“Win the middle, win the game” – Brian Wilde
The 2017 season came to an end when the New York Rangers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens from the playoffs. At that point, Philip Danault and Tomas Plekanec were Montreal’s top centers and Alex Galchenyuk was the best center player available after that who was on an up and down roller coaster.
In comes the 2017 NHL draft and the Canadiens select a big two-way center from St. Cloud State, Ryan Poehling.
The reset starts on June 15 when Marc Bergevin trades Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. Fast forward to the 2018 NHL draft. With the 3rd overall selection, the Montreal Canadiens select from Assat of the Finnish elite league, Jesperi Kotkaniemi along with 5 other centers in that respective draft.
Then on September 10th, 2018, the Canadiens send captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for a package involving center prospect Nick Suzuki and left-winger Tomas Tatar. In just two years, the Canadiens went from having no true top 6 center prospects to having a handful of them. The great thing about all of them? They are not far from making a mark on the big stage.
The season began with Max Domi assuming the 1C role which he has flourished in so far recording 16 points in 15 games. Next you have 3rd year Hab Philip Danault excelling as the team’s shutdown center. At the 3C position sits the rookie standout Jesperi Kotkaniemi who seems to be a lot more developed and skilled than originally thought. The team is winning and those three are not only a big part of this success but the main part of it.
With Kotkaniemi, Poehling and Suzuki being the top dogs on offence, there are some prospects who are finding themselves flowing under the radar. They are not to be overlooked or become “The Forgotten Prospects”. Jacob Olofsson, Lukas Vejdemo and Jake Evans round out the next few tiers. Those six players are all under 22 years of age. The depth is there long term.
The one quote we keep hearing is “good centers are too hard to find”. It took Marc Bergevin a long time to get some quality prospects in the pipeline but it seems like 6 years of waiting (plus all those years before) may be leading us towards a better future. Until they all come and play real quality games then all we’re doing is making up scenarios as well as “what-ifs”. I do however see the upside.
Kotkaniemi is very young and still learning. Ryan Poehling is playing the way he’s supposed to and I got the confirmation that he’s been solid all year from someone who covers the Huskies. Nick Suzuki is onto a great start with 13 goals and 12 assists, making for 25 points in 16 games played.
Let’s see some more when the World Juniors come around since both Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling are expected to play big roles for their respective teams: Canada and the USA. Jacob Olofsson is also expected to compete for a role on Sweden’s roster.
The biggest need now shifts to acquiring help on defense. The NHL has become a copy cat league and most of the big teams have a quality top 4. More info on who the Habs may pick and if there are any good defensemen in the draft will come in a later article for ThePuckAuthority.com. For now, we will just have to wait and see if anything is to come of it.