Plekanec does it all for the Habs, killing penalties, shutting down top lines and contributing when he can.
4. Mark Recchi (1994-99)
Mark Recchi bounced around quite a bit in his long career, but yes, as mentioned earlier, the Canadiens traded for him during the shortened 1994-95 season.
Recchi would play for Montreal over the course of five seasons. In those years, he scored 120 goals as a Hab, good for 44th in franchise history. He eclipsed the 30-goal plateau twice and had over 70 points three times.
He was one of the Habs’ most reliable scorers and made a good mark on his time in Montreal. He was then traded back to Philadelphia in 1999 for Dainius Zubrus and draft picks. Recchi had several more great seasons in Philly and ultimately played until 2011, where he helped the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. Montreal definitely should’ve made the effort to keep him around longer than they did.
3. Saku Koivu (1993-2009)
Saku Koivu is forever endeared to Habs fans, as he was drafted by the franchise in 1993 and played for 13 seasons in Montreal, serving as captain for 10 years.
Koivu was always a small forward with a huge heart. Injuries seemed to derail him whenever he got hot, but even with his injury problems, he scored 191 goals as a member of the Habs (27th in franchise history) and 450 assists for 641 points.
He also was regularly asked to play the role of a first-line centre with linemates that were usually below first-line material.
Still, Koivu managed to produce and of course made for a great captain. His best season statistically came in 2006-07 where he posted 75 points, with Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder typically being his linemates.
Habs management chose not to re-sign him in 2009, thinking Scott Gomez was a better option at centre…
2. Alex Kovalev (2004-09)
The beloved enigma, Alex Kovalev was acquired in one of the best trades in the Canadiens’ long history. Bob Gainey landed Kovalev from the Rangers in exchange for a 2nd-round pick and prospect Jozef Balej.
Kovalev electrified the Bell Centre during his time in Montreal. Though he was inconsistent, and his habits on the ice rattled the brains of Habs fans, he still was productive on the whole and scored many timely goals. His long and decorated career finished last year. Kovalev played 1,413 career games, scoring 430 goals and 599 assists for 1,029 points. The Montreal Canadiens simply haven’t had many players in recent memory with those credentials.
His time in Montreal included 103 of those goals and 161 assists for 264 points. He also had 31 playoff points in 33 postseason games with the Habs. He showed up in the big games.
1. Vincent Damphousse (1992-99)
Canadiens fans enjoyed watching their hometown kid Vincent Damphousse for nearly seven years, and in those years, he helped the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup and helped carry the team in their leaner years.
Traded to Montreal in 1992 in exchange for Shayne Corson, the Habs benefitted greatly from having him in the lineup. Damphousse scored 97 points for Montreal in 1992-93 and added 23 points in their playoff run to the Stanley Cup.
Damphousse eclipsed 90 points in three of his seven seasons with the Habs and is 28th in franchise history with 184 goals. That’s pretty impressive considering his short time in Montreal compared with other Habs greats. He produced 498 points in his time with the Tricolore. That accounts for a little more than a third of his career total, which was 1,205 points.
By 1999, Damphousse’s skills were starting to dwindle and the Canadiens were floundering, so he was traded to San Jose. He had several solid seasons in San Jose but his best years were behind him. He retired in 2004.