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At this time last season, most of the players were failing, the GM was failing, the coach was failing, the season was already a failure before we’d even reached Christmas. One year ago today, Marc Bergevin was fired, and Jeff Gorton was put at the helm, the first of a series of moves that would completely change the face of the team. He then brought in Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis, an inspiring coach whom the players wanted to follow into battle.
So far this season, it’s fair enough to say that the Habs have exceeded expectations in what most everyone expected to be a a year filled with growing pains and losses. Make no mistake, this is a rebuild, but it is an exciting and interesting one as the Sainte-Flanelle plays an exciting brand of offensive hockey. Without further delay, here are my report cards for the players.
Nick Suzuki: The captain has taken a huge step forward this season and he looks as comfortable as can be both as the team’s first line center and wearing the C. While he used to be a set-up man first and foremost, Suzuki isn’t scare of shooting this season and he’s got 12 goals and 12 assists to his name. Sure, his shooting percentage is insanely high at 26.1% and some would argue that it’s not sustainable, but here we are, he’s been the best player of this team so far and fully deserves an A+.
Cole Caufield: What a difference a year makes! Last season, Caufield’s confidence was in taters, he couldn’t score and looked lost in the NHL, he had scored a single goal in 31 games and was often finding himself on the fourth line. Now, he’s officially become Suzuki’s partner in crime, the duo is inseparable both on and off the ice and the sniper is showcasing just how lethal he can be. He’s got 12 goals and 9 assists so far for 21 points and there’s no doubt that he’ll set a new career high in both departments. There’s no doubt in my mind that he also deserves the highest of grades A+.
Kirby Dach: Acquired to become the team’s second center, Dach has failed to fit that role so far but since being moved to the wing on the first line, he’s proven just how good he can be. It turns out that he’s the perfect complement for Caufield and Suzuki, for now at least. In 21 games, he’s got 17 points and should easily shatter his career best season of 26 points. Still, the Habs brass has not given up on him becoming their 2nd line center though and one can think that they are building up his confidence for now but will try him again at center eventually. He’s not been as impressive as his two linemates, but the newcomer still deserves an A.
Sean Monahan: Another newcomer, but one that came for free and with limited expectations, which he’s met or exceeded depending on who you ask. Sadly, for Monahan, he was a salary dump the Flames needed to make in order to make room for Nazeem Kadri. There were plenty of questions surrounding his health and effectiveness following two hip operations, but he’s proven that he can still play at a very high level. He’s 4th in team scoring behind the members of the first line and while one might wish he could produce more; he’s not exactly been saddled with the best and most talented wingers. Chances are, Kent Hughes will be able to flip him for yet another first round pick if he keeps performing as he has done, he’s versatile and could be a game changer for a contender. His performance is also deserving of an A.
Brendan Gallagher: The offensive production is not what it used to be, but a rejuvenated Gallagher has proven that he can still help this team. His dedication and work ethic are second to none and with so many young players in the line-up, the example he sets is worth its own weight in gold. Alright, it might not be worth $6.5 million per year, but he’s still able to contribute and inspire. Now healthy, Gallagher looks much faster than he has in the last few years and even though he’s signed a huge contract, he’s sticking to his battling style of play while being willing to learn from coach Martin St-Louis. For all his effort and positive influence, he grabs a B+. A better production would have gotten him a better grade.
Christian Dvorak: A panic acquisition of Marc Bergevin as he was trying to patch the holes left by Danault and Kotkaniemi’s departure, Dvorak has proven himself to be useful, but on a good team, he’s not a 2nd line center and nor should he be. Still, his duo with Brendan Gallagher has proven that it can generate more than its fair share of chances, if only they could convert them though. His offensive production is modest at best, but he’s proven very useful in the face-off department, winning over 54% of his draws. Overall, that’s good enough for a B.
Mike Hoffman: What an enigma he is…he’s a proven scorer in the NHL and yet for what seemed like an interminable period, he couldn’t generate much of anything offensively and his stock plummeted. For some reason though, when he was put back with Gallagher and Dvorak he found his scoring thouch and was on a roll when he was injured. Had his scoring streak started earlier, his grade would have been better but a B- seems fair to me.
Josh Anderson: If he could be as good as he is on his good days consistently, he could be a force to reckon with, but as things stand, his inconsistency is both annoying and irritating. Clearly, that inconsistency is why the Blue Jackets were willing to move him and also why the power forward’s stock is falling fast. Mind you, his considerable cap hit makes him hard to move. Overall, a C- seems fair for him.
Evgenii Dadonov: Acquired in return for Shea Weber’s contract, the hope was that he could be flipped for assets at the trade deadline, but this might just be a pipedream considering how little impact he’s had so far. In 17 games (he’s been a healthy scratch at times) he’s only managed a goal and an assist. Clearly, he’s holding his stick too tight, and it doesn’t help, but at the end of the day a professional hockey player must be able to handle the pressure and step up. D
Jake Evans: Of all the players who have taken part in all the games this season, he’s the lowest scoring one with only 2 assists to his name. True, he patrols the 4th line, but still, past performance had allowed us to hope for more. Sure, the fact that he is useful on the penalty kill is one of his redeeming features, but more is expected of him and with reason. D+
Juraj Slafkovsky: The rookie won’t be in the Calder trophy race, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s seeing limited ice-time and he’s being given the chance to adapt to the North American game progressively. Now, he’s getting opportunities on the power play and got a short-lived audition in the top six last week, unfortunately, it didn’t go all that well and he’s been put back on the 4th line. Thankfully, I think it’s far to say that we’ve seen some improvement but there’s still a lot of untapped potential. For now, I’d give him a C+ for the first quarter of the season.
I think it would be a bit unfair to grade Pezzetta, Armia and Drouin since they’ve all played 12 games or less but let’s sum it up by saying that they haven’t been impressive so far. I was hoping Armia would build on his World Championships effort but that didn’t happen. As for Drouin, he just cannot find a way to stay healthy and I can’t see a scenario in which he’s still with the Habs next season. Marc Bergevin was really invested in him, having sacrificed Sergatchev to get his hands on the Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts native, but Gorton and Hughes will have no problem walking away from what can now be described as a failed experiment.
That’s a wrap on the forwards’ grades, tomorrow I’ll cover the blueliners and netminders. No game today but the Canadiens did train in Brossard. Both Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman skated before practice. As for Sean Monahan, he didn’t practice today as he was receiving treatment. The Habs would do well to take care of him, if rumors are to be believed, he’s another first round pick in the making. Some are even whispering that the Avalanche has showed a key interest in the Canadiens’ center… time will tell if that’s true.