The Montreal Canadiens have had a difficult schedule since the All-Star break, so it was a relief for the team on Saturday night not to be facing one of the best teams in the league. Instead, Montreal routed the Columbus Blue Jackets 8-2 at the Bell Centre.
When the braintrust of the Canadiens Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes get together to assess the goals for the team in the rebuild, actual game results are close to the bottom of their list of importance.
That means they want players to increase their talent levels substantially. With that as the gauge, this has been an outstanding season for the Canadiens.
Start with Kirby Dach. The Canadiens went from only having Nick Suzuki as a top-six centre to having a second centre that may be equal to or even better than Suzuki one day. The development of Dach is a tremendous win.
The improvement of Suzuki is a win as well. His career high is 61 points. He will eclipse that, which is impressive considering he lost his line-mates Dach and Cole Caufield for large portions of the season. With the first four point night in his career, Suzuki moved right to 61. He’s got nine games to pass his best season points total.
Caufield has showed that he is indeed the real deal. Caufield was on pace for a 47-goal season when he was removed to repair the torn labrum in his shoulder. Caufield as a true sniper is a massive continuing development.
Continue with a defensive corps that had as many as five rookies finding success in the NHL. Remember that before opening night in October, there was no real proof that any of them could find success at all on a consistent basis. All five are NHL calibre.
Add to it, the shocking development of Mike Matheson at 28 years of age. There were years that Matheson wasn’t even a regular in the NHL. This season, under Martin St. Louis he is playing like a first-pair defender. Matheson has nine points, on three goals and six assists, in his last seven games. He rushes the net, and controls the play like Andrei Markov used to.
Continue on with some of the American Hockey League players that could fight for jobs next season. Rafael Harvey-Pinard had three goals in this one. He has 12 goals in 29 games and deserves a shot next October. How can you not give a serious look to a player who if he played all 82 would have set a pace for 34 goals?
Jesse Ylonen scored as well against the Blue Jackets. He also deserves a serious look. Oddly, Ylonen is a better NHL player than he is an AHL player. Some players like the higher level of organization that an NHL game has. It fits their mind better.
Add another trade that is working as Denis Gurianov is rejuvenated under a player’s coach. Gurianov had two goals in 43 games this season in Dallas. In Montreal, he has five goals in 14 games. He looks like a player worth giving an offer to.
Even Jonathan Drouin is making a case in the last year of a long contract that he may win an offer for one season this summer. Drouin is almost a point-per-game player for the last 24 games. The only issue with Drouin is he will turn 28 this week. That’s a little late in the game to offer a forward a contract for a rebuilding team. Drouin should find work though somewhere.
Samuel Montembeault put together a lot of strong games, and it appears he has the skills to be, at least, a back-up in the NHL on a regular basis. He’s still young as well, at 26, as goalies often take longer to develop.
The only important player who was a mild disappointment is the first pick overall Juraj Slafkovsky, and that is because he didn’t get to play enough. Slafkovsky didn’t light the league on fire, but not a lot was expected at his age in his first half season. It was a shame that we didn’t get to see him play the second half of the year. He will have eyes on him next season as someone who will need to show more.
Other than the disappointment of Slafkovsky’s development being hampered by injury, this was a season where there were no true disappointments in the development department. They needed young guns to improve, and definitely, youth was served in Montreal.
In the win-loss column, not much worked. Thankfully, that is irrelevant. In fact, it is preferable for a higher draft pick. Next season, expect that top draft pick in 2023 to join a half-dozen high talent Montreal prospects who have been tearing it up this year.
Rebuilds take time. Three years is the minimum for a true one. Draft picks are needed to get the best players at the top of the draft. The Canadiens are just finishing season two. They have likely two more seasons left to draft in the top ten.
They will need a goalie eventually. They will need a first pair right side defender, because the best they can claim now is Justin Barron or Logan Mailloux, and that’s not likely to be enough.
They will also need Suzuki or Dach to continue to improve enough that they are point-per-game centres. Cup winners have strength down the middle, and one of them has to elevate just a bit more to show they have 80 to 90 points in them.
Overall, the Canadiens foundation is strong and on the way to getting much stronger. This was an excellent season for development.
It was an entertaining night at the Bell Centre. The fans enjoyed all the goals and wide open play. They even made it through a game without a major injury. It was a goat-free night.
It is most likely that college scoring sensation Sean Farrell is a Montreal Canadiens player by mid-week. Farrell concluded his second season with the Harvard Crimson on a sour note Friday losing 8-1 to Ohio State in the regionals of the NCAA Frozen Four.
He could return to college to continue his hockey career at the amateur level, but it is difficult to see his motivation for staying at the Ivy League school. Farrell was able to fast track his studies because of Covid and summer classes, so he will graduate this spring.
He also has dominated at the college level as one of the top scorers in the country and is a Hobey Baker finalist. He has nothing left to prove in college hockey. Add to that, the best players on the Harvard club will also be moving on, so it appears as if it is a transition year for the Crimson.
Farrell has also played at the world championships and the Olympics. Why wouldn’t he move forward to the next challenge. Considering Farrell is such a highly thought of prospect, the Canadiens will need to dangle a carrot in front of him to entice him to sign.
Only Montreal has rights to him, so they will offer him a three-year deal to make sure that they keep him. Should they delay with their best offer, he may consider letting the clock run out to play the free agent market the following year.
This is always a danger drafting a collegian, but the relationship is perfect with the Canadiens. The expectation is he will be offered a three year contract as a 21 year old.
Farrell and Adam Nicolas have had an outstanding relationship with the Director of Player Skills Development thinking extremely highly of Farrell’s potential to be a star in the NHL.
Speculation that Farrell would go to Laval is weak instead of Montréal is weak. It is unlikely that he would sign a contract that sends him immediately to the AHL.
Farrell has earned the NHL three-year offer and the Canadiens know that as well. His agent would surely argue for the three-year NHL offer that would begin immediately, thus pushing the clock forward to the end of his ELC and subsequent bigger money offers as a free agent.
Expect that Farrell signs as soon as Monday, then he would get acclimated with Martin St. Louis, then start in the red, white and blue early next week.
That’s the timeline, if there are no surprises. Expect no surprises.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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