What??? Are you out of your mind? I’m already hearing the critics just from the title. They can both play in the NHL, they’ll say. And people saying that are… absolutely right! Yes, they can play in the NHL. In fact, I’ve been saying that Pezzetta had earned a spot straight from training camp, if you recall. And Caufield can definitely play in the NHL.
But what’s the goal here folks? Remember the big picture. Do we want to develop prospects to become NHLers, or to give them the necessary time to properly develop both in skills and confidence to have an impact at the NHL level? The difference might seem subtle, but it’s rather substantial.
In Pezzetta’s case, it’s doubtful that he’ll ever be more than a fourth liner. If lucky, he might be a decent third liner at best. But for Caufield, the Habs cannot afford to miss with this kid. It would be yet another catastrophe! By the same token, the Canadiens should not wait beyond the weekend, when they’re back in Montreal, and send Mattias Norlinder to finish the year in Sweden.
It is my opinion that Montreal rushed his return after sending him down earlier this season. On a good Laval team, he had five points (2G-3A) in six games. But he had his issues defensively, as partially shown by his minus -6 differential. In 13 games this season, he has two points (1G-1A) while playing mostly on the first line and on the PP. He’s minus -7.
We complain about the Canadiens’ development. A lot of it had to do with rushing young players to the NHL, remember? Then they struggle and instead of sending them down to the AHL, they cut their ice time and play them on the fourth line, not a place for them to have success. I’m a strong believer that for the most part, a young player is better playing tons of minutes in the AHL than limited minutes or worse, watching from the pressbox, in the NHL. Even Max Pacioretty had made the request to be sent down when he saw how little he was used. And it paid off for him.
We’ve read people claiming that Caufield has nothing to learn in the AHL and in my humble opinion, they cannot be more wrong. He has a lot of stuff to work on, most notably his play without the puck, in all zones. Yes, he could learn that in the NHL. But it will take longer while mining his confidence and eventually limit his ice time. He could do the same in the AHL while playing top minutes and getting offensive success at the same time. The day that you don’t have anything to learn is the day you start regressing, as others will learn and progress to eventually pass you.
Stay the course
I don’t think that I’ll surprise anyone when saying that the Canadiens are going nowhere this season. Dreaming of the playoffs is a pipe dream at best. So instead of blowing it up, I range with Elliotte Friedman who said during the intermission of the game in Washington, that Bergevin should stand pat for the most part, until trade deadline. Ensure that the team doesn’t make that push that would see them make a futile attempt at making the playoffs. Why? Because when healthy, they’re better than what they’ve shown. Blowing it up isn’t the solution. Tweaking is what’s needed while continuing drafting and developing young players… properly.
The Canadiens have many quality prospects in the system. Some have trickled into the NHL, some in Laval, most in US Colleges, in the CHL and in Europe. In addition, they hold 11 picks for the upcoming NHL Draft which will be held in Montreal this off-season, including what could very well be a top-10 pick. By liquidating assets at trade deadline, they will gather more draft picks, which they can use to move up if need be. As painful and frustrating as it might be to watch, the team must stay the course and fans must learn patience… again. Whether it’s Marc Bergevin or someone else making those decisions, it must be done that way, the right way.