While Montreal’s playoff run came to a disappointing end last week, there were quite a few players who made positive impressions. After focusing on the defence and goaltending in the first half of our report cards, we now look at the forwards.
Players must have played in at least three games to receive a grade.
Nick Suzuki – A: After hitting the rookie wall before the pandemic hit, I was interested in seeing if the rest would give Suzuki a boost. Boy, did it ever do that. He worked his way onto the top line in a hurry and didn’t struggle much against the top centres on Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (other than at the faceoff dot). I’m not convinced that he’s ready for that role for an entire year yet (there’s a difference between 10 games and 82) but there is definitely cause for optimism about his long-term future. He’s a keeper.
Stats: 10 GP, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, +3 rating, 0 PIMS, 27 shots, 19:11 ATOI
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – A-: I’m not as bullish on his overall performance as some but for someone that came into camp on the outside looking in at a spot, Kotkaniemi was quite impressive. I like that he was getting to the front of the net more often and getting more engaged physically but someone needs to remind him to shoot the puck. He has a pretty good shooting touch already but he rarely seems to want to do so. If he wants to be one of the top two centres next year, that will need to change.
Stats: 10 GP, 4 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, +4 rating, 23 PIMS, 11 shots, 13:53 ATOI
Phillip Danault – B: The offensive production wasn’t there but this time, Danault wasn’t on the top offensive line at all times. The Habs flipped him to more of a defensive role and he played well while still being above average on the puck possession side. With Nate Thompson traded and everyone else struggling at the faceoff dot, Danault was asked to take on a ridiculously high number of draws and won a very respectable 54% despite going up against the other teams’ best routinely. He may want the bigger role next season (and I think he’ll get one) but even if he doesn’t, he can be a very important piece.
Stats: 10 GP, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, -1 rating, 6 PIMS, 24 shots, 19:34 ATOI
Jake Evans – B: Getting injured early on against Pittsburgh didn’t help but when Evans returned, he got better as the games went on. He at least held his own at the faceoff dot which gave him a few extra shifts and when the Habs were down to their final period, he was still getting a somewhat regular turn on a mix-and-match third line. By no means was this a breakout performance but he managed to turn a minor role into a slightly better one in a pretty short period of time. Not too shabby for someone that’s trying to push for a full-time spot next season.
Stats: 6 GP, 0 goals, 1 assists, 1 point, -1 rating, 0 PIMS, 6 shots, 7:48 ATOI
Paul Byron – B-: The great thing with the team being mostly healthy was that there was no need to even consider putting Byron in an offensive role which is something that has happened much too frequently in recent years. He was in a defence-first spot and did well, including on the penalty kill. He didn’t come up with the timely goal here and there as he has a knack for doing but all in all, it was a decent (and relatively consistent) showing.
Stats: 10 GP, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +4 rating, 6 PIMS, 9 shots, 14:42 ATOI
Joel Armia – B-: He was better towards the end of the Philadelphia series but before that, Armia was quiet and struggled offensively. He wound up spending some time on the fourth line and the Habs need a lot more from him than fourth line minutes. Nonetheless, this was a step up on his only other playoff experience with Winnipeg so there’s that to build off at least.
Stats: 10 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, +5 rating, 10 PIMS, 27 shots, 15:56 ATOI
Jonathan Drouin – B-: Yes, he tied with Suzuki for the team lead in points which looks nice. But there were quite a few games where he was largely invisible and in a short 10-game stretch of must-win contests, that’s not good. In the end, it was basically same old, same old from Drouin – some good, some bad, and a whole lot of mediocrity in between. He showed some chemistry with Suzuki in the final two games (after not doing well with him at times during the season) and it would be nice if that could be the beginning of something.
Stats: 10 GP, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points, +3 rating, 8 PIMS, 16 shots, 16:07 ATOI
Alex Belzile – C+: For someone making his NHL debut in the playoffs, Belzile acquitted himself relatively well in what was a very limited role. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with some of his scoring chances but the fact he was getting them meant that the fourth line was actually doing something productive. I know some are already writing him off as an afterthought but I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he’s on the roster to start next season. With a full camp and preseason under his belt, he may be better equipped for that spot on the fourth line.
Stats: 6 GP, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, +1 rating, 0 PIMS, 4 shots, 6:50 ATOI
Artturi Lehkonen – C+: Some players just don’t have it in them to be natural scorers. Lehkonen seems to be one of those players. He gets plenty of quality chances but doesn’t capitalize on them often enough which dips him a little below Byron’s grade. On the other hand, he was his usual effective self defensively and fit in nicely on what quickly became Montreal’s new-look checking line.
Stats: 10 GP, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +4 rating, 8 PIMS, shots, 17:24 ATOI
Brendan Gallagher – C: Knowing he was playing through a bit of a hip issue, I’ll give Gallagher a little bit of a pass on the lack of production. It wasn’t for a lack of effort as he was getting to the dirty areas and firing from anywhere and everywhere; his playing style didn’t really change. Unfortunately, goal scorers often have slumps and he just picked a lousy time to have one.
Stats: 9 GP, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 37 shots, 16:56 ATOI
Max Domi – C-: For some of the games, he gets a pass because there’s only so much you can do with minor leaguers on your wings. But when he was moved to the wing and onto the scoring line, he didn’t do much aside from one good game. That’s not good enough. Three of Montreal’s top four centres boosted their stock in the playoffs and Domi was the exception. He certainly didn’t help his cause going into contract talks.
Stats: 10 GP, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, -2 rating, 8 PIMS, 14 shots, 14:21 ATOI
Tomas Tatar – D+: Having had a week to think about this, I still don’t quite know what happened to Tatar. Yes, he didn’t elevate his physicality to adapt to the tougher postseason style but it’s not as if his line completely fizzled out. Tatar still had good puck possession numbers so that was still fine. He just couldn’t score aside from one game. He also struggled to get his shot off which isn’t normal for him. Unfortunately, when you’re the leading scorer on the team and you don’t produce outside of one blowout game, the grade can’t be good even if the underlying numbers suggest he wasn’t all that bad.
Stats: 10 GP, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points, -1 rating, 4 PIMS, 13 shots, 16:02 ATOI
Dale Weise – D: I have no idea why he was even in Montreal’s original lineup to begin with. I went over his case in full detail earlier this month and there’s no point in quickly summarizing it here. He never should have played and did nothing when he was in.
Stats: 5 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 8:38 ATOI
N/A: Charles Hudon (2 GP), Jordan Weal (2 GP)