It’s been a difficult closing run for the Montreal Canadiens. They entered today’s contest with the Senators in Ottawa in the midst of a seven-game losing skid. Suffering from frayed nerves, they fell to Ottawa 6-4.
Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki have essentially been the only workhorses for a half season. It’s remarkable they have continued their points run when the opposition has no one else to key on. Jake Evans finds points some nights. Rem Pitlick has put some good games together. However, consistently exciting, showing top potential, it’s only Caufield and Suzuki.
Caufield and Suzuki will be even better when other clubs have to concentrate on stopping two Habs’ lines or three lines one day. Right now, the pair gets the other team’s best defenders every single shift.
Caufield scored another gorgeous goal in this one. It was a two-on-one with Mike Hoffman on the right side and Caufield on the left. The pass came across ice and it was firm. Caufield ripped it into the top corner. That’s a 20-goal season for a player who only had one goal in his first 30 games. In his next 34 games, he got 19 goals. That’s the power of a coach giving him an opportunity to find his game.
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No predictions for 2022-23, but extrapolating the math to a full season, it seems like Caufield has 40 goals per season in him. That would be huge for Montreal who has not had a 40-goal campaign this century. There may be a lot of losses in Montreal’s future, but if there is one young scorer and one young talented playmaker, it will be tolerable at least.
Credit to the Canadiens as well for not giving up when an absolute rout looked like it was on. Montreal outshot Ottawa 16-2 in the third period and they pumped 48 shots overall, so they play with pride under Martin St. Louis, even with an obvious issue on defence that’s addressed in the Wilde Goats below.
This is starting to get quite worrisome. The Canadiens have allowed almost five goals per game in their last dozen. It’s true they traded away Ben Chiarot, and Brett Kulak, but this defence is getting steamrollered night after night and close to the defence they will start next season.
David Savard, who is getting owned regularly during this partnership with Alexander Romanov, is not going anywhere. Jeff Petry is going somewhere.
Justin Barron will likely be on the starting roster next season. Kaiden Guhle will likely be on the roster next year. He almost made the team this season. He will be ready next October.
However, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron, and Kaiden Guhle are young. 20 year-old defenders learning the ropes will be fine some nights, but they will have growing pains other nights.
Except for Joel Edmundson, no defender on this starting six is good enough on a regular basis to keep the goal total under three. You are witnessing what they can do. If you think some sort of miracle will happens after the summer, that’s misplaced hope born of fandom.
This is going to take years. They are losing eight straight because they are allowing five every game because they are simply not good enough. This blue line needs three seasons at least.
Give this time. It needs time. It is painful to watch, but the pay-off will be grand. If the club is in the top five for the lottery next year, then that’s outstanding. Build it so it is sustainable. Don’t build it so the fight is to find the middle of the pack. The middle of the pack excites no one.
The Canadiens top brass Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have left North America to scout the U18 World Championships in Europe. The spies there will have to see which games they are attending and who is drawing their interest. It could be many players they have their eyes on.
What follows will be educated guesses at who interests Montreal management at the number one through number four spots when they will choose in the first round this summer.
HuGo has shown already they do like American collegians. The most popular pick at the number two draft position on most public lists, though not everyone agrees, is Logan Cooley. Cooley has promised to attend the University of Minnesota next summer for his freshman year.
Cooley has great playmaking abilities and sees the ice well. He has a strong skill set and is a dynamic player. The only concern is his size. We will have an honest knowledge of that size at the combine in May, but for now he is 5 foot 10 inches or 11 inches. If he is on the wrong side of 5 foot 10, that would be difficult because then Cooley likely becomes a winger at the NHL level which is sub-optimal.
The Americans have another centre that had an excellent start in an 8-3 throttling of Canada. Frank Nazar had two assists in the contest. He doesn’t get as much ink as Cooley, but he has a strong skill set as well. Cooley had one goal and one helper this afternoon.
Sweden also has some big time talent on their roster. Liam Ohgren has been scoring at will in the Swedish Junior League. His 33 goals in 30 games is as good as any in history at his age in that junior league.
Another player in the Swedish Junior League who is draft eligible is Jonathan Lekkerimaki. He has 20 goals in 26 games. Both of these players are putting together outstanding numbers. However, they are both wingers. If the Canadiens draft a winger, it has to be Juraj Slafkovsky if only wingers are left they pick.
Also at the worlds and perhaps drawing interest is Joakim Kemmell from the Finnish team. His ranking has dropped slightly through the year, but he is still highly ranked.
This tournament is a best on best event. There’s nothing better than watching these players as they face each other to know how they rank amongst themselves. Stay tuned. It’s going to be interesting to see which games they watch closely in Europe.