Habs’ Prospects: Media And Fans Need To Breathe

What do the words likelihood, hope expectation, anticipation, odds, probability, possibility, dream, candidate and possibility have in common? They are all synonyms of the word prospect. It is not attached to the words certainty or certitude. Further, the words immediate, prompt, instantaneous, rapid, hasty and expeditious are not related to the word prospect. With that in mind, why is it that some members of the media and the fan base are slotting prospects into the line-up immediately, or in a year from now? Or why do some write them off too soon? Unless someone has a crystal ball, it is premature to pretend knowing where a prospect will be in his development at that time.

For the first time since we can remember, the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool is flowing with potential. Experts in the matter all seem to agree that Montreal has one of the best, deepest prospect pools in the entire NHL. I mean, when was the last time we could say that?

Cole Caufield

But with such hype come expectations and many Habs’ fans are experts at setting unrealistic goals on players who have yet to set foot in a NHL rink, let alone play a single game in the league. So why are we doing that to ourselves? Why are we setting ourselves up for disappointment? It’s like we are searching for reasons to be let down, blaming the players, the organisation. Yet, the real culprits are those who set themselves up for disappointment.

Cole Caufield will be on the top-6 of the Canadiens next year, so we can trade Brendan Gallagher“… “Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be dominant centres this year”… “Alexander Romanov should be playing with Shea Weber on the top pairing, facing opponents’ top lines”… “Jordan Harris and Mattias Norlinder will be difference makers next year”… Why? Why are we doing this?

It’s been a while

1993. That was the last time the Canadiens went all the way to win the Stanley Cup. To make matters worse, the Patrick Roy trade set the franchise back for a long, long time. There were some decent years from then up until today, but never have the Habs been considered favourites. Although really, they weren’t favourites in 1986 and in 1993 either, their last two Cups. And there are plenty of reasons for this drought.

So fans are losing patience. While I’ve been fortunate to be alive for 10 of the Canadiens’ 24 Stanley Cup wins, many of today’s fans weren’t born or were too young to remember the 1993 victory. It’s been a long time. Too long. So the fans’ patience is running thin… although how thin should it be when no Canadian team has won the Holy Grail since the Habs did. Imagine being a Leafs’ fan, the team with the second most Stanley Cups (13) whose last one was back in 1967!

The Edmonton Oilers

Fans want results and they want it now. In a society where they hand out participation trophies, with the sense of entitlement we’re seeing today, the impatience and lack of rational should come at no surprise. This is unfortunately the world we’re living in. Fans want a Cup and they want it now! So they’ll play armchair GMs and coaches, pretending that they know more than the professionals doing that job. They see rookies with potential higher than the current players? They want them at their max potential, contributing immediately. That’s not how it works.

Nail Yakupov

The Edmonton Oilers have benefited of countless first round picks, and top-5 picks in recent years. Yet, it seems like many of those picks never panned out for them. Some have become good players but never reached their full potential. Others, like Nail Yakupov, vanished in the fog of Russia. Is it all the young men’s fault? No. No, it’s not.

Youngsters like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov were all put in a position to fail. The pressure placed on those 18-19 year-olds to carry the team on the top-6, often top line, was enormous. Some of them could have used another year in junior. Some maybe even a year in the AHL or stay in Europe a while longer.

While most have become pretty good players, it didn’t happen in Edmonton, with the exception of Nugent-Hopkins. They were traded because they couldn’t handle the pressure. Coming from junior leagues or lower caliber leagues, they were given too many responsibilities too soon. The step to the NHL is huge in the best of time. It’s important to let those young men grow into their own.

Habs on the right track

You have to love the way the Canadiens have handled Kotkaniemi. After he was drafted, they were fully planning on sending him back to Finland for one more season but he earned his spot on the team. But unlike the Oilers, the Canadiens started him on the third line. Head coach Claude Julien did everything in his power to shelter him from the opponents’ top lines. And last season, seeing a drop in confidence and production, they did not hesitate to send him to Laval to work with AHL coach Joel Bouchard.

Suzuki came in and surprised everyone but himself and perhaps Marc Bergevin. We all knew that the prospect obtained in the Max Pacioretty trade was a good one. But he blew everyone’s mind with his amazing two-way play and Julien gave him plenty of opportunities. To his credit, Suzuki took full advantage. Now, fans see him as the future number one centre of the team. Be careful. Don’t put too much pressure on the kid. He may suffer a setback like Kotkaniemi did. Or he may continue with his progression. And that’s okay if he does.

Up and coming

How many times have we heard, on radio, newspaper or in social media, people claiming that Cole Caufield will be in the NHL next year. Many think that he will have an immediate impact too. How many people are so excited about Norlinder that they pencil him into the line-up next year? Just as many are getting excited because they see Harris having success.

Kaiden Guhle

These days, fans are excited because the Canadiens’ first round pick in 2020, Kaiden Guhle, has been named to Team Canada Junior for the upcoming World Championships. Folks, he’s young and he’s playing at a very difficult position (defense). He may or may not get much ice time. He may or may not struggle at times. Be happy that he made the team. It’s an amazing accomplishment for the young man, and he will greatly benefit of the experience. But hold your enthusiasm and don’t think he’ll be in the Canadiens’ line-up anytime soon.

The Habs understood the importance of good drafting yes, but good player development. They’ve hired a team psychologist in Dr. David Scott, who participates in interviewing prospects prior to the Draft. They have hired an excellent teacher for their AHL affiliate in Joel Bouchard. They are trying not to rush youngsters. Romanov is penciled in on the third pairing after playing against men in the KHL. Harris and Norlinder are very unlikely to make the jump straight to the NHL. Not that they’re not good, they need maturing. Don’t be shocked if Caufield plays at least one season in the AHL. Ryan Poehling isn’t done his development. Don’t give up too soon.

So please, lower your expectations and you won’t be disappointed. And don’t think they’re a flop because they need more time. Jeff Petry broke out at 27-28 years old. By keeping on an even keel, you will avoid overshooting or undershooting. Just like you shouldn’t listen to the constant negativity from some members of the media, try tuning out the hype down too. Let the Canadiens develop them. Don’t jump to hasty conclusions, one way or the other. The future is bright, and it will be for years to come. Prospects will join in due time, when the Habs deem them to be ready. Go Habs Go!

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