The Canadiens will have a new French Connection trio next season.
After signing defenceman David Savard and centre Cédric Paquette as free agents on Wednesday, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin added left-winger Mathieu Perreault on Thursday night.
“I haven’t talked to them yet,” Perreault said during a Zoom conference Friday when asked about the two other francophones added to the Canadiens’ lineup. “I’ve met them in a few charity tournaments in the past summers, so I know them. But it’s very exciting to have a chance to play with some French-Canadians, not something I’ve had a whole lot throughout my career. I’m very excited to get to meet all the guys and the French guys on the team, that would be special. So I’m very excited.”
With Jonathan Drouin expected to rejoin the team for training camp after leaving for personal reasons in April, the Canadiens should have four francophones in the lineup next season. They played the first game in franchise history without a francophone late last season after Drouin had left the team and Phillip Danault was sidelined with a concussion.
Danault signed a six-year, US$33-million contract with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday as a free agent.
Perreault signed a one-year, US$950,000 deal with the Canadiens after completing a four-year, US$16.5-million contract with the Winnipeg Jets. The 5-foot-10, 188-pound left-winger had 9-10-19 totals in 56 games last season while averaging only 11:43 of ice time.
The Washington Capitals selected Perreault in the sixth round (177th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft. The Drummondville native was named the most valuable player in the QMJHL for the 2006-07 season after posting 41-78-119 totals in 67 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
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In 683 career regular-season games in the NHL with the Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Jets, Perreault has 139-205-344 totals. His career high for goals is 18 and his career high for points if 45. He spent the last seven seasons with the Jets.
“I gave them my all, I did everything I could to try and win a championship there,” Perreault said about his time in Winnipeg, which came to an end after the Jets lost to the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs this year. “It didn’t work out for us. At that point (Jets head coach Paul Maurice) told me that he would like to have me back — obviously not at the same salary. I understood that. I told them that I was going to go and see what else is out there for me because the way the last couple of years have been it wasn’t the best-case scenario for me minutes-wise and stuff like that.
“I knew they were ready to kind of move on as well and give some other guys a chance to play in that role,” Perreault added. “I got nothing but good things to say about Paul and (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) in Winnipeg for all they’ve done for me. They basically made my career … all the good money I’ve made in this league comes from them giving the trust in me and giving me a chance to play with them and win a Stanley Cup, which we weren’t able to do.”
Perreault can play all three forward positions, but was moved from centre to wing in Winnipeg because of back problems he was having while taking faceoffs. He said he has spoken with Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme and told him he can play centre again if needed.
Perreault grew up cheering for the Canadiens and centre Saku Koivu.
“The last time they won the Cup (in 1993) I was too young to remember,” Perreault said. “But growing up, Saku Koivu was definitely my favourite Canadiens player. I just loved the way he played. He was a smaller centreman, just like I was growing up, so I kind of moulded my game around what he was doing. I always loved him.”
As for his new role with the Canadiens, Perreault said: “This all comes down to how I play, really. You come to a new team you got to prove what you can do and earn your spot in the lineup. I’ve built a career on that. I came into the league that way. I’ve always played every game like there’s a chance I’m not in the lineup the next game, so I have to perform that night and I’m coming to Montreal with the same idea.
“If you play your best game, you have a chance to stay in the lineup. If you don’t, you might come out,” he added. “This is how I see it and we’ll go from there.”