25 Canadiens in 25 days: Tomas Plekanec

Recapping the changes made by the Montreal Canadiens during the summer and what they need to improve on to get a Stanley Cup under their belt.

The 16th installment of our 25 Montreal Canadiens in 25 days series focuses on Tomas Plekanec.

If you had to pick one word to describe Plekanec, “consistent” would be a wise choice.

He’s missed only 12 games in his past 10 seasons, scored 20 or more goals seven times, and had a plus rating in all but two years of his career.

In fact, “reliable” is another good way to characterize Plekanec.

Noting that he’s recorded nearly 500 NHL points in addition to being Montreal’s best defensive forward over the past decade really puts into perspective just how key Plekanec is to the team.

And Plekanec does it all with grace and humility.

Plekanec’s hockey journey started in Kladno, Cze., where he was a prolific scorer for five years before the Canadiens caught wind of his exploits and selected him in the third round of the 2001 NHL Draft.

He built up a strong international resume in that time, winning gold with the Czechs at the 2001 World Junior Championship and scoring seven points in seven games with them the following year at the tournament.

And when Plekanec got to North America, the Canadiens were sure to not rush him, instead giving him an appropriate amount of time to develop in the AHL.

In three full seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Plekanec collected 176 points. He ascended to the NHL to start the 2005-06 season and never looked back.

Plekanec has accomplished much since then. He’s had four seasons with more than 55 points, topping out at 70 in 2009-10. And internationally, he’s made seven appearances at the World Championship – winning silver in 2006 and bronze in 2011 and 2012 – and played in two Olympics, serving as team captain in 2014. In 57 games of senior international competition, he’s scored 43 points.

But Plekanec’s achievements haven’t translated into success during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Scoring 46 points in 81 playoff games isn’t anything to sneeze at, but at a time of year when players are expected to elevate their games, Plekanec has consistently fallen short of the mark.

Who: Tomas Plekanec | No. 14 | Second/first line, centre (shoots left) | 5-foot-11 | 198 pounds | Age: 32

Acquired: 2001 NHL Draft (71st overall)

Contract status: Six years, $5 million AAV (expires 2016)

2014-15 Stats: 81 GP | 26 G | 34 A | 60 P | 19:09 TOI | 49.2 CF%

Career stats: 761 GP | 202 G | 297 A | 499 P | 17:34 TOI | 47.49 CF%

The book on 2014-15:
Managing 60 points while playing with a different set of linemates most nights is a remarkable feat.

He appeared to be at his best with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, but scored the majority of his points with Alex Galchenyuk and Gallagher by his side.

It wasn’t a flawless season for him – Plekanec had a six-game slump from October 27 to November 5 – but it was pretty close. His second-longest stint going without a point was three games.

But it wasn’t solely his production that made him so effective in 2014-15; Plekanec was once again relied upon for the team’s most taxing defensive assignments.

He led Montreal’s forwards in shorthanded ice-time (1:55 per game) and finished the year with a respectable corsi for percentage at even strength and a plus-8 rating (placed 15th in the Selke Trophy voting).

So where did it all go when the playoffs rolled around?

Plekanec had so many scoring chances, but his finishing touch eluded him. Despite recording 37 shots on net, only one went in, which was way off his career average 7.2 shooting percentage in the playoffs.

And Plekanec’s plus-3 rating through 12 post-season contests wasn’t indicative of the uncharacteristic defensive struggles he exhibited.

Off-season updates:
Plekanec’s wife Lucie Vondrackova, a famous singer and actress in the Czech Republic, gave birth to their second child, Adam, in June.

He spent part of his summer overseas and in addition to training for the coming season, he spent a lot of time playing tennis. It’s a sport he happens to be quite good at.

2015-16 outlook:
Set the bar at 20 goals and 50 points and Plekanec is likely to reach it. You can pencil him in as the team’s second-line centre, but he’s likely to play significant minutes as Montreal’s No. 1, which will enable that kind of production.

But there should be far less concern over what Plekanec will offer in the regular season and much more concern over what he’ll not offer in the playoffs. Given his past post-season pitfalls, his expiring contract, and the fact Montreal is under pressure to contend for the Stanley Cup, there’s merit to the idea that Plekanec could be used as trade bait to lure a proven playoff performer to Montreal.

Considering Montreal’s newfound depth at centre, there’s room to maneuver. But Plekanec wants to stay in Montreal and is waiting on general manager Marc Bergevin to initiate the negotiation process to keep him there.

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