Key Canadiens Prospects Could Force Kent Hughes’ Hand
A handful of Montreal Canadiens youngsters have waited all season for an opportunity, and they’re taking full advantage of it right now at the best possible time.
Head coach Martin St-Louis has preached all season that injury provides an opportunity for another player to step up.
That’s exactly what happened in the month of January for the Canadiens, who are now on pace to match their number of games lost to injury from the 2021-2022 season; an NHL record.
With the likes of Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, Cole Caufield, Jake Allen and Juraj Slafkovsky all missing from action, youngsters like Jesse Ylönen, Justin Barron and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, along with goaltender Samuel Montembeault, have all be tasked with stepping up.
And, for the most part, they’ve succeeded, which, by proxy, has given general manager Kent Hughes a better idea of what he has in his organization before he’s set to make some big decisions prior to the March 3 NHL Trade Deadline.
Everyone Needs A Sam
Although it may be a stretch to call Sam Montembeault a Canadiens prospect, the 26-year-old is still in the very beginnings of his NHL career and seemingly just starting to hit his stride in the show.
Montembeault showed signs of greatness early in the season for the Canadiens, but fell into some consistency issues, just like the rest of the team, in December that saw his numbers fall under a 0.900 save percentage.
But then, an opportunity came knocking.
On January 9 it was announced that Jake Allen would be missing some time and that the Canadiens were to go with Montembeault for the majority of the games in January.
The challenge was accepted.
Montembeault’s play has been impressive, and the numbers tend to agree. In the eight games the 26-year-old played as the club’s No.1 goaltender, including a back-to-back situation in New York, he put up a sparkling 0.928 save percentage; allowing 20 goals on 280 shots.
That’s a considerable stat line for a goaltender who’s faced 108 high-danger chances in just eight games; an average of almost 13 grade-A chances he’s pushed back on a nightly basis.
Despite Allen having returned from his injury, Montembeault’s exceptional play has now cemented his position in the organization, with general manager Kent Hughes confirming he’s part of the club’s plans moving forward.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, the Montreal Canadiens 7th-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has been writing himself quite the story with his recent call-up.
Playing on a 4th line with former Laval Rocket members Micheal Pezzetta and Alex Belzile, Harvey-Pinard has been one of the most effective Canadiens players over the last five games.
He’s not only earned the trust of Martin St-Louis to play in some crucial situations at even strength and on the penalty kill, but he’s also earned the adoration of the fanbase due to his relentless motor.
His even seen his minutes steadily rise since his call-up, going from 12:55 to an impressive 16:07 against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
His crash-and-bang style, which provides the speed and intensity that the Canadiens’ bottom six has lacked all season, has paid dividends for him offensively, as it destabilizes the opposition and is catching them offguard.
Harvey-Pinard’s three goals and one assist in his last six games are an impressive output for a player many doubted to hold a regular shift in the NHL, but, as he’s done his whole career, Rafaël is in the business of proving people wrong.
As Hughes and co. are developing their NHL Trade Deadline plans, Harvey-Pinard’s performances are going to make decisions much easier for the Canadiens’ bench boss, as he looks primed to take the next step in his career by bringing his energy and never-say-die attitude the the Bell Centre on a regular basis.
The Barron Arrives
Justin Barron has to be one of the better developmental stories this year for the Montreal Canadiens.
Sending him to the Laval Rocket to work on his game and gain some experience playing in a pro-hockey environment proved to be the right call.
After an impressive stint with the Laval Rocket that saw him hit seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 25 games, Barron got a well-deserved call to join the Canadiens right after Christmas.
It took him a few games to find his bearings after joining the Canadiens on a miserable road trip, but he was able to stabilize his game and play with more consistency when the Canadiens returned home in early January.
The Canadiens have eased him back into the lineup, playing with 11 forwards and seven defencemen for the last month, and it’s allowed him to improve his gap control, pacing and timing.
Now more comfortable and playing with confidence, Barron has four assists in his last six games and is also seeing his minutes increase, playing 18:50 against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Even against the potent Boston Bruins, Barron put up impressive underlying numbers, with the Canadiens controlling 51% of chances while he was on the ice and Barron posting a 56% expected goal differential; against one of the best even-strength teams in the NHL.
As the Montreal Canadiens continue to plan ahead, their significant depth on defence could allow them to be much more flexible at the NHL Trade Deadline than they initially believed.
I was wondering if any teams will come knocking about any of our kids on D? Obviously we aren’t shopping any of them, but it would be interesting to see if anyone asks about potentially nabbing one, and what we would receive in return.
Send all the young players down , call up echl players or get some stiffs as part of trade.
Even if we did, it’s near impossible for us to fall to last place. Chicago, Anaheim and Columbus will be doing the same thing. We have 10 points on those guys. At their present winning %, we could only win like 3 or 4 more games all year in order to end up 32nd.
Not about finishing last.. and those other teams that are in 31st and 32nd don’t have as many assets aside from Chicago with Kane and Toews but with salary cap being so tight it’s going to be hard for them all to be sellers at deadline .. that being said two top 10 picks and possible getting rid of a possible prospect to move up at draft is possible .. our cupboards are full and will be exciting to see how the end of season turns out .
I agree. We have lots of prospects, but none are truly elite. Maybe Hutson can get there. Maybe not. The 2 guys we get in the top 15 this year should also be very good. But elite is what wins championships. Tampa, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Washington. They all had elite, top of the league talent to push them over the top. Do we want to just be a very good team, or do we want to win it all?
The goal should be finishing as low as possible and we might win the lottery.
I agree. That’s been my goal since the summer. It’s just that based on how we’ve done so far this year and the points we’ve accrued already, we can only win a few more games all season if we want to finish last and with the best odds of winning the lottery. In reality, I think picking 4th is probably as low as we could get.
4th could get us the Russian Mitch. I’m good with that if we don’t win the lottery. We just need Florida to stumble down as well. Hopefully they have to sell and they would get a high 2nd rounder which is close to a late 1st.
I’d be cool swinging for the home run with Michkov too and then using the Florida pick on something safer. I hope we can get a 3rd first rounder so we can nab the 6’7” goalie Hrabal. What a haul this draft could be. Although I’d be thrilled trading both our 1sts plus Anderson plus anything else they want for the #1 pick.
I doubt Florida will drop down to bottom 10, but we can hope. Imagine winning 1st and 2nd picks.