The Montreal Canadiens are up to a good start. Even in their 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, it took an amazing goaltending performance by Jacob Markstrom to make that happen. The Canadiens were by far the better team in the second and third period. But so goes hockey. You win some that you should have lost, and you lose some that you deserved to win. It usually all balances out at the end. At least three young forwards are much improved from last season, helping the Habs to the record that we know.
We just touched on how well the teams young centers are performing. Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans are doing very well. But I want to focus on the first two since they played in Montreal last season. Let’s also throw in Jonathan Drouin in there.
All three have rather drastically raised their game and that change coincides with the COVID-Cup playoffs. Suzuki has a great rookie year, no doubt. But in the playoffs, his game went up a notch or two. Kotkaniemi struggled last season, to the point where the Canadiens sent him down to their AHL affiliate to work with Joel Bouchard. When came playoffs, he was a transformed player. Drouin started the season really well. Involved, wanting the puck more, he was backchecking and creating plays. In the playoffs, he was tied with Suzuki for most points on the Habs.
By the numbers
We could break down the reasons for those changes in so many ways, and there are many theories for each one of them. The one that I personally prefer is… maturity. Not maturity in the sense of acting your age, as those three take their career very seriously, but as become more mature players. That maturity in their level of play has transferred statistically too.
While Kotkaniemi’s offensive production isn’t as high as the other two, anyone watching the Habs’ games will recognize that he’s been a totally different player since the playoffs. Faster, stronger, much more physical, he’s more confident with the puck. The points will come in his case.
As for Drouin and Suzuki, the offensive contribution is much higher but also, their plus-minus are much improved. Some of it definitely has to do with the addition of Joel Edmundson, Alexander Romanov and Jake Allen. It’s not the sole reason though. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Those two young men have raised their play without the puck by a notch or two.
Better all around
Drouin, who compared Suzuki to a mini Patrice Bergeron, is often the first man back preventing goals. He’ll never be nominated for a Selke Trophy or be one of the teams’ go-to guy in defensive coverage, but he’s much improved.
Suzuki does everything well. He read the play like a veteran, sets-up his linemates brilliantly and is a pivot on the Canadiens improved powerplay. He has taken huge weight off Phillip Danault‘s back by being responsible defensively. There’s a reason why Marc Bergevin didn’t want to give him up to get Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Considering that Drouin is 25 years old, Suzuki 21 and Kotkaniemi only 20, those three young men are a big part of the reason why the Habs had success in last year’s playoffs and are up to a good start this season. The beauty is that they’re young enough to do it for several years, hopefully all in Montreal. Go Habs Go!