Before turning our focus to the upcoming season, we’re taking one last look back at the playoffs as we wrap up our grades. Today’s article will focus on the forwards.
Players must have played in a minimum of four games to receive a grade
Nick Suzuki – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 7G, 9A, -6, 2 PIM, 2PPG, 1 GWG, 1 OTG, 53 Hits, 19 Bks, 52 Shots, 18:55 TOI, 45.75 Faceoff%
Grade Comments: Nick led the team in goals, points, and shots on goal in his second postseason which is a great achievement. Montreal has lacked a true number one centre for well over a decade now, and Suzuki’s performance has helped cement his role without a doubt now that his second pro season has ended. His hockey sense and playmaking are his best assets, and his defensive game is improving. He did falter somewhat in the final round against Tampa but practically every Habs player did as well. It’s hard to say if he may have been a little overwhelmed during his first playoff Final but the experience he gained from this experience is invaluable.
Tyler Toffoli – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 5 G, 9 A, -6, 6 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 OTG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG, 37 Hits, 9 Bks, 49 Shots, 17:47 TOI
Grade Comments: Tyler was another strong performer in the playoffs for the Canadiens, and was the second-highest scorer on the team. Toffoli eventually ended up on the top line with Nick Suzuki and rookie Cole Caufield, and the three were dynamite. Like others on the team, he was not able to contribute offensively in the last round, but it appeared he struggled on the ice to me. His defensive game is very good and Tyler even contributed a shorthanded goal. It was later reported after the playoffs were over, that Toffoli had a groin injury that he played through, which explains the drop-off in his production. At one point in the series against Vegas, Tyler was on an eight-game point streak.
Corey Perry – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 4 G, 6 A, -5, 25 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 GWG, 23 Hits, 17 Bks, 30 Shots, 13:54 TOI
Grade Comments: Corey Perry played the ornery veteran role to a tee. He’s always been an agitating yet prolific scorer when he was younger. He is past his prime but amped up his game in the playoffs last season for Dallas, and again this season for the Habs. What always surprised me about Corey was both his positioning and his hockey sense. He’s never been a great skater so the other two attributes help him make up for that. His offensive production was much higher than I expected.
Cole Caufield – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 4G, 8A, -5, 0 PIM, 7 Hits, 4 Bks, 48 Shots, 15:14 TOI
Grade Comments: It’s hard to predict what the first round series against Toronto outcome would have been, had Cole Caufield started in Game One. The rookie was a healthy scratch for the first two games of that series and only scored one point in the other five games. He then found his groove playing mostly with Suzuki and Toffoli, where he produced three points in the series against both the Jets and Tampa and another five points against Vegas. Caufield surprised me with some deft passing to set up his teammates in situations where he could have taken the shot himself. To me that shows a maturity to his game, and that the twenty-year-old was well developed during his two seasons of college.
Phillip Danault – Grade: B+
Stats: 22 GP, 1G, 3A, -1, 38 Hits, 24 Bks, 39 Shots, 18:55 TOI, 54.2 FO%
Grade Comments: Danault played a stellar defensive game in the playoffs, excelling in a shutdown role to help thwart offensive dynamos such as Auston Matthews and Mark Stone. He tied for the lead in ice time among forwards along with Nick Suzuki. Phillip was outstanding in the faceoff circle. He suffered a concussion near the end of the regular season which caused him to miss the last three games of the season but was ready to start the playoffs. Although he did not contribute much offence compared to his teammates, Danault was nearly always used strictly in defensive situations which limited his scoring chances.
Josh Anderson – Grade: B+
Stats: 22 GP, 5G, 1A, -1, 12 PIM, 87 Hits, 8 Bks, 50 Shots, 14:30 TOI
Grade Comments: Josh played a steady physical game in the playoffs, which gave the Habs a much-needed power forward element. His five goals tied him with three other teammates, and two of those goals were overtime game-winners. One of those goals was against Vegas, and the other against Tampa. It’s that extra effort when it matters most that is one of the reasons Anderson was invaluable to the team in Anderson’s first year with Montreal. Josh’s speed was an asset when he was paired with Paul Byron.
Jake Evans – Grade: B
Stats: 7 GP, 1G, 1A, +3, 4 PIM, 16 Hits, 3 Bks, 9 Shots, 15:31 TOI, 51.28 FO%
Grade Comments: Jake got into the lineup for the last two games of the Toronto series as a winger with Danault and Gallagher, and performed well in a defensive role. He continued that role for the first game of the Winnipeg, and while he outskated an opponent to score a wrap-around empty-net goal, he was violently blindsided with a hit to the head from Mark Scheifele. While he fell to the ground, his head also hit the ice and it was obvious to everyone that he was concussed. He missed the next nine playoff games. Evans returned to play three of the five games in the Tampa series; the last games he played as a centre, replacing Jesperi Kotkaniemi. When he was in the lineup, I felt he was a solid bottom-six player.
