The Montreal Canadiens’ core pieces may be grizzled vets by NHL standards, and that’s crucial in building a good team. But as this season goes on, more and more young players are stepping into major roles and thriving.
Victor Mete has played all over the lineup, including top-pairing minutes alongside Shea Weber.
Charles Hudon spent some time on the fourth line, but has since established himself as a player who can be trusted with a top-six assignment, even if he has struggled to buy a goal this year.
Then there’s Artturi Lehkonen, who despite being cursed by whichever angry voodoo priest specializes in sophomore curses has become a shot-generating machine on every line he plays.
Over the weekend, with Nikita Scherbak in the lineup, Claude Julien created a second power-play unit entirely made of these prospects (and the 25-year-old Joe Morrow). They’ve responded by being a dangerous unit with slick passing and more skill than you can shake a stick at.
As for Lehkonen, his work on the penalty kill against the Philadelphia Flyers was exemplary, and he was rewarded for his hard work. He had a number of short-handed chances, and then he picked the pocket of Jakub Voracek and sniped a shot past Brian Elliott. With that goal — his third in two games — it would appear the early-season scoring struggles are becoming a thing of the past.
Overall, in a big road game versus a team fighting for a playoff spot, it was just a few select young players who were noticeable on the ice. Some veterans took too many penalties, missed assignments, or just weren’t visible at all.
This is where the Canadiens can turn this season into a positive. If they’re not going to make the playoffs it’s the perfect time to start giving the younger players an expanded role. It’s great practice for them to make the necessary adjustments for next year, and allows Claude Julien to see what he has within the organization.
If they aren’t able to hit their stride just yet, well a few more losses just get the Habs closer to Rasmus Dahlin anyway.