5 Canadiens Gorton Should Build Around

The Canadiens are back from the holiday break and having all kinds of issues with COVID-19. With 13 players on the COVID protocol list, the team plays with one line of NHL players and the rest are callups from the Laval Rocket. The season is already going down the drain, so as soon as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations (VPHO) Geoff Gorton hires a general manager (GM), they can decide if the team is better with a rebuild or reset. If it’s a rebuild they decide on, then there are five players they should build around.

Nick Suzuki

Nick Suzuki is currently the Canadiens’ first-line center, and at only 22 years of age, he has steadily increased his scoring and proven he is a top-six forward that will only improve as he matures. He was acquired when the Canadiens traded star scorer and team captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar and Suzuki. This will probably be one of former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin’s best ever deals. Tatar was quite successful during the three seasons he was with the club, and Suzuki is only climbing as a No. 1 center.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Suzuki began as a fourth-line winger but quickly earned the trust of former head coach Claude Julien and moved quickly up the lineup; by the end of his rookie season 2019-20, he was the first-line center and recorded 41 points. He then had a great postseason for the Habs that same year, scoring seven points in 10 games. Suzuki followed his rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season as he once again scored 41 points in a season of 56 games, due to the COVID-shortened season. He had another stellar playoffs, scoring 16 points in 22 games to help the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Final. This season, he has already earned an “A” on his sweater and leads the Canadiens’ forwards in ice time.

Alexander Romanov

Alexander Romanov was a surprise second-round draft pick in 2018, going 38th overall. He is a big, rugged, left-handed defenceman who hits hard and plays solid defence. He played two seasons in Russia with CSKA Moskva winning the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) Gagarin Cup (league championship) in 2018-19. Romanov joined the Canadiens in 2020-21, playing 54 games, scoring six points, and averaging 17:15 of ice time.

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

This season, he has increased his ice time to just below 19 minutes a game and has six points in 32 games, matching his career total from last season. Romanov not only uses his speed and size to create havoc in his own end, but has also emerged as a fairly good puck mover and a great skater. Romanov won’t be an offensive dynamo, but will prove to be a good top-four defenceman for years to come. He is a smart and heavy hitter, knows when to time the hit right, and gives oppositional forwards second thoughts before skating down his side with the puck.

Cole Caufield

Cole Caufield was drafted 15th overall in 2019. He was a pure goal scorer in the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in 2018-19, where he scored 72 goals and 100 points. The 72 goals broke Auston Matthew’s goal record of 55 in a season and Caufield also broke Phil Kessel‘s program goal record of 104 with 126. Caufield moved on to play for Wisconsin Badgers of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and quickly became a scoring dynamo. He scored 49 goals in 67 games over two seasons with the Badgers, and won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA top player in 2020-21.

Related: The Next Great Scorer for Les Glorieux

Caufield made his debut with the Canadiens in 2020-21, playing 10 games, scoring five points with four goals. However, it was in the playoffs that he really started opening up. He had four goals and 12 points in 20 games, helping lead the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. So far this season, the Canadiens are struggling and so is Caufield; he has only one goal and seven points in 25 games and has spent time with the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League (AHL). Although Caufield is struggling, he still can be a top scorer for the Canadiens, and the team shouldn’t be too quick to give up on him. Surrounded by the correct players, Caufield can find the open ice and use his excellent shooting skills to fill the net.

Kaiden Guhle

Kaiden Guhle is similar to Romanov, a heavy-hitting defenseman who can skate well and has some offensive flair. He currently plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL) to whom he was recently traded from the Prince Albert Raiders. Between the two clubs, he has 18 points in 20 games. Guhle was also named Team Canada’s Captain for the World Junior Championships (WJC); he had one point in two games before the tournament was cancelled due to COVID.

Kaiden Guhle, Montreal Canadiens
Kaiden Guhle Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Last season, when the WHL started late due to COVID-19, Guhle got to play three games with Laval in the AHL. He didn’t score any points but didn’t look out of place either, which is good news for the Canadiens because they could be losing Ben Chiarot after this season, and they will need another big defenceman. The good thing about Guhle is that he is more mobile than Chiarot and, at least at the WHL level, has a higher IQ in the defensive end. Guhle, along with Romanov, could give the Habs two solid defencemen in the top four for years to come.

Whoever the Candiens Draft in 2022/2023

The Canadiens are on their way to having the worst season in franchise history, and if they finish near the bottom of the league (which they should), they will get a promising young prospect. With the way the season has been going, they should be able to draft in at least the top three spots; if they do, they have a chance to draft a solid first-line player who can provide the team with an excellent offence for years to come. According to The Hockey Writers, the top three players for this year’s draft are Shane Wright, center for the Kingston Frontinacs in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL); Matthew Savoie center for the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL; and Logan Cooley, center in the USNTPD.

Shane Wright Kingston Frontenacs
Shane Wright, Kingston Frontenacs (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

If the Canadiens can draft any of these centers then, with Suzuki, they can have two solid centers leading the first two lines. If the team decides they will rebuild, fans can expect them to be near the league’s bottom for at least one more season after this. Should this be the case, the Canadiens will have another chance to draft a solid player. The 2023 Draft has two players that could be team-changing type players: Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats in the WHL and Matvei Michkov of SKA-Varyagi Im. Morozova of the Junior Hockey League (MHL). If the Canadiens can grab two of these five players in the upcoming drafts, their rebuild could be successful much faster than anticipated.

If the Canadiens rebuild with these four players already drafted and add two of the top five players from the next two drafts, they will be in excellent shape to quickly rebuild and turn around. This will work even better if they surround these players with the right group of veterans and depth. Gorton has his work cut out for him, and whoever he hires as a GM has some big decisions to make going forward.

Sign up for our regular 'Habs Newsletter' for all the latest.