The Montreal Canadiens have had quite a few bright spots this season, but there are five big surprises that stand out above the rest during in 2022.
The Canadiens have had some memorable surprises, but five players, in particular, are blowing past expectations and have generated some serious buzz during this eventful year.
Here are the top-5 biggest surprises of the year for the Canadiens below:
Best First Impression
After having been selected at 33rd overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, the expectations weren’t high for Owen Beck, but he didn’t care.
From development camp, rookie camp, the Prospect Challenge and during preseason games with the Canadiens, Beck proved he wasn’t the typical 2nd-round pick Montreal Canadiens fans had come to expect.
Beck not only gained the favour of the fans, but also that of head coach Martin St. Louis, who has spoken at length about Beck’s maturity on the ice and his ability to read plays at incredible speed.
The Montreal Canadiens rewarded Beck’s outstanding effort during the preseason by signing him to a three-year ELC effective immediately; a sign that he impressed the management team enough to ensure he’s in the long-term plans for the foreseeable future. Not that there was ever any doubt.
Beck not only fits the profile of an extremely intelligent player that has shown signs of progress and growth at every single level, but he also applies a cerebral approach off the ice that will serve him well in a hockey-mad market like Montreal.
Upon getting sent back to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, Beck caught fire and took the league by storm. As of now, the 18-year-old has 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in just 29 games, all while remaining one of the best defensive players in the OHL.
His steep development curve since being drafted has certainly been a pleasant surprise for Habs fans.
Owen Beck, good at hockey pic.twitter.com/O6lFoY0ut0
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 4, 2022
Good Things Come In Small Packages
For those who have watched Lane Hutson dating back to 2021, his progress over the last 12 months has been remarkable.
When many had their eyes on Seamus Casey or Ryan Chesley as the top defenceman of the United States National Development Program (USNDT), Hutson was there, waiting for his moment.
After putting on nearly 10 pounds of weight during the season (yes, you read that right), Hutson had a very strong 2022. He made a statement with his inspiring performances at the U-18s for Team USA and just continued to improve from there on out.
Hutson was the most noticeable player at the Canadiens’ development camp in July and immediately began to receive the monicker of “Steal”, given his electrifying style and immense talent.
Then, the true test arrived: how would he play against bigger and stronger opposition in the NCAA?
The answer: Seamlessly.
Hutson is having an historic season at Boston University, ranking second in team scoring with seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in just 16 games. And what’s more impressive is that a grand majority of his points are at even strength, destroying the pre-conceived notion that he was simply a power play merchant.
Hutson is the most successful defenceman in the NCAA at this time , posting the best points-per-game ratio for a defender in the entire league; all while being surprisingly efficient defensively.
Big things were expected from Hutson, but this is something else.
That Lane Hutson, so hot right now 🔥 pic.twitter.com/BpgAhifmvh
— /r/Habs (@HabsOnReddit) December 21, 2022
If you had said that Kaiden Guhle would be a top-pair defenceman for the Canadiens this season, I would have told you that the team would likely have been in trouble.
Instead, Guhle has not only taken on a top-4 role right from the start of his very young NHL career, but he’s forced Canadiens management to exempt him from the ongoing rotation of defencemen.
Guhle’s logged an average of 20:32 so far this season, with the grand majority coming at even strength. In 34 games so far this season, he’s notched a goal and 13 assists for 14 points; which is a pretty impressive stat line for a 20-year-old in this league. In fact, over the last 30 years, only P.K. Subban has accumulated more
He’s played with great poise and has shown the maturity of a seasoned veteran on the ice so far this season, which has prompted onlookers to begin including him in the conversation for the Calder Memorial trophy.
I think it’s a safe bet to assume that most thought Guhle would be a good piece for the Canadiens for the foreseeable future, but he’s quickly making himself an indispensable piece of the puzzle with his exceptional play.
This is a Kaiden Guhle highlight more than it is a Suzuki highlight pic.twitter.com/PiLan95rkK
— Shaun Hashim (@shaunhashim) December 18, 2022
From the moment Kirby Dach touched the ice at Montreal Canadiens training camp, he looked like a man on a mission.
Despite not having excellent faceoff numbers, he played with intensity, and physicality and was very creative with the puck.
His combination of size, speed and skill was known, but the way he’s put it all together as quickly as he has during his short time in Montreal has been impressive.
However, Dach’s play went up a notch when he was promoted to the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, finding instant chemistry with the club’s dynamic duo.
Dach wasn’t simply just a complement on the line, he was an active member in its exceptional play and provided Suzuki with some puck support up the middle, as Dach, despite playing on the wing, still transported and distributed the puck like a centre.
Even when Head Coach Martin St-Louis tried to slide him back down to centre after the injury to Sean Monahan, Dach was back on the first line by the end of the game, because the chemistry is undeniable.
Having gone from outcast in Chicago to essential top-line performer in Montreal in just a few months is quite the surprising turn-around.
Many believed Dach had the potential, but few could have foreseen this quick a turnaround in the youngster’s play.
LE DACH-TEUR EST LÀ!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) November 10, 2022
Arber Xhekaj is the success story to end all success stories.
Undrafted, scolded by his Costco supervisor for caring too much about hockey, invited to the Montreal Canadiens camp in 2021, signed his entry-level contract, became a major player in the OHL and then forced his way onto the Canadiens roster.
All that in just 18 months.
He’s taken the team, the fans and management by storm so far this season with his physical play and penchant for fighting tough customers.
But Xhekaj is much more than a typical enforcer, he has also shown some impressive puck skills so far this season, as he currently leads all rookie defencemen with five goals this season.
The towering defender has come out of nowhere to establish himself as not only a legitimate prospect that could feature prominently in the future for the Montreal Canadiens, but he’s showing that he could hang with the big boys right now.
His game could still use some polish for sure, but what Xhekaj has done of late is absolutely unprecedented and remains the biggest surprise this season for the Canadiens.
HM: Sean Monahan
The veteran forward was held back due to two painful injuries to each of his hips.
After having undergone major surgery to repair his damaged hips, nobody knew what to expect from Sean Monahan, as he entered the final season of his seven-year deal.
Without so much as a peep, Monahan came to camp, still not at 100% and went about his business.
But when he got his chance to lace up his skates, he immediately reminded the hockey world why he was such an important player for the Calgary Flames for so long.
After just a few games, Monahan seemed to have found his rhythm and quickly became a key cog in the machine for the Montreal Canadiens, as he was used in all situations and quickly gained the trust of coach St-Louis.
His offensive game quickly returned to him, as he notched six goals and 11 assists for 17 points in 25 games; providing some much-needed secondary scoring on a team with an underperforming middle-six.
Monahan has quickly entrenched himself within the fabric of Montreal’s rebuild, and no matter what happens at NHL Trade Deadline, his resurgence is going to be one of the bigger feel-good stories in the NHL.