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If someone said heading into last season that Tomas Plekanec would not be the centre of the Habs' top offensive line, a lot of eyebrows would have been raised. Just a year removed from a 70 point season, he was thought by many to be entrenched in that role. As was the case for the team in general, things didn't go exactly as planned for the Czech Republic native. Now, the question becomes, can he take back that role back from David Desharnais as we head towards the 2012-13 campaign?
When you consider he was bumped from the top line and often found himself with a collection of players who didn't belong in a scoring role (with all due respect to the likes of Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche), his drop from 57 to 52 points isn't all that bad. He still logged a lot of time on special teams (over three minutes per game on both the powerplay and penalty kill) as he remained a key component for Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth. He tailed off down the stretch for the second consecutive season which is a tad worrisome (he had 13 points in his last 22 regular season games in 2010-11 but just 11 points in that same stretch last year) while he recorded a total of two multi-point games from December 29th to the end of the season. I'm willing to chalk up a lot of his -15 rating to the fact he often faced the toughest opponents (while having offensively inept wingers far too often) but that stat does remain a little concerning.
Season Stats: 81 GP, 17 G, 35 A, 52 PTS, -15 rating, 56 PIMS, 5 PPG, 3 SHG, 220 shots, 20:45 ATOI
As the roster stands, Plekanec appears to be penciled in as the #2 centre from an offensive standpoint behind David Desharnais. In terms of total ice time, he should once again lead the way as he will be an anchor on the penalty kill while handling the tough defensive assignments. Assuming the top line from last season stays intact, he's likely to line up with a now-healthy Brian Gionta. The other winger is far from certain. Moen, despite his struggles in the offensive zone, is always an option, especially in situations where the team is protecting the lead. Rene Bourque, who was supposed to provide secondary scoring last year but didn't, is probably the most likely option. Him returning to 20-goal form alongside a perennial 20-goal player in Gionta would certainly be a boost for Plekanec. That combination is also likely to comprise the powerplay unit as well although Lars Eller will likely see some time there as well.
It's hard to see Plekanec dropping much further than his 52 point total as long as he stays healthy (having missed only a handful of games in the past five years, the odds of that should be good) but if he stays as the second line centre, I don't think he's in line for much of a boost either. A two way centre who puts up 50 points a year can be considered above average nowadays and fantasy GM's should feel safe in assuming he should get to that plateau again in 2012-13. If Desharnais gets injured or struggles out of the gate, Plekanec could reclaim the top spot and have his best point output in three seasons. GM's would be wise to avoid picking him as their top centre but should feel comfortable with him as their second centre pick in deep leagues; in smaller pools he would be a steal as a #3 guy. Bump him up a few pegs in head-to-head leagues that reward shorthanded goals and points as he is a shoo-in to log significant minutes on the penalty kill and pick up a handful of points along the way.