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It’s time for an overall evaluation of the 2023-24 Montreal Canadiens. Unlike other quarterly grade report articles, this one will share ratings of each player’s overall play for this season.  As always, we start with the goalies and defencemen.

Players must have played in at least 20 games to receive a grade


Samuel Montembeault: Player Rating = 7/10

Montembeault remains this team’s goalie of the “now”. He played well enough this season overall, but there is room for improvement. Last season he was thirteenth in the league for goals saved above expected, in the advanced stats category. Many media members and fans touted his success based on that statistic. This season, he dropped to 31st in that metric, and Cayden Primeau was listed as 30th. During this season there were times that he stepped up and gave big performances. Two examples include a late March win in Colorado to snap their team’ winning streak at nine games. Another was a January 4-3 win against the Rangers, where he stopped 45 shots in a shootout victory. However, there were five games when he allowed five or more goals, and ten games when he allowed four or more goals. His consistency can certainly be improved.

Stats: 41 GP, 16-15-9 record, 3.14 GAA, .903 SV%

Cayden Primeau: Player Rating = 7/10

Primeau was out of waiver options before the start of the season, so Kent Hughes made the unorthodox decision to keep him on the NHL roster instead of losing him to another team if an AHL demotion were to occur. It was a highly criticized move among Montreal media and fans since it resulted in little ice time for all three netminders. In the beginning, Primeau got the fewest starts and his game somewhat suffered. There was one game that I recall where he allowed three goals to his glove hand. He must have made adjustments since I did not see that issue reoccurring. After Jake Allen was traded to New Jersey, Primeau’s game really blossomed as the backup. He got more starts and his game started to develop more. During the end run of the season, he did suffer some high-scoring losses against the Rangers and Lightning. Overall it was a positive season for Cayden, and next year, he should remain the Habs backup. If he continues to improve, he could challenge for the starter’s position.

Stats: 23 GP, 8-9-4 record, 2.99 GAA, .910 SV%, 2 shutouts

Jake Allen: Player Rating = 3/10

I admit I am not a fan of Jake Allen. To me, he is a very average NHL goalie. I thought his age might be catching up with him this season, to help explain why his play slumped so badly. It’s likely the trade rumours got to him, and he responded poorly. The handwriting was on the wall as the oldest goalie in Montreal’s trio. What doesn’t help my opinion of him, is he played very well for the Devils after the trade. It was later reported that the Devils had asked about him last offseason but a deal could not be worked out then. I do wish him well in New Jersey, but only because his trade conditions could bump up the Devils’ 3rd-round pick to a 2nd-round pick.

Stats: 21 GP, 6-12-3 record, 3.65 GAA, .892 SV%


Mike Matheson: Player Rating = 9/10

Mike set a career record this season for assists (51) and points (62) while tying his best record for goals scored with eleven. Those 51 assists also led all Canadiens in that category. Matheson is definitely this team’s leader on defence; his 186 blocked shots led his squad this season. He was asked to take on a lot of responsibility this season and did so by leading his team in ice time, while driving the first wave of the power play, and playing a role on the penalty killing unit. I suspect the coaches have given Matheson and veteran David Savard so much ice time to shield the younger defencemen. I know there were times this season when Matheson’s mistakes were very visible; to me, he has been overutilized. If next season some of his responsibilities are shifted to other defencemen, then his visible mistakes will be much fewer and he will continue to be a great mentor to the reset of the less experienced blueliners.

Stats: 82 GP, 11 G, 62 A, 62 Pts, -24, 58 PIM, 5 PPG, 187 Shots, 61 Hits, 186 Blocked Shots, 25:33 ATOI

Jayden Struble: Player Rating = 8/10

Struble came out of left field so to speak, with a call-up due to a Jordan Harris injury in November. At the time Jayden was not considered a serious prospect. He played so well that Montreal was forced to keep him up for the rest of the season, despite the glut of defencemen on the roster. Much like his teammate and buddy Harris, Struble is a strong skater with good mobility. Even though he is listed at 6’0 and 191 pounds, Struble is very strong and handles the physical play of the NHL quite well. To complement that, his decision-making with and without the puck is very high. There were only a handful of times this season that I can recall Struble making a rookie mistake, which is very high praise. He missed four games this season with a lower body injury that was rumoured to be a groin pull.

Stats: 56 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 Pts, -3, 57 PIM, 47 Shots, 121 Hits, 53 Blocked Shots, 16:07 ATOI

David Savard: Player Rating = 7/10

Savard is the elder defenceman on this squad and is much respected by his peers. A fractured hand in October caused him to miss 22 games this season. David continued to play a steady presence on this team, blocking shots with gusto and chipping in some points. When Lane Hutson suited up to play with Montreal, Savard was his assigned partner for those final two games of the season. In that mentor role, he did support Hutson defensively, to allow him the freedom to generate some offence. David’s 24 points were the third-highest season in his career; if he stayed healthy he might have had a chance at breaking his personal best.

