The first quarter of the 2018-19 season provided a surprisingly strong start for the team. A high number of passing grades are among the forward group in this article, the first of two such sets of early report cards.
Players must have played in at least 5/21 games to receive a grade.
A+ Max Domi Domi certainly lives up to his first name, since he gives maximum effort and provides maximum production. At the quarter mark he leads the team in points, and is eight ahead of his closest teammate. This productivity is a little unexpected given his struggles with the Coyotes the last two seasons and the move from the wing to centre. Domi had a good reputation as a playmaker and passer but one that did not score much. He’s turned that around since donning a Canadiens jersey, which has propelled him into the top 20 scorers in the NHL. He’s the first Habs player since 1918-19 to score at least 24 points in the first 20 games. Max is the first Habs player to score in 10 straight games since Vincent Damphousse in Feb 1996, and the first to do this in his first season with the Habs since Pierre Turgeon in Apr 1995.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 10 goals, 15 assists, 25 points, +2 rating, 21 PIMS, 46 shots
A Tomas Tatar When the Max Pacioretty trade was announced, I thought Tatar was the second or third most important component coming back to Montreal. Tomas struggled with Detroit last season, and his play dropped off after a trade deadline move to Vegas, despite playing for one of the better teams in the NHL last season. I watched Tatar play in Detroit several times and noticed he had good offensive talent but sometimes struggled with consistency. Since I saw him paired up with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher in the preseason, I noticed an immediate chemistry. That has not faltered over the first quarter of the season. His skating and tenacity have earned “Tuna” a top-six role so far and his shooting ability has allowed him to capitalize on his scoring opportunities. His scoring pace may even let fans forget about Max Pacioretty.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 9 goals, 8 assists, 17 points, +4 rating, 6 PIMS, 59 shots
A Phillip Danault There were concerns over how well Danault would come back from his concussion last season. He has come back strong, meshing very well with linemates Gallagher and Tatar. Although Danault is not a true top line centre, he has decent enough passing and playmaking skills to distribute the puck to teammates while playing a strong defensive game and taking most of the tough faceoff assignments.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 1 goal, 11 assists, 12 points, +2 rating, 10 PIMS, 33 shots
A Brendan Gallagher The Habs first alternate captain (and unofficial interim captain) has lived up to his usual standard of high competitiveness every game and every shift. Gallagher is one of the oldest forwards on this squad (at 26), and has gotten off to a blazing hot start. He is on pace for 40 goals which would shatter his previous high of 30 from last year; his points total is also above his career-best pace. I have nicknamed the forward trio the GTD line, which could stand for the Game Time Decision line.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 10 goals, 5 assists, 15 points, +3 rating, 12 PIMS, 73 shots
B+ Jonathan Drouin After struggling to start this season, Jo found his “flow” starting with his pairing with Max Domi. The struggles he faced last season with the Habs seemed to be primarily based on the shift to centre, a position he could not fully excel at. He has had some inconsistent stretches, going scoreless for multiple games twice, and nine times out of the first twenty-one games. Now that he is back on the wing this season, he better uses his speed and puck skills to produce offensively. At the quarter mark, Drouin is tied for second in team scoring and is on pace for a career high in points.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 7 goals, 10 assists, 17 points, -2 rating, 10 PIMS, 55 shots
B Andrew Shaw Many fans were surprised when the Canadiens announced Shaw would be ready for the season opener, just a day before the event. His 2017-18 campaign ended with a double whammy collision, resulting in a serious looking concussion and a knee injury, with the latter requiring offseason surgery to correct. His return was not expected until November, so his rushed entry to the lineup caused a drop off in his play, with several untimely penalties. He was a healthy scratch at the ten game mark for two matches. Upon his return, he has been better focused and a strong contributor on the forecheck when paired with Domi and Drouin while chipping in with a few goals.
