With four rookies on the blue line, the Montreal Canadiens have iced one of the greenest defensive groups in NHL history.
What’s more, all four rookies have done a very good job holding the fort despite their lack of experience, which has led to a very healthy amount of ice time.
As it stands, the Canadiens own four of the top 10 busiest rookies in the league, with Kaiden Guhle leading the charge by averaging over 20 minutes of all-situation time on ice this season.
The only rookie that has seen more ice time than Guhle is the first-overall pick in the 2021 draft, Owen Power.
Jordan Harris is fourth on the list, whereas Jonathan Kovacevic and Arber Xhekaj are ninth and 10th, respectively.
Trust The Process
Mike Hoffman received an overabundance of criticism in the early parts of the season. It’s understandable seeing as Hoffman is a goal-scorer and he simply wasn’t scoring goals.
But despite struggling to score, Hoffman still produced some of the best underlying numbers on the team, which is usually a strong indicator that a player is due to a significant uptick in offence.
That’s exactly what happened in Hoffman’s case. He led all Canadiens players in shot control, expected goals and high-danger shot control throughout October and finally found his scoring rhythm earlier this month.
But now there’s another player who is due for a little more luck: Evgenii Dadonov.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) November 16, 2022
Dadonov leads all Canadiens forwards regarding shot control (53.6 percent) and expected goal share (59.8).
He trails only Hoffman when it comes to high-danger shot share (53.7 percent), making him one of only three Montreal Canadiens forwards this season who have controlled more than 50 percent of the quality chances while they’re on the ice.
Coming into the season all eyes were on goaltender Jake Allen. Statistically speaking, he was the most likely candidate to perform above expectations.
And while Allen has played well considering how often the Canadiens allow their opponents to take high-quality shots, it’s backup Samuel Montembeault that has made the greatest impact.
In most cases, his numbers are among the top 10 goaltenders in the league, which places Montembeault as the Canadiens’ best value-contract this season.
Montembeault’s strong play has also given the young defensive group a grace period in which they could adjust to the speed and intensity of the NHL.
Nick Suzuki’s scoring prowess has been impressive, Cole Caufield’s overall progression has been entertaining, and the rookies have played well, but it’s only fair to say Montembeault has played a crucial role in the Canadiens’ surprising start to the season.
Suzuki is off to a fantastic start to the season, leading all Canadiens players with 10 goals and 9 assists in 16 games.
He’s scoring on roughly a quarter of his all-situation shots, which is twice as high as his career average shooting percentage. His shooting efficiency is likely to decline, however, it also points to Suzuki’s evolution as a star player that is just entering his prime.
10e but de Nick cette saison!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) November 13, 2022
In addition, it speaks to the chemistry between Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach, a line with a perfect balance of speed, intelligence and raw talent.
You’ll hear many people mention Suzuki’s hot streak is based on luck, and many others provide the necessary context to explain why it’s not driven by luck.
As per usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Hockey is much too nuanced to pin success or failure on one factor.
The Canadiens have made several smart waiver claims in the last decade. Players such as Paul Byron and Rem Pitlick have been plucked off waivers and immediately made an impact on the team.
Byron still reigns supreme as the Canadiens’ best waiver claim, but Kovacevic is knocking on his door.
Even though Kovacevic and Harris have faced a relatively strong quality of competition, the duo has managed to produce great underlying numbers.
Kovacevic, in particular, has become an analytics darling.
He leads all defencemen in shot share (54.9 percent), scoring chance share (52.2 percent), high-danger shot share (48.9 percent) and goal share (61.1 percent).
His single point on the season does not do his overall level of play justice. Kovacevic hasn’t just surpassed all expectations, he’s become one of the Canadiens’ most trustworthy defencemen.
(All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)