Brendan Gallagher – Grade: B
Stats: 22 GP, 2G, 4A, +0, 4 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 GWG, 47 Hits, 11 Bks, 52 Shots, 14:40 TOI
Grade Comments: The Habs perennial spark plug, Gallagher played his usual high effort, tenacious game. Brendan was primarily in a defensive role and played most of the post-season alongside Phillip Danault. Like Danault, his offensive numbers were not special but they were understandable considering his role. Brendan missed the last twenty-one games with a thumb injury to end the regular season but was ready for the start of the playoffs. After the playoffs were over, it was reported that he played through a groin injury “and more”, which explains some of his play in the last series.
Paul Byron – Grade: B
Stats: 22 GP, 3G, 3A, +0, 10 PIM, 1 SHG, 2 GWG, 66 Hits, 16 Bks, 16 Shots, 14:34 TOI
Grade Comments: Byron was a useful bottom-six player for the Canadiens in the playoffs. Much like Anderson, who he sometimes lined up with, Paul scored high-quality goals, including one short-handed and two game-winners. Byron’s speed and quickness helped him greatly on the forecheck and during penalty killing situations. After the playoffs were over, the news came out that Paul played through a hip injury that required him to undergo surgery in the summer. He is not expected to start the regular season, and may not be available until late 2021 or early 2022.
Artturi Lehkonen – Grade: B
Stats: 17 GP, 3G, 1A, -1, 4 PIM, 2 GWG, 1 OTG, 58 Hits, 16 Bks, 29 Shots, 12:53 TOI
Grade Comments: Artturi’s defensive games helped him succeed when he was in the lineup for the Habs. He was injured in Game Three against Toronto, which caused him to miss the next five games. It was later revealed to be a head injury, which likely means it was a concussion. When he returned, he started a three-game scoring streak that included two goals, one of which was a game-winner. In the series against Vegas, he was held scoreless until it mattered most when he scored the overtime series-winning goal, to help Montreal reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
Joel Armia – Grade: B
Stats: 21 GP, 5 G, 3 A, -1, 10 PIM, 2 SHG, 55 Hits, 5 Bks, 40 Shots, 13:41 TOI
Grade Comments: Joel was his usual inconsistent self when it came to this postseason. He had some outstanding games, such as a two-goal, one assist performance against Winnipeg in Game Three. He also scored two goals in Game Five against Toronto; his five goals tied for second on the team with three others. As a fourth line player, he seemed to excel while he underperformed when he was given top six minutes. While paired with veterans Corey Perry and Eric Staal is when he played his best, especially at times when the line would cycle the puck in the offensive corner. He also continued his excellence on the penalty kill, where, due to his excellent anticipation to generate turnovers, he scored two shorthanded goals to lead the team. He missed Game One of the Final due to his false positive test and didn’t really recover as he was minus five for the last four games of the series.
Eric Staal – Grade: B-
Stats: 21 GP, 2G, 6A, -2, 6 PIM, 1 GWG, 17 Hits, 5 Bks, 21 Shots, 11:31 TOI, 44.31 FO%
Grade Comments: Eric provided a steady role through most of the playoffs, playing at his best when centring Perry and Amria. He knows how to play a big body game, using his size to tie up an opponent to help neutralize them. This fourth line surprised most opponents with some timely goals while playing strong defensively. Unfortunately, Eric faltered in the Final against Tampa and his faceoff prowess, which had been a plus during the regular season, was subpar through the playoffs.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Grade: B-
Stats: 19 GP, 5G, 3A, -5, 14 PIM, 1 GWG, 1 OTG, 35 Hits, 9 Bks, 28 Shots, 13:42 TOI
Grade Comments: Jesperi started the playoffs as a healthy scratch for the first game, and the same happened to him for the last two games of the series. To me, that was due to his inconsistent play, since there were other veteran forwards playing hurt that the head coach preferred to play instead of him. Jake Evans was put in the lineup to replace Kotkaniemi for the last two games of the Final. Jesperi still produced eight points in his nineteen games, including five goals which tied for second among his team. His defensive game, however, was not good enough as his decision-making to read the play and react correctly was lacking, and ultimately led to goals against. It’s mainly because of that I feel the coaches had less confidence in playing him over Evans, and if Evans had not been concussed, Kotkaniemi would have sat out more playoff games.
Tomas Tatar – Grade: D
Stats: 5 GP, 0G, 1A, -2, 0 PIM, 17 Hits, 3 Bks, 3 Shots, 13:56 TOI
Grade Comments: I am sure Tatar was hoping to shake the label he had for not performing well in the playoffs in past seasons. Unfortunately, he did not make that happen, despite playing with the two linemates he had the most success with in Montreal, Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault. Perhaps he was trying to focus more on defence, since Toronto, their first round opponent, were a heavy offensive team. Tomas only played in the first five games of the playoffs before being replaced. When he was moved to different linemates of Suzuki and Perry in Game Three, the trio scored Montreal’s only goal of that game. It’s difficult to understand why he struggled to contribute offensively in two playoffs where he scored a total of two goals and one assist in fifteen games. Out of the three regular seasons with the Canadiens, Tatar outscored both his regular linemates and was the team’s leading scorer in 2019-20.