Montreal Canadiens Player of the Month: Tomas Tatar
When Tomas Tatar was acquired just before the season began, it wasn’t entirely clear what role he’d play on the team, especially after the disappointing post-season performance with the Vegas Golden Knights. Much of the forward lineup was up in the air when the Canadiens took to the ice for the first time, but it quickly became clear that Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were answers in the middle of the ice, leaving the only decisions left to be made on assigning the wingers.
Domi moving to centre meant the experiment of Jonathan Drouin at centre no longer needed to be forced, putting him in the left-wing category along with Tatar and a host of others.
Claude Julien was happy with the chemistry between Drouin and Domi, and went with Tatar alongside the established duo of Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. A few cold stretches had Drouin move up to the top line on a few occasions, but for the majority of the year that spot has been Tatar’s, directly replacing Max Pacioretty in that regard after being part of the former captain’s return package. Tatar’s response has been a new career high in points, and nearing his best mark in goals.
Despite dealing with the flu in March, forced to miss one game as a result, he was just one off the team points lead for the month, with three goals and seven assists.
It’s no fluke that the Slovak is contributing so much to the team this season, second in Canadiens scoring with 57 points. When he’s on the ice, the opposing team’s goaltender is usually busy.
In Tatar, the Canadiens have a reliable possession player capable to turning that into offfence, and a great complement to Gallagher. A three-year, $4.8-million AAV contract could have been a burden on the club if Tatar had failed to perform. Now the team has the comfort of knowing an important player is locked up for two more seasons as the team makes its rapid transition from retooling franchise to contender.
Laval Rocket Player of the Month: Jake Evans
With the Rocket lacking most of the veterans they started the year with, head coach Joël Bouchard looked to his rookies to carry the load. Jake Evans answered that call, and found another level in a promising first professional season. With two goals and 12 assists in the month of March, he was the beating heart of the Rocket offence, even if the results didn’t always go in his team’s favour.
His strong play has propelled him into the upper echelon of rookie scoring at the AHL level. With 45 points, he sits fifth in that regard, and he’s doing it on a team lacking the talent and depth of most other squads.
Evans has been finding that next gear lately as well, and it shows as his play has started to breathe some life into a stagnant power play in Laval. He’s showing mountains of confidence and using that to drive play for the Rocket.
Evans has the ability to score nice goals, but has begun to come into his own as a playmaker; his 32 assists are fourth among all rookies.
Jake Evans drives the net hard and Daniel Audette finishes the play for his 13th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/dYpLEFNd6U— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 21, 2019
His ability to feed pucks into dangerous areas has brought about a nice career resurgence for Alex Belzile, and elevated Daniel Audette to a higher level after the prospect had a slow start to the year.
For a seventh-round pick, Evans is proving he belongs in the conversation with the top prospects, and this strong month of play does plenty to support that.
Les Canadiennes Player of the Month: Hilary Knight
Hilary Knight’s statistics this season were not what she would have liked. A revolving cast of linemates due to injuries left her always looking to create chemistry. Since the Christmas break, Knight had a huge jump in her play, but the pucks were not going in, and the points were not increasing.
In March, everything came together. She led the league in playoff scoring with four goals and four assists in four playoff games, using a connection with Jill Saulnier and Mélodie Daoust to try and make up for the absence of Marie-Philip Poulin.
Her points came in all different ways, but nothing epitomized Knight’s playoff run more than her goal in Game 3 of the semifinal against the Markham Thunder. Knight played in last year’s semifinal when the Thunder swept Montreal, and after her tip-in, she gave a fist pump that showed how much the series meant to her.
Although the Clarkson Cup didn’t go Montreal’s way, Knight had a very solid game, getting an assist you will see on highlight reels for a long time. The backhand pass to Ann-Sophie Bettez is something that they had worked on in practice and tried earlier in the playoffs.
MONTRÉAL POWER PLAY GOOOOALLLLLL— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 24, 2019
Bettez from a behind the back through the legs pass from Knight. LIKE WOW pic.twitter.com/YjMHVsyQx3
She was also on the ice when Montreal seemed to tie the game, but was called for goaltender interference.
Knight will now represent the United States at the World Championships that start April 4 in Finland.
North American Prospect of the Month: Cayden Primeau
Cayden Primeau strung together incredible performances in March. In eight games, he faced 272 shots and stopped 258 of those, giving him a save percentage of .949 in what was one of his best career stretches. If it wasn’t for the last game of his college career against Cornell, where he allowed five goals, his numbers would have rocketed to a .964.
He also should have had another shutout added to his statistic if it weren’t for him giving up the net to Ryan Ruck on Northeastern’s senior appreciation night.
Still, despite the missed opportunities, Primeau retires from the Huskies as the best goalie in the program’s history. His last run with the team should have convinced any doubters of his NHL potential.
Primeau proved that, like all great goalies, he can make the difference every night for a team and carry them to victory against the odds. He brought his team to the Hockey East conference playoffs, and there beat two other strong formations in the pressure-inducing single-elimination format of the latter part of the event, and he was one of the main reasons why Northeastern made it as far as the NCAA Regionals.
His contract with the Canadiens places the finishing touch on a great college career that ended early due to the exceptional status the goalie has earned.
European Prospect of the Month: Jesse Ylönen
In an abysmal month for the European prospects, where everyone seemed to get injured at least once, Jesse Ylönen stepped up whenever he suited up for the Pelicans in Liiga, including in the playoffs. He finished the month of March with five points (1G, 4A) with one assist recorded in the post-season.
His own playoff run was interrupted after an injury in the first game against HIFK. He returned for Game 5, but with the Pelicans being down 3-1 in games, it was an uphill battle, and in the end, Ylönen’s team was knocked out in the quarter-final, in what has to be considered a disappointment.
However Ylönen has matured as a player. While he is normally found on the perimeter, his excursions into the high-danger area are becoming more frequent. An off-season with a chance to build up his body for next year should benefit him hugely, and he could be a frequent guest on these pages next season.