This is the second article of the first quarter grade reports for the Montreal Canadiens. This article focuses only on the forwards.
Players must have played in a minimum of five games to receive a grade.
Nick Suzuki – Grade: B
Stats: 20 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 2 PIM, -8 19:16 TOI, 2 PPG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG, 16 Hits, 11 Bks, 45 Shots, 47.69% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: Like the rest of his team, Nick got off to a terrible start, scoring only one assist in the first six games of the season. He also finished the quarter with no points in the last five games. In between is where he found his game, scoring thirteen points in nine games and looked more like the player that lead this team in last season’s playoffs. To say the least, Suzuki needs to work on his consistency since the rest of the forward lineup has also struggled mightily. I have seen some improvements in his defensive game, and the coaches have given him some penalty killing opportunities. I first thought his bad start was due to the contract extension he signed before the season began, which may have thrown his mental focus off. However, the end of the quarter slump makes it difficult to support that theory.
Mike Hoffman – Grade: B
Stats: 13 GP, 4 G, 3 A, 2 PIM, -9, 17:32 TOI, 2 PPG, 2 GWG, 8 Hits, 4 Bks, 34 Shots
Grade Comments: Hoffman got off to a slow start after missing training camp and the first three games of the season. By the third game he scored, then did the same for the next two games. Mike arrives with the Habs as advertised, somewhat speaking. By that I mean he is a pure goal scorer that can be streaky and half of his goals came from the power play. He also has a reputation of being poor defensively, but I have noticed a few times when Hoffman has shown good decision making on the backcheck. Hoffman has been out of the lineup with an upper-body injury since November 14th. In offensive situations, he makes Nick Suzuki (his usual linemate) better. Nick went into a slump the first game Hoffman was out of the lineup.
Jonathan Drouin – Grade: C+
Stats: 14 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 8 PIM, -4, 16:13 TOI, 11 Hits, 5 Bks, 25 Shots
Grade Comments: Drouin’s return to the lineup after missing the end of the regular season and all of the playoffs was a welcome addition. I noticed a jump in his play, and when he scored the first goal of the Habs season, the joy on his face along with the joy of his teammates was incredible. Unfortunately, he suffered a puck to the head, causing him to leave the game on November 2nd against Detroit. He missed six games due to concussion-like symptoms. He returned to the lineup on November 16th and managed two assists in the next three games to end the quarter. Drouin has filled in at centre occasionally when other players have been injured; while he is not a true centre his playmaking abilities make him an average candidate for a short-term option. Jonathan remains a good offensive threat with some defensive deficiencies.
Jake Evans – Grade: C+
Stats: 16 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 PIM, +1, 15:06 TOI, 31 Hits, 8 Bks, 22 Shots, 49.23% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: Expectations for Jake after the last postseason was that he was ready for third-line centre responsibilities. The early results were not there when the games started in the regular season; however, that theme was prevalent with all his teammates. Jake suffered an upper-body injury that caused him to miss four games during a six-game stretch in October. After returning he scored a goal and is on pace to break his career record in that category. I am starting to see the offensive skill that Evans has shown in the college and junior ranks, which certainly complements his already good defensive game. He is one of the few Montreal forwards to have a positive plus-minus rating.
Brendan Gallagher – Grade: C+
Stats: 19 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 24 PIM, -1, 15:29 TOI, 20 Hits, 12 Bks, 49 Shots
Grade Comments: It’s easy to say that Gallagher hates to lose, and he plays that way every second of every shift. You can tell he cares, a lot, and I don’t think I’ve seen a time in his career when he’s purposely broken as many sticks in frustration with the team’s results on the ice. Brendan had the luxury of a solid line the past few seasons that was one of the better lines in the league in possession metrics. His effort level is still very high, so I am sure the coaches will move him around the different lines to find a good fit for him again.
Ryan Poehling – Grade: C+
Stats: 6 GP, 3 G, 0 A, 0 PIM, +1, 10:55 TOI, 1 GWG, 2 Hits, 1 Bks, 9 Shots, 48.0% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: After a terrible training camp and exhibition season, Poehling deserved to be sent down to the minors, despite the expectations that he was going to make the pro team. He played well in Laval then got a call-up. I cannot complain about his offensive output, given his goal-scoring rate of one every second game is well ahead of where I expected it to be. He is looking more comfortable on the fourth line, although I am not sure if he will make a better winger or centre when he becomes a regular NHL player.
Tyler Toffoli – Grade: C
Stats: 20 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 4 PIM, -7, 17:09 TOI, 1 PPG, 32 Hits, 6 Bks, 52 Shots
Grade Comments: Toffoli was on fire last season, scoring twenty-eight goals, the second highest of his career. Had it been a normal eighty-two game season, there’s no doubt he would have shattered his career-best thirty-one goal best season, and his fifty-eight point high. This season he has not had the same type of production but still ranks second on the team in points. His struggles along with other injuries to the Habs forwards have sometimes separated Tyler from his Nick Suzuki, the centre he played the majority with last season. Out of the twenty games, he was scoreless in eleven of them. Before arriving in Montreal he was labelled as a streaky player, so perhaps that level of output fits his history. It’s too bad Montreal does not play Vancouver as often as last season, where Toffoli was a beast scoring against the Canucks.
