The Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and Canadiens have a few things in common: they play in the Atlantic Division and are rebuilding. We reported on the strengths of the Sabers and Red Wings last week and the Senators on Monday. Today, the turn of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadian began his reconstruction after the other three. At the heart of the rejuvenation phase of the Red Wings, Sabers and Senators, he reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2021.
That summer, for example, Montreal drafted defenseman Logan Mailloux 31st and second-to-last in the first round. Buffalo held the first pick, Detroit the sixth and Ottawa the tenth.
But the CH and its general manager Marc Bergevin had nevertheless started a reset – a reconstruction in disguise – in 2018, so that part of the work was done when Kent Hughes arrived in 2022.
Bergevin not only racked up draft picks, he acquired eventual number one center Nick Suzuki for captain Max Pacioretty in September 2018.
The organization also hit home runs in 2019 and 2020 when they drafted Cole Caufield and Kaiden Guhle with mid-round picks at 15 and 16 respectively.
Caufield is already the second goalscorer of his vintage even if he played fewer matches than the first ten goalscorers of the group.
Guhle is among the best defenders in his group along with Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson. If the draft were to be repeated in those years, Caufield would be selected in the top five, or very close in the case of Guhle.
That being said, the Canadian still lacks the ingredients to aspire to long-term powerhouse status. They have drawn the top five much less often than their three section rivals in recent years.
Guhle has quickly established himself this season despite being 20 years old. We see in him a possible first pair defender. He is robust, mobile, intelligent, and is not stripped of a certain flair on the attack. But he does not have the profile of a Seider in Detroit, a Dahlin or a Power in Buffalo, in short, we do not see in him a future Hedman or Makar.
Perhaps Lane Hutson, despite his short stature, will eventually become the cornerstone on the power play after his extraordinary 48-point-39-game season at Boston University.
Justin Barron still lacks consistency, but he’s still young at 21, of the same stock as Guhle, and could become a solid number four in the long run.
Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris, each in their own way, and without claiming a leading role, have proven that they belong in the NHL.
After a strong playoff run at Rögle in the Swedish First Division (SHL), where he topped his club’s scoreboard with five points in nine games, left-handed defender Adam Engström has just helped Rögle’s junior squad to victory the Swedish championship. Let’s see what the future holds for him. Engström, like Hutson, won’t be making the jump to Montreal for at least a year.
Nick Suzuki, 23, has 64 points this season with two games left. Who knows if he wouldn’t have gotten at least 70 with a healthy Caufield?
Kirby Dach, 22, picked for a 13th overall pick in 2022 (acquired for Alexander Romanov beforehand) and a third-round pick the same year, was producing at a 54-point pace before his injury but had 14 points at his last 17 games before falling in action, a pace of 68 points over a full season.
It’s been a long time since the Canadian had counted on two young centers as talented. However, we are not talking about the offensive explosiveness of a Tim Stützle in Ottawa, 88 points in 77 games at only 21 years old, or a Tage Thompson in Buffalo, 93 points, including 46 goals, in 76 games, but two years older than Suzuki.
Suzuki and Dach also compensate with an above-average sense of defensive responsibility. They will also be better surrounded possibly with healthy, more mature teammates, like Slafkovsky for example and/or the arrival of a Hutson in defense.
A 16.4% save percentage on the power play, for 28th in the NHL, does not help fatten a personal file.
On the wing, Montreal finally has an ace scorer, Caufield, the first in decades. The 21-year-old was on his way to a 46-goal season before getting injured.
First overall pick in 2022, Juraj Slafkovsky had only 10 points in 39 games on his record, but he was also the only one of his class established full-time in the NHL this winter. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound jigs with an offensive flair don’t run the streets.
Sean Farrell is coming off a sensational season at Harvard with 53 points in 34 games, but he will need time to adjust to the NHL, especially with his size. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylönen, Emil Heineman and a few others will be able to provide some nice long-term depth, but another top winger secured with one of the 2023 picks is not to be despised.
We talk a lot about individual statistics here, but playing well collectively, allowing your players to grow with good education also makes a big difference.
Would Thompson, Dahlin and company have flourished in the same way in Buffalo without the arrival of new coach Don Granato, for example?
In 2020-21, at 23, Suzuki’s age, Thompson had 14 points in 38 games. Dahlin was still on the ice in his third full season and posted a -36 record, the worst in the National League by far.
In net, we don’t know the identity of Carey Price’s successor. At 26, Samuel Montembeault has shown a lot of resilience. We will see if he continues to progress at the rate of the improvement of the team in front of him.
Cayden Primeau is still considered a very young goaltender at 23. He was smoldering for the Rocket on Monday in a crucial playoff game. He had also been brilliant in the American League playoffs last spring. It will be necessary to decide this summer in his case because of the rules of waivers, to which he will now be subject from the next season.
Jakub Dobes has just entered the professional ranks, in a reserve role at Laval, after a conclusive second season at Ohio State, in the NCAA. It will progress at its own pace over the coming winters.
In short, the Canadian is not badly positioned in his reconstruction, on the contrary, even if he concedes a few years behind his three rivals, but we understand Kent Hughes to still beg for patience for two or three years.
A stroke of luck in the lottery on May 8 would obviously be a game-changer…
The Calgary Flames will therefore be excluded from the playoffs, after a season of 111 points the previous season.
Their shootout loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday, combined with the Winnipeg Jets’ victory over San Jose, spelled their death knell. They could even be overtaken in the standings by the Predators, yet sellers at the trade deadline.
General manager Brad Treliving’s contract expires at the end of the season and he will need a good case to stay on.
Treliving invested 183 million in three players aged 29 or over, Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to make up for the loss of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. He even ceded a first-round pick to the Canadian to free himself from Sean Monahan’s contract and thus welcome Kadri.
Both Huberdeau and Kadri have amassed 55 points this season, a dramatic production drop. Kadri was on the third line in Monday’s crucial game against Nashville.
Darryl Sutter no doubt wanted to balance his lines, but he could hardly provide Kadri with his best wingers, with a meager production of just six points in his last thirteen meetings.