NHL Player of the Month: Cole Caufield
When Dominique Ducharme was fired on February 9, Cole Caufield, a player favoured to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year when the season began, had one goal and seven assists, and many were wondering why the team didn’t just send him to the AHL to develop versus lesser competition. He’s played eight games under new head coach Martin St. Louis and added six goals and four assists in that time, now ranking sixth on the team with 18 points.
It’s been a remarkable, immediate turnaround for the Habs’ prized selection from the 2019 NHL Draft, addressing many of the concerns that had begun to creep in about how the Canadiens were handling one of the best prospects in the game. He’s getting plenty of ice time with quality linemates, and he’s become the player opposing teams need to watch out for.
The only questions about him now are how many goals he can score before the end of the season. It’s unlikely that he maintains this current pace of 0.75 goals per game, but with his elite-level shot, bursting confidence, and zero pressure it wouldn’t be shocking to see such production over the final 29 games. The fact that most of this offence is coming from situations other than the power play suggests there’s even more to unlock.
Honourable mention: Samuel Montembeault
Montembeault was another player on a long list of Canadiens who had major struggles in the final days under Ducharme. At one point he and Cayden Primeau were sharing the net every night because neither could make saves. Then St. Louis arrived with his new coaching “concepts” that made defending much simpler for the skaters in front of him, and by extension things became much easier for the netminder, who wasn’t dealing with opponents zipping pucks across in front of him with no resistance.
When he first donned the Habs jersey to start the year, his athleticism was obvious, with some icredible lateral movement, but his positioning was off and he often looked jittery. Now he’s settled into the crease, getting regular playing time, and also has a competent partner, Andrew Hammond, who can give him a full day off, and he looks like a different player. Montembeault ended February by shutting out the Buffalo Sabres, and has allowed two goals or fewer in four of his last five starts.
AHL Player of the Month: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard
In a month that saw a lot of returns from injuries, and then suddenly more injuries, one of the most consistent players was top-line winger Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. With five goals and four assists in 13 games, Harvey-Pinard was always there when the Rocket needed a big goal.
His crowning moment in February was an incredible three-point effort against the Toronto Marlies in a wild 6-4 win. He kicked off the night with a goal by driving the net to finish off a perfect one-time setup from J.-S. Dea, and ended it by burying a short-handed empty-net goal to seal the win.
Rocket Goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 24, 2022
: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard(8)
: J.S. Dea
: Jesse Ylönen pic.twitter.com/L8smQ0SaQN
Perhaps more impressive in the win over the Marlies was his vision as a playmaker, as he had the only assist on Joël Teasdale’s game-winner. Harvey-Pinard won a loose puck battle, fought through a stick-check, and then slid the puck into open ice for Teasdale to step into and blister home.
Rocket Goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 24, 2022
: Joël Teasdale(3)
: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard pic.twitter.com/3lne4Dkf9u
With injuries still hampering the Canadiens slightly right now and turnover coming ahead of the NHL trade deadline, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see Harvey-Pinard given another NHL look. His feisty play style might thrive under new head coach Martin St. Louis.
Honourable mention: Kevin Poulin
Initially signed as an AHL emergency option and likely starter in the ECHL, Kevin Poulin was a saving grace for the Rocket in February. In his starts he went 5-0-1 with a .945 save percentage . Given the amount of divisional games the Rocket played, and the amount of bodies missing due to a number of factors, Poulin’s performance was commendable. Without his steady hand in net, it’s likely the Rocket are on the outside looking in at the playoff race right now.
North American Prospect of the Month: Joshua Roy
For the first time in a while, it’s not even close on the North American prospects side. Roy has been absolutely lights-out since the QMJHL’s return to play on February 4, extending a scoring streak that started before the COVID-related break to 12 games. In the month of February, Roy took part in 10 games, and earned a remarkable tally of 26 points.
His 1.97 points-per-game average through 37 games (73 points) is by far the highest of any prospect in the QMJHL playing their draft-plus-one season, and he currently leads the entire league by a margin of 10 points. For reference, here are the best such QMJHL seasons of the past 20 years (via EliteProspects):
If you look at some of the names above and below his, Roy is in excellent company. There are still minor concerns about his game — his skating, both in terms of posture and explosivity, needs a good amount of work, and he can drag his feet on occasions — but his strengths of playmaking, shooting, and processing speed, as well as his improvements on the defensive side of the puck and in his conditioning, bode well for his future at the NHL level.
Add on top of that the fact that Roy would not have been eligible to be drafted until this June if he had been born just over a month later, and you have a prospect who’s very, very exciting within the Habs’ pipeline. Most of the other names on this list were late birthdays, some a full 10 months ahead of Roy in their development.
He’s young, he’s improving rapidly, and he seems much more motivated now that he’s back playing in Québec. Those are all great signs of what’s to come for Roy, although I’d be interested in seeing how he’ll be able to replicate his current success next season, with his partner in crime Xavier Parent aging out of the league by then.
European Prospect of the Month: Frederik Dichow
The Danish goalie played a great game in the Olympics against the team from Russia that went on to claim silver. In the game, Dichow saved 31 of 32 shots, and was a key player for a Danish team that had the chance to draw even until the last seconds of the game when an empty-net goal was scored to make it 2-0.
The Danish goalie was stellar upon his return to Sweden where he notched a 41 save shutout, including some stellar saves to shore up the top-six position that Kristianstad still holds.
This makes it five out of five for The Gnome in regard to this player of the month nomination.
Honourable mention: Oliver Kapanen
In what has been an on off season for the Finnish prospect, February found him starting to get back on track. While he hasn’t played all the games for KalPa, he showed some flashes of his potential when he notched two assists in the game against SaiPa on the February 5. Kapanen has been out of the lineup since February 8 without being listed as injured.