Mathieu Perreault – Grade: C
Stats: 8 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 PIM, +3, 11:28 TOI, 7 Hits, 5 Bks, 11 Shots, 50.0% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: Before arriving in Montreal, Perreault was known as a decent two-way player who used to play in the middle of the lineup earlier in his career. At thirty-three years of age, and a troubling back that limits his faceoff ability, he’s more of a utility player who can occasionally play centre but prefers to play the wing. Mathieu had an outstanding offensive game on October 23rd against Detroit when he registered a hat trick. Unfortunately, Perreault sustained double vision during the team’s west coast road trip which was not linked to a specific hockey mishap. A doctor determined he had a detached retina, tied to a condition called Lattice Retinal Degeneration, which likely began when he was a child. The initial prognosis at the end of October was for Mathieu to miss two to three weeks after the corrective surgery, but a second procedure was needed and he only returned earlier this week.
Michael Pezzetta – Grade: C
Stats: 9 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 7:41 PIM, -2, 7:41 TOI, 21 Hits, 2 Bks, 10 Shots
Grade Comments: Pezzetta had the type of training camp that fans expected from Ryan Poehling. In an exhibition game, he scored two goals and showed toughness in all of the others. Although he was sent to the AHL, he was also called up in early November when the team struggled and other forwards were injured. I like the jump he has to his game, as he has toughness. Challenging the Rangers Ryan Reaves, perhaps the toughest pugilist in the NHL, was a little crazy but he held his own despite being outmatched. With two points in nine games with very limited ice time, I am pleased with the offence he has provided.
Josh Anderson – Grade: C-
Stats: 20 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 16 PIM, -12, 17:19 TOI, 48 Hits, 2 Bks, 49 Shots
Grade Comments: Anderson has been paired with Jonathan Drouin and Christian Dvorak since training camp and they have shown some offensive chemistry. Off the ice, Anderson has formed a solid friendship with Drouin, as the two have been diligent in their offseason training. Unfortunately, the line has been dreadful in defensive situations, five on five. Josh continues to play a power forward game and loves to drive to the net with the puck on his stick. Perhaps a shake-up of his linemates may help get Anderson on track for the next quarter.
Artturi Lehkonen – Grade: C-
Stats: 20 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 10 PIM, +1, 13:53 TOI, 23 Hits, 9 Bks, 29 Shots
Grade Comments: Lehkonen is a very good defensive player, and if the expectation is only for him to produce as a fourth-line player, then all is good. In previous seasons, Lehkonen can usually be expected to score around ten goals but this season he scored his first goal during the twentieth game. That was the longest scoring slump among Habs veteran forwards, which is something compared to the number of other slumping players on this team. It’s likely he will pick up the pace after getting that monkey off his back.
Joel Armia – Grade: C-
Stats: 20 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 6 PIM, +3, 14:13 TOI, 43 Hits, 10 Bks, 42 Shots
Grade Comments: Armia can be a frustrating player to watch since he has some offensive talent but is very inconsistent in showing it. Much like fellow Finn Lehkonen, Armia was in a big goal-scoring slump until he scored his first goal during the seventeenth game of the season. He was expected to be a third-line player which typically means he contributes a bit more offence. He has been good with his defensive game and helps out with penalty killing.
Cole Caufield – Grade: D
Stats: 12 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 2 PIM, -7, 14:15 TOI, 1 Hits, 0 Bks, 24 Shots
Grade Comments: After last season’s playoffs, the hype for Caufield to be the candidate for the rookie of the year was high. I did not expect he would be the clear cut favourite for that trophy, but I also did not expect he would get off to such a horrible start. Cole’s effort level has been there but he just has not been able to capitalize on any of his opportunities. This slump earned him a demotion to the AHL, and after two weeks he was recalled. I expect he will start to bounce back at some point in the second quarter.
Alex Belzile – Grade: D
Stats: 8 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 2 PIM, +1, 7:46 TOI, 6 Hits, 3 Bks, 9 Shots
Grade Comments: To me, Belzile is a tweener type of player. At the AHL level, he has put up points but has recorded only one point in small sections of two NHL seasons for Montreal. At the age of thirty, there really is no expectation of improvement for Alex, and at best he is a warm body to fill in the lineup card, although the farm team has other prospects that would be better options for call-ups when injuries occur to the Habs.
Cedric Paquette – Grade: D
Stats: 10 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 23 PIM, -1, 8:11 TOI, 23 Hits, 3 Bks, 8 Shots, 30.91% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: Cedric’s reputation was as an aggressive bottom-six forward that can play centre. Early in the Canadiens’ October 31st game against Anaheim, Paquette delivered a recklessly dirty hit from behind to an opponent into the boards that earned him a match penalty and a two-game suspension from the league. Since coming back, he played two games then missed the rest of the quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Christian Dvorak – Grade: D-
Stats: 20 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 20 PIM, -15, 18:51 TOI, 14 Hits, 27 Bks, 36 Shots, 54.29% Faceoffs
Grade Comments: Dvorak was expected to replace Phillip Danault as the team’s second-line centre and take on the main penalty killing role. It was hoped he would easily replace the offensive numbers in that role. While Dvorak has shown some flashes of offence, he and his linemates have allowed way too many goals against when they are all on the ice. It’s strange this happened since Dvorak has been very good when killing penalties. It’s not clear to me if the defensive issues at even strength fall with his linemates or everyone in the trio. He has been very good in faceoffs, leading the team in that area.