NHL Player of the Month: Tomas Tatar
No one really expected much from Tomas Tatar when he joined the Montreal Canadiens at the start of last season. Perhaps he could have been a good middle-six winger to join the likes of Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw, a player to flirt with the 20-goal mark to help boost the Habs’ playoff chances. It didn’t take long for Claude Julien to realize that Tatar had a great complementary skill set to those of top-line players Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, and he had his new recruit spend much of the season on the top trio. The result was 25 goals and a career-high 58 points as one of the most effective lines in the game.
As good as that first season was, this season has already been better. In the final game of February he registered three points, including sending Jeff Petry away on a breakaway to grab the win in overtime.
There was talk of Tatar being a potential trade chip for the team at the deadline, but February 24 came and went with him remaining in Montreal. That seems to have been a popular decision with the player, because he responded with six points in the three games afterward.
In all, Tatar had 15 points in February, five points clear of the next player in the list. He leads the team in both goals (22) and assists (39), on pace for a 75-point campaign.
Honourable mention: Nick Suzuki
One of the players sitting at 10 points in the month was Nick Suzuki. He didn’t have the great finish that Tatar did, held pointless in the final five games, but he still found ways to impress with his abilities. This is usually the time of the season when rookies begin to slow down as the rigours of an 82-game season in the pros begins to take their toll, but Suzuki is still making eye-popping plays as we enter the final quarter.
Now that the playoff hopes are gone, Julien will be using these final 15 games to test the young players on the roster, a challenge Suzuki will be up to.
European Prospect of the Month: Alexander Romanov
The Russian defender came back stronger after his injury in the World Junior Championship. He had two assists and finished February with a plus-nine goal differential over the six games he played with CSKA in the KHL.
His stable play saw his ice time increase with his Moscow team, and he was awarded a place on a young Russian National Team that participated in the Swedish Hockey Games. Romanov finished the tournament with a neutral rating over the three losses Russia was dealt in the tournament, while playing almost 15 minutes per game.
Even though the Russians were both outplayed and outmuscled, the collective army of scouts that attended the tournament was impressed with Romanov, praising his mature game even while Russia lost. The question was not if he will make the NHL, but rather when he will be a part of the blue-blanc-rouge.
AHL Player of the Month: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
It was a bit of a shocking move that sent the 2018 first-round pick to the AHL, but it has been one that has paid off in a big way for the Finnish centre. The 19-year-old Kotkaniemi fully integrated himself into the Rocket offence, finding immediate chemistry with Jake Evans and especially Charles Hudon on Laval’s top line. With 11 points in 11 games he has adapted to the league rapidly, using his extra time to make plays that he wasn’t able to at the NHL level.
His instant connection with Hudon made his adjustment easy, as the duo not only dominated on the power play, but started to control games at even strength. Hudon scored six goals during the month, and Kotkaniemi factored in on nearly every single one, filling the role of playmaker to Hudon’s sniper.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi spins, and puts a pass on Charles Hudon's stick for his 24th goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 9, 2020
Laval leads 1-0 in Belleville. pic.twitter.com/LLzgM34dbm
His absence due to the flu has been felt by the team. He has missed the last two games, and it was clear the team missed his abundant skill on the ice in a loss to Rochester on Friday night. With recalls now limited after the deadline (Montreal has been forced to use three of its four), it looks like Kotkaniemi will be sticking with the Rocket for the foreseeable future, and will soon have old friend Jesse Ylönen playing alongside him as well.
North American Prospect of the Month: Cam Hillis
No prospects really distinguished themselves with their production this past month. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Allan McShane surpassed the point-per-game mark, and both Coles, Fonstad and Caufield, maintained their rhythm. It was Hillis who impressed the most in the February viewings.
Contrary to most of the other prospects named, Hillis plays on a team that lacks both high-end talent and depth. His play with and without the puck earned his group strings of wins in February. He scored a few game-winning goals and helped shut down stronger opponents completely on a couple of occasions.
Overall, it was mostly Hillis’s evolving abilities as a shooter that shone the spotlight on him. It could lead him to become more of a dual-threat forward in the professional game and help him translate his offence. His continued point-per-game production in February, poised to break the 80-point barrier, is another promising sign.