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Top Canadiens Developmental Success Stories This Season

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The Montreal Canadiens are focused on developing their young players, and, outside of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, there are a few success stories being written so far this season.

It could be easy to point to Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who have seemingly picked off from where they left off last season.

Caufield accounts for 22% of the Montreal Canadiens’ goal-scoring through their first 43 games and is trending for 40+ goals this season. Meanwhile, Nick Suzuki is flirting with a 70-point pace, despite having a very underwhelming month of December.

That being said, their growth is simply a continuation of last season that hasn’t necessarily surprised many.

There are other players who have truly taken their game up a notch or two with the Canadiens this year, presenting themselves as key developmental successes for the Canadiens.

Set Up For Success

Kirby Dach has looked like a different player for the Montreal Canadiens so far this season compared to what we’ve seen in Chicago.

In 70 games last season, Dach only managed nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points; a feat he’s already eclipsed in only 43 games this season.

A major reason for that has been his much-improved play at even-strength, going from controlling 45% of chances while on the ice (CF%) and sporting a lowly 44% expected goals differential (xGF%) to a 50% controlled chance ratio and a 49% expected goals differential.

He’s been the missing piece on the top line for the Canadiens so far this season, even forcing head coach Martin St-Louis to forgo the planned development of Dach at centre to better insulate Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki for their own development.

It’s the best admission of satisfaction the Canadiens could give Dach regarding his positive development, as he’s brought elements to the top line that may not show up in the underlying numbers; such as a great board presence, net-front ability and vision that could rival Suzuki’.

He’s created more space for his teammates, and it’s not a surprise that every line he plays on will generally hover around the 50% marker or higher in all underlying categories; it speaks to an overall level of consistency in his play, even during times where the points don’t come as easily.

Currently on pace to hit 50 points so far this season, despite a very difficult month of December, Dach seeing such a jump in production has to be one of the bigger success stories in Montreal this season.

Slow and Steady

Jordan Harris didn’t have the hype that Kaiden Guhle had, nor the flair for the theatrics that Arber Xhekaj has, but he’s managing to create his niche nonetheless, especially of late.

The 22-year-old is putting solid offensive numbers, all coming from even strength. His 11 points, one goal and 10 assists, have him tied for third in the NHL for rookie defencemen; tied with Owen Power of the Buffalo Sabres and teammate Arber Xhekaj.

His play in the defensive zone has grown by leaps and bounds. The former Northeastern Huskies captain has taken a calm and steady game and raised its efficacy while the rest of the team saw their defensive numbers plummet.

As the rest of the team generally finds themselves under the 50% marker for controlled chances and expected goals, Harris is one of the few on the team that has stayed close to the 50% range (47%), while veteran defencemen like Joel Edmundson (41%) and Chris Wideman (43%) dropped below the average median.

Since the Canadiens have returned from their recent road trip, Harris has taken on a bigger portion of the responsibility on the defensive side with Kaiden Guhle and Mike Matheson sidelined, and he’s clearly taken a step up.

The Canadiens’ 3rd round pick in 2018 has maintained his steady defensive play with increased minutes, but has seen his involvement in the offensive zone improve; leading to a sparkling 54% expected goal differential (xGF%); jumping up from his 46% in the month of December.

In fact, Harris ranks second on the entire team at even strength for underlying offensive numbers since the start of 2023, behind only Kirby Dach.

Harris is showing signs of possibly being able to develop into a top-4 defenceman in the near future; and he’s doing it in the most Jordan Harris way: descretly and effectively.

Take On Me

Prior to his injury, Kaiden Guhle was having a stellar season for the Canadiens.

Although the advanced metrics aren’t as flattering as Jordan Harris’, Guhle also faced much stiffer competition on a regular basis and playing harder minutes and pêrforming in impressive fashion.

The soon-to-be 21-year-old was just scratching the contents of his potential, as the Canadiens mostly utilized him in defensive situations alongside veterans David Savard and Joel Edmundson, who own some of the club’s worst underlying numbers.

There was no other defenceman that had close to the number of defensive zone starts that Guhle had (81 times), and, despite that, he was leading his club offensively from the back end with two goals and 12 assists for 14 points in 36 games.

The Canadiens’ 1st-round pick in 2020 quickly became their most indespensible defenceman and utterly fell apart on their recent road trip the moment Guhle went down with an injury.

The youngster logged over 20 minutes a night on average and was able to shutdown the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and more within the first few games of his NHL career at 5-on-5.

Once he returns, the Canadiens will likely be an even younger team, which could provide Guhle to express himself even more in the offensive zone; unlocking an underrated aspect of his game that he’s shown flashes of this season.

 

All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via Natural Stat Trick.

 

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