NHL Player of the Month: Cole Caufield
For the first time this year, Cole Caufield fell below the point-per-game mark in December, with just nine points in 15 games played. However, all of those points were goals, matching his run to end the season last April for the most productive month of his NHL career.
It was a long December for the Montreal Canadiens as the dreaded road trip to end the year once again brought mostly losses. Nick Suzuki’s production tapered off and Martin St-Louis kept trying different players on the right side of the top line, but Caufield managed to not only stay on a 40-goal pace in 2022-23, but bump that projection up a few goals.
He did all this while opposing teams know he’s one of the only threats to score a goal, still finding space to get his shot off. It’s hard to contain him when any spot in the offensive zone is a high-danger area.
There’s one more game on this long stretch on the road, and then the Canadiens are back at the Bell Centre for 10 of the final 13 games in January. There, Martin St-Louis has more control of the matchups and should be able to take some of the opposing pressure off his top scorer. Thirteen of his 21 goals have come at home, so January could be another big month for the best finisher the Canadiens have had since Max Pacioretty.
Honourable mention: Kaiden Guhle
It was pretty incredible what Kaiden Guhle was able to do to start the season, especially with the absence of Mike Matheson and Joel Edmundson for the opening weeks. In December, Montreal lost Matheson once more, and David Savard, while Edmundson continues to struggle to settle into his game. That meant that the Habs were led on the back end by the rookie, who averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in 14 games played.
Guhle tied for the team lead in even-strength points in December with six. Proving that the workload wasn’t getting to him, some of his best offensive forays came at the end of recent games when he created goals largely by himself.
Unfortunately, he’s joined Matheson and Savard on the injured list, missing the last game (a 9-2 loss in Washington) and slated to miss at least the first one of the new year. His loss will be felt in all facets of the game if he’s out for a significant amount of time.
AHL Player of the Month: Jesse Ylönen
December was a difficult month for the Laval Rocket. They battled inconsistency at every turn, often while having to shuffle their lineup due to injuries and NHL call-ups. As the month came to a close, the team got itself looking a lot more like the one that made a deep playoff run last spring. A big part of that was Jesse Ylönen beginning to step up as an offensive commander with Anthony Richard up in the NHL.
No angle?— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 4, 2022
No problem for Jesse Ylönen! pic.twitter.com/WZWFEkD7bl
With three goals and six assists in 10 games played, Ylönen paced just below a point-per-game pace while the Rocket battled through their issues. His presence was felt in a big way as the Rocket closed out the month with three wins in four games. When J.-F. Houle needed his power play to get going, he turned to Ylönen, and the shifty Finnish winger was able to create chances for the Rocket.
While always a dangerous shooting threat, Ylönen has become a dynamic puck distributor, bringing a new fold to his game that should make him a sure-fire bet to join the Canadiens not long into the new year.
European Prospect of the Month: Emil Heineman
It was a bit of a surprise when Swedish National Team head coach Sam Hallam picked Emil Heineman to the newly minted Swiss tournament, instead of the old Izvestia (in Russia). However, having gone scoreless in six SHL games before the tournament, Heineman scored three goals in three games. He was used mainly on the fourth line and on the second power-play unit and the deployment was successful.
It is these three goals that makes him the player of the month, as the national team is a bigger stage than the SHL.
He still struggled in his own end, and was a bit sheltered by the coaching team, but it is the same kind of role he could have in the NHL down the line.
He added a goal to his tally in the SHL in the last game of 2022, after having gone scoreless in nine SHL games.
North American Prospect of the Month: Joshua Roy
Roy narrowly edges out the wide array of competitors on the North American side thanks to his invitation to the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship, and especially, the progress he’s displayed at this tournament.
The Canadiens’ fifth-round pick in 2021 started the month off with five points in three games with the Sherbrooke Phoenix before making his way over to the Maritimes to partake in Canada’s hunt for another gold medal. He is up to six points in four group-stage matches, with the medal round about to start.
He has earned accolades from Connor Bedard, Logan Stankoven, and Team Canada head coach Dennis Williams for his goal-scoring, his physical tools, and his intensity. He’s been called a jack of all trades. On top of that, he’s worked his way up to Bedard’s line by playing a complete, 200-foot game. But all this is par for the course when it comes to Roy’s skill set.
What’s new, though, is the skating.
Roy wasn’t truly displaying his newfound footspeed on every shift in the QMJHL, where his off-puck positioning, physicality, and sound habits allow him to take it easy. However, he has looked a lot more speedy and comfortable in transition for Canada at this tournament.
Transition play was, up to this point, a major flaw in Roy’s game. He would delegate early, place his teammates in trouble as a result, and offer little pace-pushing support due to a lack of speed off the rush. In this tournament, however, we can see Roy carry the puck himself comfortably into the offensive zone, using crossovers and handling fakes to open up skating lanes, and even when placed on a line with two elite transition players in Bedard and Stankoven, he’s resisted the urge to throw them the puck early and let them carry the load.
Progress in key areas of his game makes Roy the standout for the month of December.
The podcast features Matt Drake and Patrik Bexell;
And Jason Paul’s graph that Patrik referenced when the conversation about Kaiden Guhle started:
Here's a look at the D-men performance using expected goals as well. With actual goals in script. (per 60 rate)— Jason Paul (@WaveIntel) January 2, 2023
1. Guhle - high %age of his TOI is against elite comp.
2. Xhekaj - underlying stats not great, but actuals are good.#GoHabsGo ... pic.twitter.com/5mQXAdI5LS