I think it's fair to say that so far this year, the Canadiens have exceeded expectations. Think back to the start of the season, after yet another summer of no free agent signing (not for lack of trying), most people believed that the Habs would be a bubble team more than likely to miss the playoffs. As I write these lines though, the Canadiens are 7th in the league, 2nd in their division behind Boston, 4th in the league in goals for, 15th in the power play department with a 20.3% success rate but 30th when it comes to penalty killing. Of course, there's still plenty of hockey to be played and today's position doesn't mean that the Canadiens will join the Spring dance for sure, but it does give reasons to be optimistic. That being said, how did you think the players fared individually? Here are my thoughts:
Carey Price: B+
To be fair, I expected more from Price this season. Yes he has been red hot lately and has stolen some games but he did it against teams he shouldn't even have had to shine for the Canadiens to win. Remember that 5-4 win against Boston? That was a huge emotional win but in that one, Price really didn't make a difference. Overall though, he currently is in the lead in the league with 10 wins, is 13th in save percentage with a solid .917 and 18th in goals against average at 2.61. Simply put, Carey Price has not been the Canadiens' best player so far this season and yet, the Canadiens are doing well...this is both surprising and reassuring.
Keith Kinkaid: C-
Kinkaid was signed to lighter Price's workload, it was hoped that perhaps, he would be able to play a good solid 20 to 22 games and make it so Price would only have to be between the pipes for 60 games. So far though, it sure doesn't look like he's the answer. In 4 games, he's got one win, one loss and 2 OT losses. His sole win was acquired in spite of him and not thanks to him while his numbers are astronomical: 4.23 GAA and .887 save percentage. If it wasn't for his performance on Saturday night, I would have given him a D. Hopefully though, this was a sign of things to come and he's turned a corner.
Shea Weber: B+
The start of the season was a little shaky but he's now hit full stride and is looking good again. Of course, he's still slow and you will see speedy forwards go around him but it's impossible to fault him for of offensive contribution. He currently sits 9th in defenseman scoring with 17 points in 20 games and he's already got 6 goals to his name. He now averages just over 23 minutes of ice time per game and we'll see if that's a rhythm he can stick too all through the season.
Victor Mete: B+
If there was a most improved award, I'd give it to Mete. It's not just the fact that he has finally scored a goal (well, 3 actually) but it's the way he handles himself. He looks so much more confident out there, he takes good decisions and seems to know better when to join the attack and when to hang back. Mete is not a number 2 d-man though and I've liked him better when he was paired up with Jeff Petry on the 2nd pair. Time will tell how who he'll be used with in the coming months but it seems to me that the future is bright for him.
Jeff Petry: A
To me, Petry has been a rock this season. When Weber was struggling early on, Petry was the one stepping up and playing a ton. Much like when the captain was injured, he is now able to take on a bigger role and munch some minutes. He's also currently 7th in team scoring and 6th in shots taken. When Marc Bergevin traded a second round pick and a conditional fifth round pick to the Oilers for him, he scored big time. Of course, the narrative would have been different had he not been able to sign him to a contract extension but he did.
Ben Chiarot: B-
Coming to a new team isn't easy and it was quite obvious that it wasn't for Chiarot. He struggled to settle in the Canadiens' game system at first but he now seems to have found his footing. He currently has 44 hits and while he's not the most speedy guy on the ice, if he gets his timing right he can hit you and hit you good. To me, he's been an acquired taste this season and I've been rather impressed lately when he's been paired up with Weber. That B- grade is well on its way to improving.
Brett Kulak: B-
He's only played 12 out of the 20 games so far and he remains a third pairing guy so for the role he has, I believe he's doing good honest work. Besides, I rate him much more than Reilly or Folin and he seems to be settling in nicely alongside Cale Fleury.
Cale Fleury: B
For a guy who's only got one year of professional hockey under his belt, the 20 year old is doing great! He's only got one point to his name, his first career goal, but what a beauty that was. He's not exactly relied on for scoring anyhow and it's also worth noting that with 45 hits, he is 43rd in the league in that department and 3rd on the team behind Petry and Armia.
Not played enough to rate: Mike Reilly and Christian Folin
Tomas Tatar: A-
The team leading scorer, Tuna is producing to the tune of a point per game and should he maintain that insane rhythm, he would have his best season ever. It would however be rather surprising if he did. Where does the minus come from? Well, all the penalties of course...Especially since some of those were really lazy penalties. Thankfully though, it looks like the momentary demotion has done the job and he's learnt his lesson. Hard to know if Julien would have let him out of the doghouse if Drouin didn't get injured but you know what they say, one man's loss is another man's gain.
