The Montreal Canadiens had a rough season last year, finishing last in the Atlantic Division by far. It was expected to be a down year, and the odds were stacked against the Canadiens, but fans were disappointed nonetheless. Next year, most people won’t be gambling on the team to win the Cup, but there are glimmers of hope.
This is because the Canadiens have some excellent young talent that could lead to the team being a real contender down the road. While most betting sites will still rank the Canadiens amongst the bottom teams in the league, the young talent offers signs of a better future. Let’s look at nine players on the Canadiens or in the system that should excite fans.
Don’t be fooled by Cole Caufield’s stature. While he stands only around 5’8, Caufield has it in him to be one of the league’s best goalscorers. He was on pace for more than a 40-goal season last year if he had been able to stay healthy, and he is still only 22. There is a lot of room for him to take his game to the next level. He has a wicked shot and great instincts, and while he hasn’t shown much playmaking ability, he is dynamic with the puck. He can blossom into a leading scorer for this team, and he has as much superstar potential as anyone.
Nick Suzuki arrived on the Canadiens through a trade with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Montreal surely has no regrets. Suzuki has blossomed on the team and has become the youngest captain in the team’s history. He is a dynamic, well-rounded center who plays the game the right way, and the Canadiens have rewarded him with a significant extension that will keep him in Montreal for the prime of his career. Last year, he set a career-high with 66 points, and that seems like the baseline for his productivity for the next few seasons. He is just turning 24 this summer.
The hype is building around Lane Hutson, the 19-year-old American defenseman the Canadiens nabbed in the second round of the 2022 draft. He torched the NCAA last year, scoring 48 points in 39 games, and he has been compared to Cale Makar by teammates. That is certainly a lofty comparison, but Hutson is incredibly fast and agile on the back end and will soon be the powerplay quarterback for the Canadiens. Fans might have to wait a little while, as it seems he is heading back to college for one more year.
Juraj Slafkovsky may not have had the rookie season fans imagined when the Canadiens made him the first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. However, Slafkovsky was never going to come into the NHL and dominate. He is a long-term project with a ton of upside. Slafkovsky is huge, standing at 6’3 and weighing nearly 240 pounds. He is also just 19 years old, with plenty of room for development. He only managed 10 points in 39 games last year, but this was his first taste of NHL action. Given a few more years for his skills to catch up to his traits, he has serious upside.
The Canadiens pulled a heist on the Blackhawks when they acquired Dach for two early picks. The Blackhawks, amid a rebuild, traded their most promising prospect at the time, and he immediately responded with his best season. The center set career highs in goals and points, with 38 points in 58 games. Still just 22, the Canadiens signed Dach to a team-friendly four-year extension. While Dach hasn’t lived up to his draft pedigree, he is still young and showed much growth last season. He could be a big-time piece in the middle for the Canadiens.
David Reinbacher has yet to sniff the NHL, as he was just drafted in the 2023 Draft. But fans are already getting excited about what he could bring. The Canadiens’ back end is terrible right now, and Reinbacher could be a big part of the future. Reinbacher likely won’t play in the NHL next year, but the 5th overall pick was widely considered the top defenseman in the draft. While he doesn’t excel in any single area, scouts love Reinbacher for his well-rounded game and his high likelihood of being a productive player.
While not many positives emerged for the Canadiens defensively this season, the one major NHL positive was the arrival of Kaiden Guhle. The young Canadian defenceman was a first-round pick for the team in the 2020 draft and was widely considered one of the top prospects in the Canadiens system. He showed why this season, with 18 points and a well-rounded game displayed in 44 games of action. Just making the team and playing consistent minutes was a big developmental step for Guhle, who, at 21, has a bright career in front of him.
The Canadiens’ system is filled with young early-round draft picks that will now scratch and claw to make the team. Mesar is one player with plenty of upside who stands a real chance to join the NHL roster next year. While still just 19, Mesar is a gifted right-winger who scored a point per game in the OHL last year. He really stands out for his playmaking, and he could be a great complement to his fellow Slovakian countryman, Slafkovsky.
Nothing works in the NHL without goaltending, and the Canadiens definitely lack talent there. Cayden Primeau is a prospect trying to change that. The son of NHLer Keith Primeau, Cayden is a talented 23-year-old who might be the future answer for the team. So far, his initial tastes of the NHL have not resulted in success, as he has a 4.11 goals-against-average and .871 save percentage in 21 NHL games. Those are bad numbers, for sure, but goalies come around late. He is the best goalie prospect in the team’s pipeline and could blossom long-term.