The Grades Are in Up Front - Part 1
It was a subpar season for the Habs and some of the blame has to go to a few of the forwards. Of course, they aren't the only culprit, I still think this team doesn't have enough top end talent to compete but that's on Bergevin and his staff, not on the players. This will be discussed in another blog at a later date but for now, here's my thoughts on the Sainte-Flanelle's forwards.
Brendan Gallagher - A
What can I say? It's hard to find any fault at all with the guy who has been the Canadiens' ultimate warrior for years now. He shows up at every game, competes to the best of his ability, is a leader on and off the ice and just the ultimate professional. When he was knocked out by Ben Chiarot's knee in that game in Carolina, that's the moment I knew there would be absolutely no salvaging this season. The man is the heart and soul of this team and you can cope with losing the likes of Drouin and Byron (although the Habs barely did) but you cannot lose the team's official booster cables and hope to pull through. Once again, Gally showed his devotion to the Canadiens when he tried to come back too early and had to be pulled out of action for a few more games. In the end, he put up 43 points (22 goals and 21 assists) in 59 games and the season been completed, I strongly believe that he could have made it to 30 goals for the 3rd consecutive year. With only one year left to his current 6 years deal, he should be Bergevin's top priority when he can start talking extension some time this summer (guessing the date may be pushed back if the NHL tries to hold some form of playoffs tournament). Gallagher is likely to demand a huge raise and I don't think anyone can blame him, he has been a bargain for years and it's time for him to collect...I just hope he wants to do it in Montreal and not go elsewhere....time will tell.
Philip Danault - A
Like it or not, he is the Habs' version of Patrice Bergeron and since he arrived in Montreal in 2015-2016 he has been steadily improving. Of course, in an ideal world, he wouldn't be the first line centre but it is what it is as they say. This year, Danault has proven to be quite the warrior himself, even a puck taken to the face couldn't stop him. He lost some teeth and left the game but was back on duty the very next game...When there's a will there's a way and that's definitely true for Danault. In 71 games, he was up to 47 points, just 6 short of his career best of 53. Chances are a complete season would have allowed him to reach new heights points wise. Most importantly, he averaged 18:51 time on ice wise this season, up by one full minute (17:47 last season) which goes to show how much Claude Julien relies on him in all situation. Much like Gallagher, his contract will be up after next season and it will be interesting to see if Bergevin manages to retain him at a reasonable price or if Danault will want to be paid as a first line centre. Hopefully, Bergevin can sign him to a contract that is similar to Pageau's one with the Islanders (5M per season) although Danault will argue that he plays a much bigger role than Pageau does with the Isles and he wouldn't be wrong to do so.
Tomas Tatar - A
It's hard to fault the teams leading scorer this season for anything to be honest. A very important part of the first line, Tatar was up to 61 points in 68 games and had beaten his personal best of 58 points already (he had reached that mark in 80 games last season). His chemistry with Danault and Gallagher has been getting better by the day since he was obtained in the Max Pacioretty trade and in hindsight, he really wasn't a throw in...that's what he looked like and that's probably what Vegas thought but they were most definitely wrong. Just like his line mates, Tatar is signed through the end of next season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Many thought he would be traded at the deadline this season but he wasn't, will he be next year or will Bergevin want to keep his first line as it is? As youngsters progress, chances are that Danault will move down the line-up to make way for a young gun like Nick Suzuki, wouldn't it be great to have an established scoring threat to play alongside him?
Jonathan Drouin - C
It's hard to give Drouin a grade really, he played really well up to mid November when he went down to injury. He looked like he cared and was really dedicated out there, like a corner had been turned but then he was out for months and when he returned, he looked much more like last year's version of himself. He played 8 games post injury and failed to register a single point, in the end, in 27 games he recorded 15 games. Which means really that it was 15 points in 19 games if you just take into account the pre injury days. Unfortunately for him though, the whole season counts and that's why I'm giving him a C. With 3 more years at 5.5 M Drouin will have to start to contribute more if he wants to give the team any bang for its bucks and make everyone forget about Sergachev...
Nick Suzuki - A-
It was almost an A but he seemed to struggle a little bit towards the end of the season which is why I brought it down to an A-. In a tough season, he was a bright spot and so entertaining to watch. The 20 year old really didn't miss his arrival in the NHL and grabbed his opportunity with both hands. In the end he got 41 points in 71 games with a -15 rating and that's a pretty good rookie season by any standard. The extra season he spent in the CHL seems to have done wonders for him and given the Canadiens' development track record, it's not a bad thing that he was developed elsewhere. Hopefully, next season he can stay away from the sophomore jinx and perform just as he did this season. In his case, the future down look bright and he gives us a reason to hope.
Joel Armia - B+
I really enjoyed watching Armia this season. Last season, I did find him frustrating at times but he seemed to up his offensive game this year and that was much appreciated. I also think he started to use this big frame of his in a more impactful manner and on a very small team, that was much needed. Considering that we got him as a thank you from the Jets for taking on Steve Mason's contract, his acquisition was a really good move by Marc Bergevin and I'm convinced the best is yet to come for the Finn. This season he got 30 points in 58 games while he only got 23 in 57 matches last season, if he keeps up this kind of improvement curve he could potentially become a big contributor for the Habs.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi - C
His second season didn't go as expected to say the least. After spending his entire rookie season in the NHL, he was only around for 36 games this year registering just 8 points before being being sent down to Laval. In his defence however, he did have to overcome a concussion and he doesn't always seem to see eye to eye with Claude Julien. Down in Laval, he found his game back registering 13 points in 13 games but he suffered a spleen injury which unfortunately ended his season. Where does he go from here? That is the question. The upcoming training camp (whenever that is) will be very important for him and he will need to impress if he is to stay in the NHL. Now that he has spent time in Laval, I don't think the Canadiens will hesitate to send him back down if needed.
That's it for now, I'll do the other forwards in my next blog doing them all now would just make for one very long blog. What do you think of the players discussed above? Was I too harsh with some? Not enough with others? Let me know what grades you would have given them.