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Montreal Canadiens Top Breakout Candidates In 2023

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Canadiens prospect Justin Barron

The Montreal Canadiens have had a few big surprises in 2022 so far, with youngsters breaking out and surpassing expectations, and 2023 could bring more of the same.

The club has done a good job of collecting young and talented pieces for their rebuild and continues to try and work with them to bring their games to the next level.

As development remains the main priority of the organization moving forward, one could foresee a big uptick in performance from the following players:

Jordan Harris

Not that Jordan Harris isn’t already impressing, but, if you ever had the pleasure of watching him in the NCAA with Northeastern, you know there’s still another gear to be unlocked.

Harris has somehow been the Canadiens’ steadiest defenceman so far this season, especially alongside Jonathan Kovacevic. Even with the wheels coming off the Canadiens’ season as of late, Harris is at a 49% rate for controlled chances for (CF%), meaning that, while he’s on the ice, things remain relatively stable and he doesn’t hurt his team.

David Savard, Joel Edmundson, and Arber Xhekaj all trail Harris in terms of expected goal differentials as well, as the 22-year-old holds an acceptable 46.7% xGF%, while the team average is closer to 42 xGF% for defencemen.

It will surely be a tough season for the Canadiens, and learning will be key, but Harris has shown an ability to learn quickly and all this adversity will serve as great experience for him; allowing him to hit higher levels of performance as time goes by.

By the end of the 2022-2023 season, the play of Jordan Harris (along with Xhekaj and Guhle) is likely what forces the Canadiens to move out a veteran defenceman; as Harris continues to play like a veteran with each passing day.

Justin Barron

The 21-year-old defenceman has had quite the year.

Playing in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles at 20 years old, getting traded to the Montreal Canadiens, showing some promise in the NHL before sustaining a season-ending injury, getting edged out at training camp by his peers and headed back down to the AHL to work on his game; it’s been one heck of a ride for Barron so far.

As the main piece in the Arturri Lehkonen trade at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, a lot is riding on Barron developing into a top-4 defenceman for the Canadiens, as they significantly lack depth on the right side of their defence.

Despite an underwhelming training camp, Barron now has a lot of positive momentum on his side. He’s certainly developed his offensive game with the Laval Rocket, as Barron posted seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in just 25 games this year before earning a well-deserved call-up.

As Barron has said in an interview with Montreal Hockey Now, he wants to continue to shore up his defensive game and establish his identity as a player at the pro level. The early signs point to a big uptick in Barron’s performance in 2023, as the Canadiens shift their focus from being competitive to putting their top future pieces in prime developmental situations.

Sean Farrell

One should expect Sean Farrell to make the jump to the NHL at the end of this season, as he doesn’t have much to learn in the NCAA.

The 21-year-old has the second-highest points-per-game ratio in the NCAA right now; posting seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points in just 12 games for the Harvard Crimson.

Farrell’s 2022 included trips to the Beijing and Helsinki, where he represented his country at the Olympics and the World Championships and looked like he belonged playing against men.

Taking that experience into this season, the skilled forward looks head-and-shoulders better than the competition and it would be shocking at this junction if he doesn’t sign his entry-level contract in late March or early April (depending on Harvard’s post-season success). The young American has already confirmed his desire to join the Canadiens when the time is right, and his long-standing relationship with Adam Nicholas, the Canadiens’ Director of Hockey Development, is sure to make the decision to sign even easier.

Farrell will likely get to play a handful of games with the Canadiens to close out the season, but will be a major player for them come training camp in September of 2023.

The projections show that Farrell could likely be one of the bigger surprises for Canadiens fans in 2023, as he’s taken his time to mature his game through patience and determination. It’s now only a matter of when.

Juraj Slafkovsky

After an exciting start to the season for former 1st overall pick, Juraj Slafkovsky, things have gotten a little harder for the young man as the schedule begins to weigh on his body.

The rigours of an 82-game season always tend to impact rookies the most, as Slafkovsky hasn’t played this many games in such grueling fashion in his life, but the flashes of brilliance haven’t gone away.

Slafkovsky has shown the skill and power that made him the top pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, but has had difficulty putting it together consistently. It may be a difficult time for him now, but there’s a potential advantage for him after the month of January that could help hit hit the ground running during the second half of the season.

The Canadiens will have nearly 10 days of rest in early February, as the All-Star break and Montreal’s bye week will provide the team, and especially their youngsters, with a much-needed reset. By that time, the NHL Trade Deadline will also be just two weeks away and some veterans are sure to be on their way out, making more room for Slafkovsky to get in on top-6 action and power play opportunities.

Similarly to how Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki seemed to find another gear after the All-Star break last season (the hiring of Martin St-Louis as coach also played a huge factor), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Slafkovsky seize the opportunity here to create some momentum for himself in 2023.

As Kent Hughes has said though, it’s not about the point collection this season, but developing an identity; and that’s likely what Slafkovsky will be able to do to close out the season.

Where the true breakout potential will come from will be in September 2023, where a wiser, likely stronger and hungrier Slafkovsky will look to take his game up a step and cement himself as a major piece of the Canadiens’ lineup.

 

(Stats provided by NaturalStatTrick)

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Jimmy

I heard Ryan Merkley is available to be traded but I read he is tony d’Angelo 2.0. It’s to bad we can use player like that.

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