Stats: 60 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 24 Pts, -1, 54 Shots, 69 Hits, 163 Blocked Shots, 20:14 ATOI

Johnathan Kovacevic: Player Rating = 7/10

Jonathan seems to be less valued on this team, despite being a natural right-shot defenceman. He was a healthy scratch more often than any other defenceman on this squad. Kovacevic ended the season on a high with four points in his last four games but was a healthy scratch for the final game at home. Logan Mailloux was called up to take his place for that one. At 6’4 and 208 pounds, Kovacevic is a good skater with a good defensive style to his game and can play physically when required. He does chip in points from time to time and has a hard shot from the point, but is not considered a play driver. Jonathan had a plus-11 to lead all Montreal skaters in that category. I know many fans and pundits put less stock in plus/minus stats these days. In my opinion, when a player is faced with 3rd line pairing assignments, plays against the best opponents in most road games, and is one of your only plus players that says a lot about his defensive value to this team.

Stats: 62 GP, 6 G, 7 A, 13 Pts, +11, 42 PIM, 46 Shots, 75 Hits, 83 Blocked Shots, 16:31 ATOI

Arber Xhekaj: Player Rating = 6/10

Arber had a rough start to this season. He was accumulating a high rate of undisciplined penalties and the coaches felt he needed to work on his defensive game. So a demotion to the AHL took place in the first week of December; his stay on the farm was a little more than seven weeks. When he returned, he was a more disciplined player, but still played a rough style. I was disappointed that Xhekaj did not see much time on the power play this season. Last season he was effective in that role since he has an accurate wrist shot as well as a heavy slapshot. His plus-six rating was the second-best among his Habs peers. Unfortunately, Arber suffered a shoulder injury which took him out of the lineup for the last seven games. Fortunately, his surgery was performed on the other side of his body, so it was not a recurring issue from last season’s shoulder surgery. Arber’s tough style makes him a fan favourite. I hope he can stay healthy next season so he can not only stay in the lineup but keep trade suitors away.

Stats: 44 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 Pts, +6, 61 Shots, 125 Hits, 49 Blocked Shots, 12:38 ATOI

Kaiden Guhle: Player Rating = 6/10

Kaiden was one of the few young Habs d-men that did get some additional responsibilties, including more time on the penalty kill. His ice time increased this season, and he narrowly edged David Savard in that category. The left-shooting defenceman was at times moved to the right side of the ice, where he played well in his off position. Often he was paired with Mike Matheson during those assignments. In many games this season he was given the shutdown role against some of the best opposition forwards. Guhle missed the last seven games of the season due to injury; it was not formally stated but I believe it was a concussion due to a dirty hit from behind into the boards by Nikita Kucherov. His injury this season and the ones he suffered last season make me hope he does not become labelled as injury-prone. The lineup is much better with him than without.

Stats: 70 GP, 6 G, 16 A, 22 Pts, -8, 95 Shots, 116 Hits, 178 Blocked Shots, 20:51 ATOI

Jordan Harris: Player Rating = 6/10

Jordan is another new-wave defender with excellent skating and mobility with the puck. Aside from that, he does not have a specific NHL-level skill. What he does have is enough to keep in Montreal for now. Harris suffered a terrible hit from behind against St. Louis in February when he hit the boards head-first. It was obvious from his attempt at standing up that he had a concussion; surprisingly he only missed three games. Earlier in the season, he suffered an upper-body injury followed by a lower-body injury that caused him to miss 17 games. At 5’11 and 179 pounds, his size works against him as a blueliner. He is not physical enough and does not have the strength to contend with most opposition forwards in the NHL. Like Kaiden Guhle, Harris was one of the left-shooting defenders who was forced to play the right side at times this season.

Stats: 56 GP, 3 G, 11 A, 14 Pts, -5, 22 PIM, 43 Shots, 26 Hits, 86 Blocked Shots, 17:28 ATOI

Justin Barron: Player Rating = 4/10

Barron did not show improvement in his game this season. Although he did produce offensively, and at one point earlier in the season he led the Habs defencemen in goals scored, his defensive game was lacking, to say the least. His decision making both with and without the puck in all defensive situations makes him a liability. For a team now embracing analytics, I will point out that Barron’s 46.1 xGF% was the worst on this team. To interpret that advanced statistic, whenever Barron is on the ice the Habs are outplayed more than when any other Habs defenceman is on the ice. Justin was sent down to the AHL farm team in Laval on January 22nd, the same day Arber Xhekaj was called up. The reasoning for the demotion appears similar to Xhekaj, to help Barron focus on improving his defensive game. Unlike Xhekaj, Barron was left on the farm longer, and only called up in the first week of April on an emergency basis, when other Habs defencemen were injured. I suspect that either Barron or Kovacevic will be traded this offseason since both are right-handed shots which is a sought-after commodity in the NHL. My preference is the Habs keep Kovacevic over Barron since Johnathan is a better defender.

Stats: 48 GP, 7 G, 6 A, 13 Pts, -3, 16 PIM, 60 Shots, 61 Hits, 59 Blocked Shots, 18:38 ATOI