1st Quarter Stats: 17 GP, 6 goals, 3 assists, 9 points, +0 rating, 18 PIMS, 35 shots
B Jesperi Kotkaniemi This kid’s smile is contagious! Jesperi has adapted very well to the start of his rookie season. Before watching him play in the preseason, I had hoped he would not be rushed to the pros and instead be returned to Finland to further develop. However, he played well enough to earn a spot into the lineup. His hockey sense and passing are top notch and his defensive play is very good. He currently is scoring at just over one point every second game, which when considering he is the team’s third line centre and his ice time is sheltered, is remarkable.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3 goals, 9 assists, 12 points, +1 rating, 6 PIMS, 39 shots
B Paul Byron The diminutive speedster, Byron was another player that required offseason shoulder surgery but managed to be ready to start playing at the beginning of training camp. He has continued his high effort style of play, which is an excellent forechecker that fits in well with the Habs new high tempo offensive style. Paul has had some inconsistent play so far this season, and unfortunately suffered a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup for all of November.
1st Quarter Stats: 11 GP, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, +3 rating, 0 PIMS, 23 shots
C+ Matthew Peca An offseason free agent signing, Peca was a bit of a surprise considering he was offered a two-year contract for a player with only 20 NHL games to his credit. The Habs management gambled that he was stuck behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s depth at centre. Matthew is another small forward but one blessed with good speed and the ability to play the wing. He suffered a groin injury in training camp that caused him to miss a few preseason games, but started the regular season. However, he struggled somewhat to make a mark on the fourth line. Like other young players, he has had some inconsistency which may have been related to the minor injury. Later in the first month, he has shown some spark in his bottom-six role.
1st Quarter Stats: 20 GP, 1 goals, 5 assists, 6 points, -5 rating, 4 PIMS, 16 shots
C+ Kenny Agostino A strong showing during training camp impressed the Habs brass. With the number of healthy forwards to start the season, Agostino was assigned to the farm team but earned a call-up during the first week of November. Kenny has decent size and speed and seems well suited to a fourth line role. With his high effort level and defensive awareness, the coaches have occasionally promoted him to the third line with some increased ice time.
1st Quarter Stats: 6 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, +1 rating, 4 PIMS, 7 shots
C+ Joel Armia An offseason trade brought Armia to the Habs thanks to a cap crunch situation with his previous team, the Winnipeg Jets. Joel has very good size and a decent combination of offensive shooting and hockey sense abilities. His scoring pace is nearly one point every other game, about fitting for a third line forward. Armia scored one of the two shorthanded goals for the Habs so far this season. A knee injury suffered during the second week of November will be a setback of six-eight weeks. When paired up with Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen, the three forwards became the first all Finnish forward line in Habs history.
1st Quarter Stats: 15 GP, 3 goals, 4 assists,7 points, +0 rating, 8 PIMS, 42 shots
C Nicolas Deslauriers A tough winger with good size, Deslauriers missed the first four games of the season after suffering a significant facial injury during a preseason fight. A waiver wire pick up last year, he surprised many by scoring 10 goals while providing toughness to the lineup. After returning from his injury, Deslauriers has continued to provide a high number of hits per game on average but has been less effective overall. The injury forced him to wear a facial cage which may be an influence and will certainly curtail him from entering into any fights, for now. Nicolas scored Montreal’s other shorthanded goal.
1st Quarter Stats: 15 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, -3 rating, 8 PIMS, 16 shots
C- Artturi Lehkonen While Artturi is a very good two-way player, his goal scoring has been wildly inconsistent. After scoring in the season opener, his next goal came at the 18 game mark, despite averaging just over two shots per game. He has provided some playmaking ability to earn nine assists and give him a decent point per game average. It’s just that he has missed so many goal scoring opportunities that a natural scorer would have capitalized on, which to me shows that he will never reach a regular role in the top-six.
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points, +2 rating, 8 PIMS, 44 shots
C- Charles Hudon His sophomore season has started but Hudon seems to have not kicked it into gear yet. In his rookie year, he started strong, faltered during the middle, but then finished strong. He has some good offensive skills and may eventually rise up the depth charts but his defensive game still needs some work. After scoring three points in the first six games, he was a healthy scratch for three games after making some defensive miscues. Since his return, he has only managed one point in thirteen games. I expect him to be a healthy scratch soon, likely after Paul Byron is ready to return.
1st Quarter Stats: 18 GP, 3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points, -7 rating, 14 PIMS, 29 shots
N/A: Tomas Plekanec (retired); Nikita Scherbak (injured during AHL conditioning stint)