While there was some hope the four rookies populating the Montreal Canadiens blue line would end up enjoying somewhat successful entrances into the NHL, the early-season results have been nothing short of reassuring when it comes to the future of the defensive core.
“I’m not really surprised,” explained Jordan Harris. “Because I know how much talent we have. Everybody is ready to step up no matter the situation, 20 plus minutes, 15 minutes, power play, penalty kill, everyone has stepped in seamlessly. For me, it hasn’t been a surprise, four rookie defencemen playing heavy minutes, but kudos to the coaching staff for putting trust in us. It’s been a lot of fun being part of it.”
Harris isn’t wrong. The trust factor instilled by the coaching staff has played a big part in Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic, Kaiden Guhle, and Arber Xhekaj exceeding all expectations.
But the trust has not been given simply out of benevolence.
With the exception of Guhle, who faces the opponent’s best players on most nights and deserves the benefit of the doubt, all the rookies have yielded great underlying numbers in relatively difficult situations.
For example, the Canadiens’ best and most reliable duo according to the numbers has been their second pairing, which features Harris and Kovacevic.
We can delve into their impressive numbers once again, but it’s safe to say no other pairing has come remotely close to matching their overall control of shots and expected goals (53.5 percent).
And while veteran Chris Wideman has faced a healthy amount of criticism for his lack of production on the power play, when he’s used alongside Xhekaj, good things tend to happen for the Canadiens.
But unfortunately, when it comes to the play of the veteran defencemen, there’s been a distinct lack of results. When Savard played Mike Matheson, their numbers did look fairly good, approaching over 55 percent in a few key statistical categories, but we are dealing with a very limited sample size.
If we remove all the intangibles from the equation, it leaves Joel Edmundson as the odd-man out and most logical candidate for a trade that would result in the Canadiens reinforcing their already solid prospect pool.
He’s yet to find any sort of chemistry alongside the various defensive partners he’s played with in the 10 games since returning from injury. It’s a harsh assessment given he missed most of the schedule, but it’s also the reality of the situation.
With more than 400 games of experience under his belt, it’s also fair to assume Edmundson would be an asset that would interest several teams on the trade market, particularly teams who feel they need reinforcements in the form of a physical defenceman.
Of course, the Canadiens will weigh factors such as leadership, locker room health, mentorship, and other intangibles that are not obvious to the public. And there’s also something to be said about not leaving the four rookies without multiple layers of insurance.
But through at the quarter mark of the schedule, it’s the rookies who have done most of the heavy lifting for the Canadiens rather than the veterans.
(All Montreal Canadiens and Kaiden Guhle statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)