For decades, player development has been criticized when talking about the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, so has the drafting process but that’s another story… although the two are tightly related and difficult to separate.
The current criticism of the Marc Bergevin era, while somewhat founded, doesn’t take something important into consideration. It doesn’t account for the changes the organisation has made since the famous Reset of 2018. At the time, Bergevin revamped the scouting department, fired the coaching staff on the farm team, and changed his player development staff. Joel Bouchard took over as the Laval Rocket head coaching position while Rob Ramage and Francis Bouillon travelled North America to ensure proper development of the team’s prospects.
But that only started in the summer of 2018 and those young players are just starting to trickle into the AHL, let alone have an impact at the NHL level. Truthfully, it is still too early to judge if the changes made four years ago worked or not. If it did, the new management will reap the benefit and some people will undoubtedly give them all of the credit… unfortunately.
It seems like they’re doing okay with the development of Jake Evans while Alexander Romanov is starting to show signs of becoming a solid top-4 defenseman. Ryan Poehling has learned a couple of tough lessons and was sent to the AHL longer than some were hoping for. But he seems to be coming along nicely. In spite of impressing at camp, the Canadiens sent Kaiden Guhle back to junior and since then, he has improved his offensive production. Those are only a few examples, as the organisation has plenty of young prospects doing very well at their respective levels.
While the Canadiens didn’t draft Nick Suzuki, they are the ones who developed him into the NHL player that we know. In spite of a good first training camp, the organisation sent him back to junior with a list of things to work on. To his credit, Slick-Nick put in the effort and both he and the team are seeing results. Positive results which saw him earn a long and lucrative contract.
In order to maximize a young player’s learning experience, you need two things: a player willing and eager to learn, and quality examples to follow. Suzuki will be the first one to tell anyone who will listen how much he learned from spending an entire season with a few key veteran leaders like Shea Weber as his captain, Corey Perry and Brendan Gallagher, amongst others.
Suzuki is like a sponge. He soaks in any information and advice that will help him become a better player and works towards reaching his goals. Under the guidance of these two men, he has taken leaps in learning how to be a true professional and what it takes to build a successful career in the NHL. He likely received verbal advices, no doubt, but by sharing the dressing room, the training facilities, the gym with future Hall of Famers like Weber and Perry was an extremely valuable experience for the young man.
Today, he finds himself at the All-Star weekend, representing the Canadiens in Las Vegas, home of the team that drafted and traded him. Suzuki grew up admiring Bruins’ center Patrice Bergeron and he models his game after his idol. This weekend, he has a chance to sit in the same dressing room and spend the weekend with Bergeron. The Bruins’ captain being a former client of newly appointed Habs’ GM Kent Hughes will likely open the door for some conversations between the two men.
There is no doubt in my mind that this weekend will be another key stepping stone into the development of Suzuki. It’s been a tough season for him and the rest of the team. He will, once again, soak in information at the All-Star break, learn new tricks, share some laughs and discussions with some of the NHL’s top players. They too have gone through tough years in the NHL. This is Nick’s first All-Star appearance. Something tells me that it won’t be his last.
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