One of the most difficult challenges of the season for the Montreal Canadiens was a visit to Boston on Thursday night. The Bruins are not just the best team in the league this season, they are one of the best regular season teams ever.
The Canadiens held their own, but lost 4-2.
It’s been an interesting season for Nick Suzuki. Early in the campaign, during those heady days in October and November, he was on pace for a 90-point season. It was all going right for him and his line-mates Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach. They were the main reason the Canadiens got off to a surprisingly strong start. The most optimistic fans were even whispering about a fight for a playoff spot.
The reality of injuries set in after that. Caufield was lost for the season at just past the halfway mark, and Dach was gone for two months as well. It wasn’t surprising that the numbers of Suzuki fell considerably.
However, Suzuki continued to give everything he had night after night. For a second straight season, he is on his way to being the only Canadiens player to suit up for every single game. He’s also been an excellent representative as captain, both on and off the ice.
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Off the ice, Suzuki is a strong representative in a modern world supporting an inclusiveness when apparently that’s not easy for everyone. He’s also strong in the room, showing up each night after a game that there are difficult questions to be answered.
On the ice, Suzuki works his tail off and continues to develop his game. In this one, he, along with Dach, were, once again, the best players on the ice. Suzuki scored his 22nd goal of the season on a gorgeous link-up with Denis Gurianov. The Russian made a terrific pass after getting the puck from Dach on the power play.
That 22 is a career high in goals for Suzuki and he has 10 left to add to the mark. In the second period, a second goal was made with the extra man, as Suzuki fed Mike Matheson who fed Dach who tipped it home easily.
Suzuki is also trying to eclipse his career best of 61 points, and will surely get it with only five to get in the final 10 games.
To get a career high in goals and points when your linemates have changed the entire season from night to night is quite an achievement. Some worry that 65 points is his ceiling, but it is not. All that has to happen is he plays on a club that scores more, and has linemates of high quality like Caufield and Dach that can make it through a season healthy.
It would also help if Suzuki were part of a power play that could improve by about a half goal per game. The Canadiens have the fourth worst power play in the league, but it is improving in the past three weeks. Gurianov was in the bumper position on the power play in Boston, and he seemed to handle it well.
The power play has much better movement recently and looks quite a lot more dangerous. Mike Matheson healthy again is massive, as his vision and skating ability is vital on the blue line to create chances. Matheson was a beast in Boston Thursday.
One day, Caufield will return to take huge shots on the left side, and Lane Hutson will use his vision and ability to dodge through players to create many more chances and goals.
When Caufield, Dach and Matheson are healthy, and Hutson joins Suzuki on the power-play five, Suzuki will be a point-per-game player. Just that improved power play alone will put the Canadiens on the winning side of the ledger much more.
The Bruins are a force. They don’t just want to beat you; they want to crush you. They seem insulted that you would even come to town to try. Any show of competitiveness and it’s almost like, “How dare you?”.
Boston is one of the best regular season teams this century has seen. That the Laval Canadiens competed with that says a lot for a bunch of minor leaguers sprinkled in with some major leaguers. Every game, the Canadiens play with pride.
They may not be the most talented team right now, but they’re playing like no one told them.
Lane Hutson was taken 62nd overall in the NHL Amateur Draft of 2022. Now, Hutson is on the verge of the greatest draft plus one season in college history. Boston University started the NCAA Frozen Four tournament with the Manchester Regional as the first game up in the round of 16.
Boston University dominated their regional semi-final, beating Western Michigan 5-1. Hutson scored the opening goal as he pinched in from the point, and fired a shot five-hole for his 15th goal of the season.
Hutson now holds the modern day record in college hockey for freshman with 48 points on the season. He passes Brian Leetch who had 47 points in 37 games in the 1980s when hockey was very different than it is now.
For example, Hutson was the leading scorer on his team this season. In fact, he was the first defender to ever lead the entire Hockey East conference in points. Contrast that with Leetch, who achieved his massive number at Boston College when he was the fifth leading scorer on his team. The Eagles were led in points in 1987 by Craig Janney who had a whopping 83.
Those were the wild days of hockey, so for Hutson to be passing the numbers of Leetch is a phenomenal achievement. Hutson is closing in on the final two ahead of him in a draft plus one season, Craig Redmond and Curt Giles, to be the all-time points record holder.
Again, though, one must note here to add significance to the Hutson achievements that Giles achieved his point total of 53 points in his fourth year of college hockey. It was his draft plus one, but Giles was 20 years of age when he concluded that season.
Redmond is the target to be the greatest ever in modern day NCAA hockey. Redmond’s total is 54. Hutson has 48. Hutson will play on Saturday in the regional final against Cornell who upset Denver 2-0. If Boston U wins there, then it’s the Frozen Four national championships in Tampa Bay.
If the Terriers go all the way to the final, Hutson will play three more games to get a highly unlikely six points. The only thing stopping Hutson from having the greatest point total for a draft plus one in history is that he is playing in 2023, not 1987.
Truthfully, put the ‘best’ title beside his name already. This is the greatest draft plus one season in NCAA history. To not believe it is simply semantics. In his era, in draft plus one seasons, Hutson is far ahead of his peers. Some examples are Adam Fox had 40 points, Luke Hughes had 39 points, and Quinn Hughes had 29 points.
It’s not a guarantee that Hutson will be a strong all-around pro, but he will surely be, at least, tremendous on the power play, and a massive catalyst to the Canadiens in an area that they have struggled for a long time.
It will be fascinating to watch it all play out when Hutson comes to camp, likely in the spring of 2024, after he finishes his second college hockey season at Boston University.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.