The 2021-22 National Hockey League (NHL) campaign was a nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens and their passionate fan base. After making the Stanley Cup Final the season prior and losing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Habs finished dead-last in the NHL with an abysmal 22-49-11 record (55 points).
Although the team has had a whirlwind 20-month stretch, things are certainly “on the up” in Montreal. In rather short order, the club has stockpiled some significant high-end talent, specifically at the forward position. So let’s take a deep dive and examine four players poised to change the fortunes of one of hockey’s most historic franchises.
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Nick Suzuki, Center, Age 22
First up on our list is London, Ontario native Nick Suzuki. After coming over in a trade from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019, which saw star forward Max Pacioretty head the other way, Suzuki has quickly evolved into one of Montreal’s best and most consistent players. Not only is he extremely skillful and savvy in all three zones on the ice, but he has also shown the confidence, maturity, and poise indicative of a grizzled veteran player in one of hockey’s toughest markets. This is a player with a unique toolbox and one who should be endeared in the hearts of Habs fans in years to come.
After scoring 41 points in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, Suzuki had a career year in the blue, red, and white of Montreal last season. He was also one of the few bright spots in what was a dull season in the “cradle of organized sport.” In 82 games, he tallied 21 goals, 40 assists, and 61 points. He also played a career-high 20:31 with only 30 penalty minutes. Although he has only 209 career games under his belt, Suzuki has demonstrated that he will certainly be “in the conversation” as one of hockey’s top two-way centers in the years to come. The future is certainly bright for one of Montreal’s most important pieces.
Kirby Dach, Center, Age 21
Next up is talented centerman Kirby Dach, who came over in a draft-day trade last week from the Chicago Blackhawks. After being drafted third overall in 2019, Dach gets a shot at a fresh start in the hockey hotbed of Montreal. When you look at Dach as a player, a few things jump out at you. For one, he possesses excellent speed and reads the play extremely well. He also sees the ice brilliantly, has fantastic stick-handling ability and loves to score goals. Keep in mind he’s still only 21 years of age. If he can stay healthy, Dach can easily become one of the most feared players in the Atlantic Division.
Born and raised in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Dach was a casualty of Chicago’s full-on rebuild. In addition to fellow stud forward Alex DeBrincat, Dach was traded away in exchange for future assets. More than anything, this is music to the proverbial ears of Canadiens fans, who end up with an outstanding talent. The electricity in his game and his elite-level skill set make Dach “must-see TV leading up to the 2022-23 NHL campaign. We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Juraj Slafkovsky, Left-Wing, Age 18
Moving right along on our list is the 2022 NHL Entry Drafts’ number-one overall selection. His name is Juraj Slafkovsky. After Canadiens General Manager Kent Hughes opted for Slafkovsky over the likes of Logan Cooley and, most notably, Shane Wright on the draft floor last week, a few collective eyebrows were raised amongst fans, analysts, and even draft experts. Try telling this to Mr. Hughes, who absolutely adores Slafkovsky, his game, and most notably, the fact that he’s now a member of the Habs. The scary part is, hockey fans, this kid is just getting started.
Born and raised in Kosice, Slovakia, the 6’4, 229 power-forward represents a changing of the guard in Montreal. Big, powerful, skilled, mean, and immensely talented, there’s not much this kid can’t do on the ice. After plying his trade with TPS in the Finnish Liiga, Slafkovsky shot up the pre-draft ranks with his superior play. His confidence with the puck and ability to drive the net has had professional scouts salivating over the past few seasons leading up to the Draft. Look for Slafkovsky to be inserted into the Canadiens lineup as early as next season. It goes without saying that Habs fans will absolutely fall in love with Slafkovsky.
Cole Caufield, Right-Wing, Age 21
Last but not certainly least is Mosinee, Wisconsin native Cole Caufield. Man, oh man, do the Habs ever have themselves an elite gamebreaker with this kid. As the Canadiens progress through their rebuild, “Goal” Caufield is perhaps their most lethal goal-scorer. A dangerous finisher at every level he’s played at, Caufield is one of hockey’s most exciting youngsters. He has already started to turn heads with his devastating release and silky-smooth hands.
After struggling to start the 2021-22 campaign with Dominique Ducharme at the helm, Caufield found new life under new head coach Martin St. Louis. With his tutelage, Caufield exploded for 22 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in just 37 games. As an undersized player himself during his playing career, it certainly looks as though St. Louis had a tremendous impact on Caufield’s development. With the 2022-23 NHL campaign less than 100 days away, all eyes will be locked on Caufield and the Habs as they take another step in their rebuild with hopes of one day being a cup champ. As fans, we’ll just have to see how it all unfolds.
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