Nick Cousins is a versatile forward who can slide up and down the lineup. He finished the year in the Arizona Coyotes’ bottom-six, flanked by Alex Galchenyuk, but he also spent some time with Clayton Keller through the multiple changes to the team’s formation.
Cousins plays the pivot position, where he was usually deployed by the Coyotes, but he can just as well slot in on the wing. He is known for a solid two-way game, being effective especially on the forecheck where he doesn’t shy away from physical engagement despite his smaller frame. That being said, Cousins didn’t see much time on the penalty kill. The coaching staff of the Coyotes preferred him for more of a scoring touch in the bottom of the lineup.
Cousins doesn’t have standout skills. His hands and feet are about average for the NHL, but he is better than most at finding quiet areas in the zone. He isn’t a bruiser around the slot and blue paint, but picks the right times to make an entrance in the high-danger area to one-time shots or deflect the odd puck. Due to his penchant for this type of game, he was a net-front presence for the Coyotes’ power play, sometimes even on the first unit.
This was probably a consequence of Arizona’s multiple injuries throughout the year and losing a player like Nick Schmaltz for the second half of the season, but it is still an indication that Cousins can help out the offence when needed.
“Average” is also a fair word to use when it comes to his effect on his team’s play from a possession perspective. With him on the ice, the Coyotes generated slightly more shots and allow slightly fewer shots against.
Analysis of his individual metrics reveal a potential diamond in the rough. While not great at developing a play from the beginning, Cousins is surprisingly adept at both shooting and setting up scoring chances. The newest member of the Canadiens also was quite proficient at entering the zone with the puck and directing play to high-danger areas.
His potential shines through in specific sequences where he flashes talents a tier above the usual replacement type player, like in the sequence below. On top of being a great move from the player, it was also an important one for the Coyotes. Cousins scored the game-winning goal; the only marker of the game against a rival Arizona was battling for a playoff spot.
The centreman also has a bit of an edge to his game, and is recognized among his peers for it. He was voted the fifth-best trash-talker in the NHLPA’s annual player poll (as this often works, Cousins was also named the fourth-worst). One way or another, he seems to make quite the impression on opponents when on the ice.
He will have to battle for a spot on the fourth line in training camp, as the Habs have a lot more depth than the Coyotes have enjoyed. He could bring a different element to it, but he doesn’t have the skill and playmaking upside of Jordan Weal or the experience on the penalty kill of Nate Thomson. Great showings from Nick Suzuki or Ryan Poehling could also rapidly push Cousins way down the depth chart.
He represents more competition for the rapidly growing Montreal forward corps. It’s something that is always healthy for a team as it forces the players into providing their best showing early in the year.
The depth of the lineup could also be a sign that moves are coming in the next few days, especially with the contract negotiations for Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon.