You know when fans look at the potential of a young prospect and transpose their statistics from Junior or College hockey to the NHL? When they think that because a young player is having success at a lower level, that they’re ready to do the same in the NHL? Most times, those fans end up disappointed in the players in question or just as bad, in the NHL coaching staff’s utilisation of the said players. Fans too often think that the reason for their lack of success in the NHL in their early years is due to poor deployment or ice time. André Tourigny recently shut down that narrative.
Well folks, I’m here to remind you that it’s not necessarily the case. In fact, most times, it’s not the case at all. The NHL is by far the highest caliber of hockey in the world. The league has the best coaching with access to video and all kinds of tools at their disposition. In fact, hockey is so broken down piece by piece by NHL teams that it has almost become robotic. While a young player may have flashes of greatness to start, the opponents adjust. The players who will have success are those who will fight though and learn, while continuing to progress.
This explains the hat trick performance by Ryan Poehling, who then had to spend a full season and a bit in the AHL there after. That’s why you saw a young man like Cole Caufield have some success when he joined the Canadiens last season, only to struggle mightily this season.
The young players on the Habs are struggling this season, as is the rest of the team. They’re struggling mostly with their consistency, which is normal. Let’s face it, they’re not getting much help from the veterans either and injuries to key players are definitely a factor. As injuries bring opportunities for players seeking to take the next step, not all are ready to take it and that’s what we’re seeing in Montreal.
While an unbelievable player, Nick Suzuki is struggling mightily with consistency. Pointless in the first four games of the season, Slick Nick went on a tear, collecting a whooping 14 points in next 11 games. But since then, things aren’t as easy. Suzuki managed only four points in his last 14 games, and this includes a two-point game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 7th. This means that he has had two points in the other 13 games during that stretch.
Averaging 19:36 minutes of ice time per game, the Canadiens’ young center is the most utilized forward by head coach Dominique Ducharme. Which leads to the question if he plays a bit too much? But again, with Christian Dvorak out with an injury, who will take some of those minutes? Perhaps cutting on his time killing penalties would allow him to be fresh on offense? It’s just a thought…
After some promising playoffs, many fans and media members had Cole Caufield as a shoe-in for the Calder Trophy, handed to the rookie of the year. At the risk of stating the obvious, you’re not hearing that anymore. Caufield managed a single assist in his first 12 games of the season. It forced the Canadiens to make the tough decision to send him down to Laval in early November, where he played a total of six games. In those six games, he had five points but had a differential of minus-six.
After being called back up, he went through a stretch of six games with the Canadiens, in which he also managed five points, from November 24th to December 4th. Since then however, he is pointless in his last three games. Further, Caufield has only managed one single goal all season, in 21 games. He averages 14:27 minutes of ice time per game, about 45 seconds less than in last year’s playoffs.
After a very disappointing training camp, with the door wide open by the departure of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Poehling failed to seize his opportunity at the start of the season. To his credit, instead of pouting, he went down to Laval and worked his butt off to be ready to come back up. And when he got the call, he showed that he belongs in the NHL. Unfortunately, for a first round pick, “belonging” is not quite enough. He doesn’t appear to be ready to have an impact at the NHL level… but he’s so close.
Five points in 15 games is nothing to write a book about, although he does have four goals. Poehling is not trusted enough by Ducharme, averaging merely 11:55 minutes of ice time per game. If there’s a time one think he would be getting more ice time is after Dvorak’s injury. He had a season-high 17:25 the first game without Dvorak, but fell to 13:38 the last game. He started well in the faceoffs’ dots but has fallen since, sitting at 46.7% efficiency on the season.
If there’s one guy who is not getting his fare kick at the can, it has to be Michael Pezzetta. An agitator, he will do anything for his team, for his teammates. But how do you make yourself justice when you spend on average 7:35 minutes on the ice per game? Still, he has managed a goal and an assist in 16 games since being called up, with a team-best 18.78 Hits/60.
The guy is only 23 years old. If you’re not going to play him at least 10-12 minutes, don’t ruin him, send him to Laval where he will be getting better minutes. Give those seven minutes to an old veteran instead, one at the end of his career. Pezzetta should become, at best, a decent third line player. But he’s not going to get there by sitting on the bench watching the games. He needs to play in order to continue developing.
If there is one positive when it comes to young players this season, it’s Alexander Romanov. Barely used by the coaching staff in last year’s playoffs’ run, he averages 18:07 minutes of ice time per game this season. He has had his ups and downs, which led to him being a healthy scratch against the Detroit Red Wings back on November 2nd. Since then, he has been the Canadiens’ best and most consistent defenseman not named Ben Chiarot. Romanov played a season-high 24:24 minutes on December 4th against the Nashville Predators. He is third on the team with 10.4 Hits/60. Last season, he had six points in 54 games. In 28 games this season, he has already managed five points.
But for some very odd reasons, he seems to have fallen out of favours lately. In fact, since the Canadiens picked-up Kale Clague off waivers and he was inserted into the line-up, the former Kings has more ice time (18:30 minutes) than Romanov (16:50 minutes). Clague has been, in my humble opinion, the worst Canadiens’ defenseman with 8.64 GvA/60, worst on the team. Romanov has 4.75 GvA/60, which is better than Chris Wideman (6.79) and David Savard (5.18).
As veteran players start coming back into the line-up in December or in the New Year, I would love for the Canadiens to do the right thing by sending three of those five young men down to Laval. Pezzetta should be sent down immediately, calling up Alex Belzile to play those minimal minutes on the fourth line.
Then, gradually based on needs, Caufield and Poehling should also spend the next couple of months down in Laval, maybe with the odd call up here and there, since they are both waivers exempt. I would leave them in Laval until trade deadline or so. Allow them to be dominant down there instead of learning to accept to lose in Montreal. That would be MY plan. But what I think really doesn’t matter. What matters is what do Jeff Gorton and the coaching staff think? And that remains to be seen.