Fans are growing frustrated with the lack of opportunity being afforded to the Montreal Canadiens prospects, but that trend might soon change in a big way.
With the tough few months ahead of them, the Canadiens may have no choice but to shift their developmental strategy for the second half of the season.
Since the start of the season, the Montreal Canadiens have tried not to overwhelm their many youngsters in the lineup. Be it the five rookies who started the season (Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic and Juraj Slafkovsky) or their burgeoning stars in Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki; the Canadiens have been playing it safe.
Veterans like Joel Edmundson, Chris Wideman, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin, and Evgenii Dadonov, amongst others, have been afforded prime usage at even strength and some also on the power play in order “to get them going”, but to no avail.
In doing so, a team that is focused on development has swayed from their main objective in order to try and rehabilitate veterans that have lost their way. It’s one of the main reasons Juraj Slafkovsky has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ 4th line, and why, outside of Kaiden Guhle, the other young Canadiens defencemen have all had to sit out games this year.
It’s been one of the more frustrating aspects of this season for fans, who believed the youngsters were going to be given the reigns of this team; not held back while well-paid veterans are afforded every on-ice resource and favourable deployment to do the job they’re expected to.
Fortunately for the organization’s youth, that kind of strategy is only sustainable as long as the team performs and wins games; but that’s likely to change now.
Changing Of The Guard
A quick look back to last year gives you an idea of where things are going this season.
By the month of March, the Canadiens were experimenting with their roster and placing young players in prime situations to evaluate their progress and see what still needed to be improved on.
Remember when Jordan Harris played in overtime in his first few games with the Canadiens, Justin Barron got power play time right out of the gate and Jesse Ylönen got some top-six usage to end the year?
Many thought that the strong infusion of youth, coupled with their prime utilization, was going to be a sign of things to come after the end of the 2021-2022 season, and, with NHL Trade Deadline less than two months away and the Canadiens firmly in the seller’s category, we may yet see it again.
The early signs are already showing.
Juraj Slafkovsky being thrust into a top-six role upon the Canadiens’ return from a road trip is not by chance, it’s a test. Similar to putting Arber Xhekaj on the second power play wave, or placing Anthony Richard above the likes of Micheal Pezzetta or Joel Armia in the lineup; the experiments have begun.
As the Canadiens begin the process of trying to move out their veteran forwards, currently clogging up the Canadiens’ middle six, and a certain top-4 defenceman, the showcasing of certain may persist.
But by the time the Canadiens return from the All-Star Break and their Bye Week in February, one can expect Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis to switch gears yet again and give fans what they’ve been clamouring for all season: a glimpse of a very bright future.