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Top 3 Most Improved Montreal Canadiens This Season

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Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky

There have been quite a few positive developments this season for the Montreal Canadiens, but three in particular have taken the biggest strides this year.

Going into the season, the hope was that some youngsters would take some big steps in their development, similar to how Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki took some big steps in the recent past, to help advance the rebuild.

Although the Montreal Canadiens witnessed significant growth from youngsters throughout the organization like Joshua Roy, Florian Xhekaj, Lane Hutson and more, they need to see more growth from the youngsters already on the squad to ensure the rebuild is on track.

For NHL betting odds to not predict another bottom-five finish for the Habs next season, certain players needed to take that next step; and that’s exactly what happened,

Not only did the team’s youngest players continue to progress, but three of them even surpassed expectations.

Juraj Slafkovsky

Things were looking rocky for Juraj Slafkovsky in November 2023, as he had only accumulated two points in a dozen games while his pace was slowly dropping game by game.

After captain Nick Suzuki requested to have the young winger put on the top line with himself and Cole Caufield, something seemed to click in Slafkovsky.

The game began to slow down for the 20-year-old and he grew in confidence almost every game. In fact, since December 15, Slafkovsky has been scoring at a 69-point pace, all while playing against the opposition’s top defensive units.

His playmaking game was always notable, as he possesses great vision and deceptively accurate passing skills; but, for him to truly take the next step offensively, he needed to refine his shooting mechanics.

After multiple sessions with Glen “Dr. Shot” Tucker, Slafkovsky has also begun shooting with more power and regularity, resulting in some pretty one-timers that have either resulted directly in goals or created scoring chances that led to a goal from Suzuki or Caufield.

On top of the growth of his offensive gifts, and perhaps even more importantly, has been the growth in Slafkovsky’s physical play.

The use of his size to gain or maintain possession along the boards, the use of his stick to poke at loose pucks or create turnovers and the use of his large frame to protect pucks and create time and/or space for his teammates have helped him to establish himself, almost overnight, as a true top-six forward in the NHL.

After having supposed hockey analysts refer to him as recently as January, Slafvkosky has silenced his naysayers and has Canadiens fans, and management, excited for the future.

Talk about going from “Bust” to Beast.

Alex Newhook

One can only wonder how much more there would be to say about Alex Newhook if it wasn’t for his high-ankle sprain which kept him out of the lineup for nearly eight weeks.

The newly acquired winger has already matched his point totals from last season, potting 13 goals and 30 points in just 50 games. It just took him 32 fewer games to reach that mark; a notable increase in his points-per-game pace, while playing at center for the majority of his time this season outside of a 10-game stint on the wing.

With Joel Armia, Brendan Gallagher, Josh Anderson and rookie Joshua Roy as his most common linemates, the speedy forward was integral in driving his line and providing the Canadiens with some very rare secondary scoring; especially down the stretch.

The 23-year-old clearly looked more comfortable on the wing, utilizing his speed and shooting ability to wreak havoc on the rush, but, his play at center has improved by leaps and bounds; especially compared to his time in Colorado.

Don’t let the plus-minus rating fool you, Newhook has shown a noted improvement in chance generation, rush defence and shot assists this season that will become sustainable aspects of his game that he can carry with him to next season.

On a team desperate for secondary scoring, Newhook’s near 50-point pace on the 2023-2024 Montreal Canadiens should be nothing short of a successful season, all things considered.

With Kirby Dach returning next season, a move to the wing will alleviate Newhook of his increased defensive responsibilities and there is a strong possibility that, if healthy, he will reach another level again.

Cayden Primeau

Despite the three-goalie rotation robbing Cayden Primeau of a handful of more games this season, the 24-year-old has quickly emerged as a dependable backup for the Montreal Canadiens.

Right from the start, Primeau was put to the test by the organization, sometimes despite themselves, as the young goaltender faced tough opponents or, when the Canadiens failed to show up in front of him, some tough situations.

Despite the challenging schedule, deployment and matchups, Primeau has continued to grow his game and play like a dependable backup; which helped decide on which goaltender to move out that much easier.

As Primeau began to steal games for the Canadiens, despite going weeks without playing, it became clear that Jake Allen was the odd man out. After Allen was traded, Primeau thanked the Montreal Canadiens by posting back-to-back shutouts; the only goaltender to finish a game with a blank score sheet on the Canadiens this year.

Even in games where he allows a handful of goals, like recent games against the Calgary Flames or the New York Rangers, Primeau consistently stood on his head; regularly making acrobatic saves to allow his club to stay in the game.

His puck tracking and lateral movements have been far more effective this season, while displaying a calm and collected demeanour that trickles down throughout the lineup while he’s on the ice.

His herculean performances have helped him put up some impressive numbers; a team-leading 0.910 save percentage and 2.91 goals-against-average.

It’s too soon to say whether or not Primeau will be more than a backup goalie for the Montreal Canadiens in the future, but establishing himself as a bonafide backup goalie that could push Samuel Montembeault to elevate his play is a major win for an organization that has sought to solidify their goaltending position since the loss of Carey Price.

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