Young Canadiens’ core energizes team, shows hope for the future

Graphic by Dylan Nazareth.

Strong early performances from captain Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and other young players show a promising future for the Montreal Canadiens

It’s a new era in Montreal. After finishing last in the league last year, the Montreal Canadiens are faring better than many had anticipated so far this season. While they’re currently in the bottom half of the league in points, there is still a lot about this team that has been impressive, like the performance of the team’s young core.

After a mediocre season turned into an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, the Canadiens failed to generate much of anything last year. With goaltender Carey Price out for nearly the whole season — owing to a knee injury and mental health issues related to substance use — as well as several other players being plagued by their own injuries, the team lacked morale and direction.

Amidst this, team owner Geoff Molson fired both general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Dominique Ducharme, replacing them with former player agent Kent Hughes and former NHL player Martin St. Louis, respectively. The new pair wasted no time shifting focus to the team’s young talents, in particular 23-year-old Nick Suzuki and 21-year-old Cole Caufield.

The team immediately saw improvements, especially in Caufield, who improved from one goal scored in 30 games under Ducharme to 22 goals in 37 games under St. Louis.

Now, this year has been a new story for the Montreal Canadiens. The offseason saw the key additions of 2019 third-overall pick Kirby Dach (21) from the Blackhawks, and the first overall selection of Slovakian winger Juraj Slavkovský. Suzuki also became the youngest team captain in Canadiens’ history this summer.

This young group has managed to defy expectations this season, winning a number of key games, and showing real teamwork and fighting spirit even in defeat.

Montreal’s top offensive line currently consists of three players 23 years old and under — Suzuki, Caufield, and Dach — having scored 45 per cent of all the goals this season. While it’s still early, at this rate it would not be surprising to see one or both of them reach 40+ goals this season, which no Canadien has done since Vincent Damphousse in 1993-94. 

While Slafkovský is quite a young player with a lot of room to grow, he has still performed impressively, netting three goals so far and becoming the only draft from 2022 to have scored in the NHL at all. The Habs also have a number of promising offensive prospects developing in major junior leagues, notably centre Owen Beck who is netting nearly a goal per game for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League.

Defensively, rookies Kaiden Guhle (20), Arber Xhekaj (21), Jordan Harris (22), and Johnathan Kovacevic (25) have also exceeded early expectations. Drafted in the first round in 2020, Guhle already displays the confidence and ability of a more experienced player. Xhekaj has quickly become a fan favourite for his tough playstyle and strong work ethic, which are the very qualities that earned him a spot on the team after going undrafted (and working at Costco during the pandemic to support his hockey career). On the third defensive pairing, Harris and Kovacevic have become one of the strongest pillars of the team’s defence.

It may be a few years before this team can be seen as a serious contender, but under the management of Hughes and St. Louis, the leadership of Suzuki, and the impressive play of the team’s young core, they are headed in a very positive direction. No matter how the season ends, one thing is for sure: it’s truly an exciting time to be a Montreal Canadiens fan.

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