Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to Boston in overtime, but not without a fight

The Montreal Canadiens have the most difficult ‘strength of schedule’ down the home stretch in the entire NHL. They’ll play mostly upper echelon teams until it all concludes April 16th.

One of the better clubs, the Boston Bruins, visited the Bell Centre Thursday night. Montreal put in another determined effort, taking the Bruins to overtime before falling 2-1.

Wilde Horses 

The 19-year-old sure is showing a lot of game for a teenager. Usually, a head coach puts a 19 year old on the first line, and it can be a sign of desperation. It’s a move made because no one else is available on a bad hockey team.

Not the case for the Canadiens, as Juraj Slafkovsky continues to develop at a rate few saw coming only five months ago. When this season began, Slafkovsky had difficulty winning puck battles, keeping his head up to avoid getting rocked, making passes, seeing the ice, and he absolutely refused to shoot.

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Now he’s probably the second-best teenager in the league behind only Connor Bedard in Chicago, in competition with Zach Benson, Adam Fantilli, and Logan Cooley. His point total is second among teens. The progression is stunning as he continues to make outstanding plays. The ability for Slafkovsky to learn at this rate is an indication that his ceiling is far from being reached.

In the first period, Cole Caufield won a puck battle over a much bigger man to force a turnover. It came to Slafkovsky in front of the net, and he made an exquisite pass to Nick Suzuki who fired home his 26th of the season. For Suzuki, it tied a career high set last season.

For Slafkovsky, it was his 35th point of the season. It’s an outstanding total. He is operating at just short of a point-per-game pace since joining the top line. Slafkovsky has 19 points in his last 24 games.

The giant Slovak is now ready for all of this, even when his own general manager Kent Hughes said that he thought of Slafkovsky as a five-year project. How about a one-year project?

The pick that 85 per cent of Canadiens fans wanted, according to a poll done on X the afternoon of the draft, is still in the minors. While Shane Wright hones his game in Coachella Valley, Slafkovsky is becoming a teenage star. It was a gamble. It was a surprise. It took guts. It looks like the right pick.

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Will he be part of the first 100-goal line for the Canadiens since 1993 when Brian Bellows, Kirk Muller, and Vincent Damphousse scored 116? It’s difficult to say as 100 goals is a big number. But for the first time in ages, the question isn’t laughable.

Caufield and Suzuki are still improving. Slafkovsky has miles of room to roam in front of him. Add a second line to help the line get the odd easy match-up some nights, and the prospect of it is exciting for fans who have longed for goals for generations.

One year older is the fourth-best forward on the club Joshua Roy. At 20, he is already looking comfortable in the NHL as well. His analytics were dominant in this one as he had a 77-shot share in the contest and a Corsi of 79.

Roy seems to know where the puck is going before even the puck knows it. He tracks in the offensive zone stunningly well. Roy looks like a sure-fire second liner. If this is just a flash in the pan, and not the start of something great, it would be shocking and a major disappointment.

He looks right now like he will be with Kirby Dach next season and Alex Newhook. With Newhook, who is asked to play at centre where he is not as good as on the wing, and Joel Armia the line gave the Bruins all sorts of trouble.

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Armia has had a strong season as he has been revitalized after a brief stay in Laval. However, imagine Newhook and Roy with play-driving Dach and it’s an entirely new level of strength.

The second line, with the emergence of Roy, is looking much better in 2024-25.

Click to play video: 'Call of the Wilde: Trade Deadline Day'
Call of the Wilde: Trade Deadline Day

Wilde Goats 

Another terrific hockey game with the Canadiens competing again against one of the league’s best teams. No complaints. No goats. Just one positive surprise after another from a club that could have quit in December, but seems determined to not give an inch until mid-April.

Wilde Cards

You can count the number of times that a general manager has said that he will draft for need instead of drafting the best player available on one finger in the history of the NHL.  That one time just happened when Kent Hughes said that if the scouting staff can’t see any marked difference between players that the club will draft for need in the first round.

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Clearly, the need he speaks of is forwards. Montreal has, depending on your degree of confidence, anywhere from 11 to 13 NHL-calibre defenders. However, up front, they have plenty of slots open to fill up lines two through four.

Thankfully, for the Canadiens, the latest draft lists are becoming even more defender-biased over forwards. That gives Hughes the opportunity to get a high-quality forward with the seventh pick, which is likely where Montreal will choose.

There is a consensus Macklin Celebrini will be the number one, but after that, it’s wide open. Recently, though, defenders are shining and being thought of as the go-to players first. Anton Silayev is showing up at number two more regularly. He is a six-foot-seven-inch defender playing in the KHL.

After that, it is more defenders as Artyom Levshunov takes the number three spot out of Michigan State University. He also is a defenceman. At four could be another defender, as Carter Yakemchuk is listed and right behind him is Sam Dickinson of the London Knights.

Another defender in the top 10 is from the Saginaw Spirit — Zayne Parekh. He is rising up the charts with huge enthusiasm as he puts together a stunning second half of the season. Finally, in the top 10, out of the University of Denver is Zeev Buium who is close to Lane Hutson for best scoring season ever for a college defender.

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That is six defenders who could be chosen before the Canadiens have a turn at the seven spot. If you’re looking for a forward, it could not be any better for the Canadiens scouting staff.

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Call of the Wilde

They will likely favour four forwards, assuming Celebrini won’t be available without a lottery win. They avoided Matvei Michkov last season, but there are no rumours at all that they don’t like another Russian Ivan Demidov. He may just be their top choice.

Falling down the charts, due to injury, is Cayden Lindstrom. He is an imposing centre who has a complete game. He goes to the net hard, skates well, has great finish. Lindstrom would be a sure-fire top-six for the club.

Another centre, who may just be a wing at the NHL level, is Berkly Catton. He’s putting together a stunning offensive season in the Western Hockey League. He’s four points off the league lead in his draft season. That’s an excellent accomplishment.

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The final forward that could be on the Canadiens’ radar is Tij Iginla, who has vaulted up the draft charts as he continues to improve. Scouts are often looking for players who are making a meteoric rise. That’s Iginla.

They don’t feel confident watching players that seemed to have plateaued at 15 and at 17 have not lifted their game another gear. It’s human nature. That may have been why the Canadiens shied away from Shane Wright, who flatlined in his draft season.

There is a fifth forward who also should be mentioned due to closing in on the scoring records of Cole Caufield at the USDP. Cole Eiserman was the consensus number two pick last year at this time, but he has fallen out of just above every top-10 list. Not from a lack of scoring, but a conceptual idea that he doesn’t bring a complete game.

This is always a dicey evaluation. It was that concept that left Mike Bossy on the board until the 15 pick. A player who can score can learn the secondary elements, like playing well defensively, but a player who can play well defensively can’t be taught how to score.

If Eiserman drops to 15, someone has stolen him, just like another Cole was stolen at 15 by Montreal not too long ago.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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Call of the Wilde

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