We’ve now made it past Thanksgiving and the holiday season is now upon us. Like the last few years, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for but this year comes with a bit of a change. Normally teams would have an idea of where their season was heading, coming up on the one-quarter mark with mountains of statistics to analyze. Instead, in this unprecedented year, the season hasn’t even begun. We’ll still take a look at what each group is excited about and what they could hope for once the calendar turns to 2021.
What are the Canadiens most thankful for?
An outlook of a team that is ready to compete for the playoffs for the next few years.
Montreal has been a team that has struggled for the last few years, looking like a team in the middle of a rebuild with struggling players and few young players to put into their lineup. Fast forward to today and the team suddenly is loaded with young talent and suddenly looks like a team ready to compete day in and day out with an eye on the playoffs. The team added some offensive talent in the offseason with the acquisitions of Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson to bolster their forward lines.
On top of all of that, the Canadiens showed fans some hope with a solid playoff performance in the bubble during the summer, which included wiping out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round and giving the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers a solid run in the first round. All that adds to the belief that the Canadiens are on their way back.
Who are the Canadiens most thankful for?
One of Montreal’s biggest weaknesses was up the middle with little to no quality at the center position with much of the brunt of the load falling on the shoulders of Phillip Danault and now departed Max Domi to control the middle of the ice. However, one reason for optimism was the play of youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the playoffs. Suzuki had a solid rookie campaign in 2019-20, scoring 13 goals and 41 points, but took his game up a notch during their 10-game playoff run with four goals and seven points, showing he is ready for a full-time role in the top-six next season.
On the other hand, Kotkaniemi, who struggled during the regular season and even found himself demoted to Laval at one point, looked like a different player in the playoffs. The 20-year-old scored just eight points in 36 regular season contests, but scored four goals in the 10-game playoff and showed more confidence and skill. After dominating the Liiga while on loan this season, the center might be ready to take a permanent step into the top-six as well.
What would the Canadiens be even more thankful for?
A return to form of Jonathan Drouin.
It’s been three years now since the 25-year-old was brought in at great cost (Mikhail Sergachev) as Drouin was billed as the future of the team, a first-line scorer who would hopefully become the face of the franchise. The then 22-year-old was coming off a 21-goal, 53-point performance and ready to breakout into one of the league’s top players.
Instead, Drouin has struggled in Montreal. While his numbers have been slightly down with a 46-point performance in 2017-18 and a 53-point showing in 2018-19, Drouin hasn’t been able to build on his former success. Last year, things only got worse with wrist and ankle injuries that held him to just 27 games last season. He did return for the playoffs with a goal and seven points in 10 games. The team has to hope that Drouin, who is still young enough, can find his game and become the top-line player the team was hoping for when they traded for him in the first place.
What should be on the Canadiens’ holiday wish list?
The team is positioned to have a much-improved season this year and did acquire players like Toffoli and Anderson in the offseason, but the team still has to hope that their offense can prove to be productive. In fact, the offense has quite a few questions.
Can Anderson, who scored just one goal in 26 games last year due to injury, return to form? Can Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher keep posting solid numbers? Can Drouin take the next step? Will Toffoli fit into the Canadiens’ offense easily? Can Kotkaniemi and Suzuki become top-six players immediately? If all that happens, will the third line become more dangerous now?
Montreal looks ready to compete, but despite solid goaltending and an improving blueline, the offense will be the determining factor on how far they can go.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.