The way I see it, since we have to replace Brandon Prust as the left winger on the fourth line, Michaël Bournival has the inside track on that position.
We then have to replace P.A. Parenteau on the right side in the Top 6. Let's assume that Brendan Gallagher has one of those RW spots sewn up. Zack Kassian and Devante Smith-Pelly will battle for a Top 6 RW spot, and failing that will land in the Top 9.
I think Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, by virtue of their longer AHL apprenticeship, have the inside track to battle for a Top 6 or Top 9 RW spot. Sven has more promise, has produced more, and feels comfortable playing the right side even though he's a leftie. Christian Thomas is a natural rightie who was injured with an abdominal problem two seasons ago, but underwhelmed last season as well.
As talented as they are, we have to keep our exuberance in check regarding Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak. They're still very raw. Especially looking at Nikita, while he has natural size, he's still not mature physically, if only judging by the Prospect Camp videos, he needs to develop further. They're in the AHL next season, with a callup or two maybe.
Assuming that Alex Galchenyuk starts the season at left wing, based on the lack of transactions so far in Tomas Plekanec's, David Desharnais' and/or Lars Eller's case, let's assume we need a Top 6 winger on the left, and two in the Top 9 early on while Max rehabs.
Again Sven Andrighetto has a really good chance, he's a natural leftie, and conservative NHL coaches, of which Michel Therrien is one, hesitate to play wingers on their off-wing unless he's a special case like leftie Erik Cole on RW, of leftie Alexander Ovechkin on RW (although Adam Oates wasn't crazy about that either, he put Ovie back on LW). Note that René Bourque played on LW despite having success on RW in Calgary, and Jiri Sekac wasn't given an opportunity on RW, as fans clamoured he should.
Charles Hudon also set himself up for one of those LW spots, he's a leftie also, and made a great impression last season in the AHL, and again at the Development Camp, he was the guy who was kind of above that level, like Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn have been, and Sebastian Collberg too in the recent past, the guy who's too good and maybe shouldn't be on the ice with those other guys.
So, I'm not crazy about making these line combos usually, but just to envision what it could look like, and to hazard a wager as to who lands where based on their development curve, here's what I see while Max is injured:
Once Max is healthy again, we'd see:
Notes (lots of qualifiers and loopholes to allow me to backtrack and worm my way out of things):
1) Pre-Max situation has five smallish forwards (Tomas, David, Sven, Charles, Gally), post-Max it's four. Do we run with that, since this is the Dawning of the Age of the NextTylerJohnson, or do we need MOAR size? Does Marc Bergevin feel comfortable, or does he adjust this with trades or promotions from within (Mike McCarron)?
2) Christian Thomas has to go through waivers to go to the AHL, but Sven and Charles are waiver-exempt. Do the Canadiens try to wring out all the juice out of the Son of Steve before jumping off and saddling up another horse, Pony Express-style? I think Christian would need a heck of a training camp to beat out his more productive teammates, but everything being equal, the brain trust may decide to manage assets conservatively, and not expose him to waivers, give him a shot, and let the others mature some more in the AHL.
3) Not that these are suggested line combos, more of a 'general who lands where on the roster', but I like idea of giving Zack Kassian a real shot in the Top 6, and playing with a good passer. David might replicate his success the year he got to dish off to Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, with the former having a career year and the latter getting his breakout year.
I've compared David to a scrappy smart but undersized scrum half in the past, useful but not optimal. Yet if you have him in your lineup, and can surround him with the right players who can take advantage of his passes and mask his deficiencies, you maximize the asset and the team's potential. So give him a fly half and centers and a crew of loose forwards who'll be ready for the ball and run it with authority, instead of pausing and trying to create with it. Let's give David two big wingers who can cash in the puck.
4) Again, not recommended line combos exactly, but Tomas with the kids on the one hand has the benefit of experience, they've played together a lot, but they've not necessarily shown great chemistry. Not a lot of size on that line either.
5) I can see a lot of movement on the right wing, whoever is clicking gets to move up, whoever isn't producing gets to move down. That may seem like a truism, but I think this is so to a greater degree than on the left side.
If Max had a ten or twelve or twenty-game drought, you wouldn't necessarily bump him down the lineup, to the Bottom 6. By virtue of his past performance, you'd give him every chance to fight his way out of the slump, with good linemates to help out.
None of the guys on the right side has that luxury. Two or three games is all they'd need to be shuffled. And AHL guys might be called up in case of really bad cold streaks. And Sven moving over to the right as another risk. These guys would need to be on their toes to keep their roster standing.
6) Jacob de la Rose? It's probably wishful thinking on my part, but I'd like him in the AHL, at least to start the season, for like fourty games. I know Michel Therrien has a soft spot for the big guy, and looking at this suggested forward corps he might not like the lack of size, but I think he needs to be put in a position of leadership, in the Top 6, in a lower level to progress. I don't want to accept that what we saw last season, a big guy who forechecks and backchecks and that's about it, is all we're going to get out of a high second-round draft pick.