What a year for the NHL. The NHL was hit the hardest by Covid due to the Canadian teams in the league. Canadian teams didn’t see any fans until the second round of the playoffs and even then they were limited to small fan capacities and still felt like a practice facility compared to what other teams such as Tampa Bay and Nashville had.
We saw a very weird season unfold in which teams did not face anybody out of their 8 team divisions (7 teams for the North). With this came a very repetitive and short season that only hosted 56 games for each team when normally they play 82. This bland season did lead into a crazy playoff that is not even close to being over yet.
The playoffs have been insane, with so many unpredictable outcomes with two dark horses making a statement to the league. The Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders both made it to the semi-finals after being on the brink of elimination through the last few weeks of the regular season. The Canadiens have had nothing short of a wild postseason. It started with them coming back on the Toronto Maple Leafs after being down 3-1 in order to win the series. Then in the second round, they SWEEP the Winnipeg Jets. Nobody predicted this squad to have made the semis in the fashion they did.
The Canadiens started off in 2020 very hot. They leading the North in points to start the season. after about a month they began slipping into a mid-season slump with Carey Price going down to injury and other starters getting hurt. This slump eventually led to the Canadiens firing their head coach; Claude Julien and eventually hiring Dominique Ducharme to fill the position. They were still able to make the playoffs even with these changes within the organization.
The Canadiens Are Loaded With Young Talent
Montreal has a very interesting roster as they have probably the perfect mix of veterans and promising young players which can be directly correlated with their current playoff success nobody saw coming. The first player, and quite possibly the most exciting one to watch for years to come: Cole Caufield.
Caufield signed an entry-level deal with the Canadiens on March 28th, 2021 after being a top 15 pick in the 2019 draft. He was brought up to start playing on April 26th, 2021 and a week later scored his first NHL goal, an overtime winner against the Ottawa Senators. This was a great way for him to get his first taste of NHL scoring and carrying on his legacy as “Goal Caufield”, a nickname during his time in The National Team Development Program (NTDP) where he played for two years prior to joining the NCAA.
In those two years, he was able to surpass Phil Kessel’s previous goal record of 103 which Kessel scored between the years 2003-2005. Not only was Caufield able to beat his record, but he beat him by 22 goals which set the new all-time record to 126 goals over the span of two seasons.
To put Caulfield’s record into perspective, he topped names such as Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel, all of whom played at least two seasons. The most notable one of those players is Auston Matthews. Matthews led this season in goals scored for the entire NHL but only scored 79 goals during his time in the NTDP. Caufield eclipsed that number by 47 goals. Absolutely insane.
Aside from Goal Caufield, the Canadiens have other noticeable young players that can make an impact on this organization for a decade to come. Those players include Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Jake Evans.
Suzuki is definitely one to look out for on this roster. The Canadiens put him to good use in his first season with Suzuki scoring 41 points in 71 games. This year he was able to score 41 points in only 56 games which is a great improvement and promising future for a second-year player. His professional career started in 2016 in the OHL where he was second in goals and awarded the William Hanley Trophy, an award given to the player that shows the most sportsmanship over the course of the season (a great thing for teams to consider when drafting a player). He was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights who decided he wasn’t what they were looking for and sent him back to the OHL, eventually leading to the trade with the Canadiens.
The Veterans Lead the Way
Veteran leadership is crucial when breeding a younger generation of talent to be successful and good pieces to fuel an organization’s success. The Canadiens right now are being led by some of the greatest players of the past two decades of NHL hockey. That starts with Corey Perry and Shea Weber, followed by Tyler Toffoli and Brandon Gallagher.
All of these players know how to lead a team through example and know what it takes to win important games. They have led this younger generation through the playoffs thus far which is providing an amazing experience to these young players.
It’s encouraging to see their younger players making a big impact in the playoffs and not just laying in the background watching the veterans do the heavy lifting. Caufield, Kotkaniemi, and Suzuki have combined for 24 points in the playoffs thus far; Suzuki leads that bunch with 9 points.
That is why I see the Canadiens as a team of the future and not a fluke in this year’s playoff run. They have the potential to win the Cuo right now and win multiple Cups over the next decade. Putting their young core through multiple rounds of the NHL playoffs will pay off as they are going to be more experienced than 90% of their generation. The young guns on the Canadiens are learning how to win in crucial games and are being put to the greatest test the the sport of hockey has to offer.
These hotshots are making noise this year in the playoffs and there is no doubt in my mind this team is set for an incredible future.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts on who you’d pick to be the NHL team of the 2020’s. Comment below.