By Marc-André Breault – Prior to training camp, we know that the Montreal Canadiens would have a young team. With Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson injured to start the season, there was even more room for youngsters in the line-up. Four young defenders patrolled the Montreal defense.
We strongly expected 20 year-old Kaiden Guhle, believing in his chances of making a place for himself. Jordan Harris, with his few games last season, also had his foot in the door even at his 22 years of age. As for Johnathan Kovacevic, our expectations were low, not really knowing him. The 25 year-old did have good offensive statistics in the AHL, but he had little NHL experience.
Last but not least, you have 21 year-old Arber Xhekaj, whose name is worth 27 points in Scrabble. The young defenseman who was never drafted, who worked at Costco, had a good training camp and earned his spot on the defensive squad of Martin St-Louis. A big man standing at 6-foot 4-inches and 238 lbs, with hands capable of holding 3 bottles of water in one hand, Xhekaj is currently 26th in the NHL with 77 hits in 25 games. So with an average of 3.08 hits per game, he hits also hits hard. So far, he has also impressed offensively, with four goals and four assists.
The vast majority of fans expected some growing pains and despite some hiccups from the youngsters, the defense has done a good job since the start of the season.
Kaiden Guhle has impressed so far. The youngster shows a veteran calm on the blue line. An excellent skater, Guhle is has good recovery and displays some underrated offensive flair. So far he has one goal and 10 assists. Jordan Harris is not the strongest physically, but he too seems to be calm. He also has good skating abilities and a he’s good in recovery. A total of one goal and seven assists for Harris. As for Kovacevic, he’s a decent sixth or seventh defenseman. Could one or more veterans leave by trade deadline?
On offense, we expected the brilliance of our own Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield duo. So far they are very impressing. At 23 years of age, Suzuki, the youngest captain in Habs’ history, seems to have done away with the supposed pressure of being captain. His 29 pts in 27 games are en route to a career best, on pace for a possible 88 points. He could be the first Canadiens’ player to have more than 80 pts in a season since a certain Alex Kovalev did it in 2007-08.
“Goal” Caufield, meanwhile, is also producing at a good pace. The 21 year-old now has 16 goals in 27 games, a pace of 48 goals on the season. With 25 points, he could finish with a very satisfying sophomore season of 76 points. I believe that many people are surprised by this successful start of our two young wolves.
After trying Kirby Dach at the center position, St-Louis experimented by inserting Dach on the wing, to the right of Caufield and Suzuki. Acquired at the last NHL Draft via trade, the 21 year-old has shown so far that it was a good choice. Tied for first with Nick Suzuki in assists with 15, Dach has a total of 19 points in 27 games. The three players are the team’s top -3 scorers so far this season.
At 26 years of age, Samuel Montembeault got off to a great start and statistically speaking, he is now the better goaltender of the team with a 2.97 goals-against-average and .908 save percentage. But, it seems to be more complicated in the last games.
With other young prospects on the verge of joining the team, we can say that the future is bright!