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Balanced, four-line attack good news for swift-footed young Canadiens


BROSSARD, Que. — Coach Claude Julien likes to use four balanced lines, and that is good news for the Montreal Canadiens' young players.

Nineteen-year-old defenceman Victor Mete, 22-year-old centre Jacob De La Rose and 23-year-old left winger Charles Hudon were on the team's 23-man roster at the deadline on Tuesday and will at least start the season in the Canadiens lineup.

Mete spent nearly all of training camp paired with top defenceman Shea Weber and was a standout, even if he may still be sent back to the junior London Knights before reaching the 10-game limit when it would count as a year served toward eligibility for free agency.

There is also the fear that, while the 19-year-old looked good in the pre-season, he may not be ready for live-fire NHL action and may be better served spending an extra season in junior and almost certainly playing for Canada at the world junior championship.

But with the departure of veteran Andrei Markov, there is a need for a quick, puck-moving defenceman and, at least until newcomer David Schlemko returns from a bruised hand, Mete may fill that hole.

"We put Victor with a guy with whom he'll feel confident and it's really paid off for him," said Julien. "And if he's going to stay here, you want to continue to do those things."

Hudon paid his dues for three years in the American Hockey League and was another camp standout. He has also put up four assists in the six NHL games he has played.

The five-foot-10 188-pound winger, a 2012 fifth round pick, is expected to start the season on a line with another youngster, second-year winger Arturri Lehkonen, and veteran centre Tomas Plekanec. Youthful linemates with skill may be just what is needed to put a spark back in Plekanec's offensive game after skating mainly in a defensive role with grinders in recent seasons.

"They're young guys and I've been in their shoes so I know how they feel and I'll try to help them out," said 34-year-old Plekanec, who also spent three seasons in the AHL before making the Canadiens for good in 2006-07. "And they'll help me out with their energy."

Lehkonen, 22, had an impressive 18-goal campaign as a rookie last season. The Finn, a second-round pick in 2013, hopes having experienced the rigours of an 82-game NHL regular season will harden him for an even better sophomore campaign.

De La Rose, another 2013 second rounder, has played 64 NHL games over three seasons. While his defensive game looked solid, the 22-year-old Swede scored only four times. The Canadiens want him to shoot more and have him on a line with 22-goal scorer Paul Byron and veteran Ales Hemsky, although veteran Torrey Mitchell may also take De La Rose's spot.

"He didn't play that well in games at the start of camp and we felt he was trying to find himself a bit, but in the last games he was a lot better," Julien said of six-foot-three De La Rose. "It wasn't just the two goals he scored (in the final pre-season game), but those goals showed people who think he's strictly a defensive player that he has offensive qualities as well."

The 2013 draft pick getting most of the attention is Jonathan Drouin, who went third overall that year to the Tampa Bay Lightning due to his evident mix of speed, skill and vision. The Canadiens sent top defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Bolts for Drouin and signed him to a long-term contract.

Now they hope he can become the high-scoring first line centre they have been seeking for years. He will start the season between captain Max Pacioretty and digger Brendan Gallagher.

Another line that can score has Phillip Danault between gifted left winger Alex Galchenyuk and the gritty Andrew Shaw.

"If you look at our team, every line is able to score goals and has an offensive guy who can make plays and score," said Plekanec. "It doesn't matter who you play with on this team."

The defence is likely to be a puzzle all season after the departures of Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin, but they signed free agent Karl Alzner from Washington to pair with Jeff Petry and 39-year-old Mark Streit, who should start with Jordie Benn.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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