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Montreal Canadiens

Best Canadidates To Play On Top Line With Caufield & Suzuki

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Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens have found their top offensive duo for years to come, but finding them a consistent linemate to complement their game has been a trying task.

Since the Canadiens first paired Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield together at the tail-end of the 2020-2021 season, the chemistry been the two players has been unquestionable. They are, without a doubt, the two most offensively talented players on the team, and, whenever they’re together on the ice, good things. The issue has been finding them a consistent linemate that can complement their game and complete a top-line.

Initially, the Canadiens found some success with Tyler Toffoli as the veteran presence on that line, but he was ultimately traded to the Calgary Flames prior to the NHL trade deadline last season. They’ve also had spurts of success when paired with power-forward Josh Anderson, but the hulking winger hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant that kind of top usage. The Canadiens tried practically everyone they could in that spot last season without anyone being able to stick.

After shuffling up their rosters and adding a few more wingers to the club, the Montreal Canadiens will have a some new options to pair with their two youngsters this season that just might work:

 

Evgenii Dadonov

Evgenii Dadonov has shown in the past that he can be a perfect complement to an offensive line at the NHL level, and his end-of-season performance last season show’s he’s far from finished in this league. Having had experience playing with burgeoning youngsters like Jonathan Huberdeau or Alexander Barkov in Florida, perhaps playing Dadonov with Caufield and Suzuki could be a “two birds, one stone” situation for the Montreal Canadiens.

It wouldn’t be outlandish to see Dadonov return to a 50-point pace playing with the Montreal Canadiens’ top offensive players, which would then position the club to flip the Russian winger at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline with 50% retention for a good asset. A solution that could help the youngsters develop even further with some short-term consistency, while helping the team sell high on their pending free agent; sounds like something Kent Hughes would do.

 

Sean Monahan

The same that was said for Dadonov could likely apply to Sean Monahan. Although he was primarily used as a centre, the current logjam down the middle and the organization’s desire to develop Kirby Dach as a centre, may see Monahan moved to the wing. Monahan would be able to complement this line due to a multitude of reasons. He’s a left-shot centre with a career faceoff percentage over 50%, offering the Montreal Canadiens some extra options to allow Suzuki to take faceoffs on his strong side (he’s a right-shot) as he continues to hone his craft in that department.

Monahan also presents the two offensive youngsters with another viable shooting option, making them less predictable in the offensive zone. Although Monahan may not have the speed he once had, he will still be able to go to the dirty areas and make room for his teammates, much like he did for former teammate Johnny Gaudreau. It could be an interesting combo once Monahan is healthy and ready to go; with a contract year ahead of him and everything to prove, there will be no shortage of motivation to perform.

 

Jonathan Drouin

Although I can already hear the groans of many as I write this, Jonathan Drouin has proven chemistry with Suzuki, and the two have never looked off when they’ve played together. Drouin has the speed and vision to be able to complement the two players quite well, and would be a third option to help in breakouts/transitions; meaning the Canadiens will be able to play wider in the defensive zone and more open in the neutral zone. Granted, having Drouin on this line may raise concerns about a lack of size, but Suzuki and Caufield have played their best hockey against bigger competition in the past (let us all remember the playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets or Vegas Golden Knights).

Drouin is the best pure playmaker on the club and has really only been held back by back-to-back wrist injuries over the last two seasons, Although some seem already intent on writing him off for this season, with some outlets pegging him on the 5th line in favour of players like Mike Hoffman or Joel Armia, a healthy and motivated Drouin is one of the better forwards on this team at the moment.

 

Too Soon: Juraj Slafkovsky

Everyone wants to see this combo, and we may in fact see it at training camp for a test run. However, for the course of a full season, it would be unlikely to see this combination stick for the long-term, despite both youngsters politely agreeing that Juraj Slafkovsky deserves to play with them on the top line during a recent episode of Les 4 Julies.

It will come, it’s written in the stars, but Slafkovsky’s development should be prioritized well over the desire to put a raw 18-year-old up against the opposition’s toughest and defensively-sound players night-in, night-out. Not even Caufield and Suzuki themselves hit the ground that quickly when they broke into the league at 20. It was a process, and Slafkovsky will have to go through his own journey. But, when he will be ready for top usage, attachez vos tuques.

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