Philip Danault: A
Who would have thought that he would become such a good centre when he was first obtained from Chicago! 15 points, 30 shots, a 53.28% face-off win percentage and pivoting the first line, Danault truly is Julien's man. He's no Patrice Bergeron but you can bet that's what Julien hopes to turn him into.
Brendan Gallagher: A
What hasn't already been said about the gritty little warrior? Gallagher is the heart of this team, he's forever the spark plug and has a knack for scoring important goals. When this team needs a jump, who you gonna call? Gallagher! Third in scoring but first in goals scored, he takes no days off and his compete level is like no other. Even after two serious hand injuries, the man cannot stop himself from blocking shots...there is no scaring him straight that's for sure.
Max Domi: B
The team's best forward last season is going through a bit of a dry spell, he's got 3 points in his last 10 games and 1 goal in his last 15 games. 13 points in 20 games is by no means a disaster and it has to be said that he's not exactly been given the best wingers, but if the Canadiens are to make the playoffs, Domi needs to find that other gear he spent all of last year's in. On the bright side of things, it took him 20 games to get his first penalties so it did look like his discipline had improved. Perhaps Saturday was just a momentarily lapse. Hopefully, some chemistry starts to operate between Suzuki and him.
Jonathan Drouin: A
As soon as the calendar flipped to October, the Drouin nouveau was released. His training camp and preseason games were worrying but he soon made us all forget that by working his heart out on the ice and providing the all too often absent last season second effort. With 15 points in 19 games, he's 4th in team scoring and that's with less ice-time than his fellow scoring leaders. He did start the season on the 3rd line before making his way up the line-up and it has been great to finally see some consistency from him. The timing of his wrist injury is just awful right now and if his agent is to be believed, he'll be out of action for 8 weeks which could spell big trouble for the Canadiens...that's how important he's become to this team.
Joel Armia: B
He started the season insanely well but has since slowed down and become himself again. He scored 6 goals in October but hasn't found the back of the net since October 24th. At least he is using his big frame to lay down some hits but I truly believe that his place is not on the top-6.
Artturi Lehkonen: C
Yes, he is good without the puck but good grief is it torture when you see a scoring chance land on his stick... It's so hard to believe that he scored 18 goals in his first season in the league. Furthermore, he's the second most punish player on the roster with 14 penalty minutes. Hopefully, we've seen the last of him in a top-6 role and he'll stay put on the 3rd line.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi: C-
Just 3 points in 13 games...the sophomore jinx is alive and well to say the least. Still, I believe he's worth waiting for and there is such a thing as growing pains. I think he'd benefit from being reunited with Joel Armia who was able to create some space for him last season. Time to bring back the Finnish line and see if they can indeed finish now.
Nick Suzuki: B+
By far the biggest surprise of the year. At development camp, he looked like he was going to need some seasoning in the AHL before graduating but come training camp, the young man came to play! Straight from the get go, it was obvious that Julien trusted him, even using him on the penalty kill... It's a familiar sight to see number 14 on the ice when the Canadiens are a man down but it's almost weird to see the name Suzuki on the shirt rather than Plekanec. With 9 points in 20 games and a plus 3 rating, he's managed to make his way to the top 6 (thanks to Drouin's injury but still) and he's even taken Domi's spot at centre (for now in any case).
Paul Byron: C-
Not a good season for the Roadrunner v. 2.0, just 4 points in 19 games and he looks like he's not sure what his role on the team is anymore. The knee injury couldn't have come at a worst time for Byron because while he's healing, other guys will be trying to steal his spot which he was on the verge of losing in any case.
Nate Thompson: A
This is what a 4th line centre should be. He leads by exemple and gives his all every game, he's appreciated by his teammates who now call him "uncle Nate" and he's the best face-off percentage wins wise.
Nick Cousins: B
It took a while before he got his shot because of a back injury but now that he's had it, he's found some chemistry with Thompson and a spot on the 4th line is his to lose.
Jordan Weal: B-
It's hard to grade Weal, he's moved up and down the line-up, on and off the power play and even out of the line-up. He's got 4 points in 12 games and is a -3 but ever since reintegrating the line-up, he's had some good energy and he looks like he wants to stay in there. I'm hoping to see him back on the 4th line with Thompson and Cousin because those 3 together had tremendous energy.
There you have it, I know there aren't that many bad grades in there but considering how well the Habs have done this season and the fact that they've done it by committee, you've got to give everyone a bit of the credit. Of course, these are just my opinions and I'm open to debating them, let me know which grade you'd give everyone (or just some of the players because grading them all takes quite a while).