The Montreal Canadiens will be entering the 2022-23 season with many question marks. How will they integrate young players to help their development? Will they take a step forward in the rebuild and be a competitive team all season long? There is also the question of which players will be traded for pieces to help with the rebuild and who will finally break out this season.
It would be far too easy to just point to some rookies, like 2022 first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky and say, “This kid will break out.” That being said, several factors could help these players break out. What is the definition of a breakout campaign in this context? It could mean a career year in points or goals, but in this case, it also could mean a player finally playing a full season, finding consistency in their two-way game, or even adding a role on special teams. Here are three players that are positioned to finally find that next gear.
Canadiens Breakout Candidate #1 – Kirby Dach
Kirby Dach’s arrival in Montreal was a bit of a surprise, and the drama of watching the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks during the first night of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft added to the shock value. It is hard to fathom why a rebuilding team like Chicago would trade a 21-year-old, 6-foot-4 centerman who was drafted third overall only three years before. But that is what they did.
Dach’s significant wrist injury could be a reason why Chicago felt trading him away for the 2022 13th-overall pick was worth it. For the Canadiens, it showed that they were ready to gamble on a young player finding his game and thriving in their system. That said, part of any breakout will mean he is fully recovered and plays the full season.
A breakout season for Dach would also mean a career-high in points. So far, that is 26 in 70 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season. In Chicago, he was their top center and had a hard time handling the pressure. This season, he will be well insulated by captain Nick Suzuki and veteran two-way center Christian Dvorak, leaving Dach to focus on a more offensive role while the other take on the more difficult defensive matchups every night. Because of this, he should be able to surpass his career high by the time New Year’s Eve parties begin.
Finally, Dach will need to dramatically improve on his horrible 32.8 percent faceoff win rate. He will even need to surpass his career high of 40.3 percent. But he has been given tools to help insulate him here as well. The added support, in this case, comes on the wing from Sean Monahan, who can mentor him into becoming a top-six center and be an option to take faceoffs on his strong side, the left, leaving Dach to take them on his strong side, the right. That, along with a recovered wrist could make a major difference in his effectiveness in the circle.
Canadiens Breakout Candidate #2 – Joel Edmundson
For Joel Edmundson, the 2021-22 season was a difficult one. He suffered from a back injury for most of the season. During the first six months of the season, he suffered through rehabilitation while his teammates suffered through the worst season in franchise history. Eventually, he returned to play in 24 games, scoring three goals and six points. Heading into the 2022-23 season, Edmundson is fully recovered, has a leadership role, and is excited to begin.
Now that he has fully recovered, he could break out in several ways. The first is by staying healthy. The second is in points. Last season, he averaged 0.35 points per game, putting him on pace for 21, which would have been a career-high, and a pace he should be able to match this season.
Finally, he will also have an expanded role on the Canadiens’ depleted blue line. Last season, he averaged 19:58 in time on ice, with approximately 2:30 of that on the penalty kill. This season, he will be relied on to play a much larger role at five-on-five (5v5) and on the penalty kill (PK), meaning more ice time and a mentorship role for young defenders like Justin Barron.
This will make him and his two seasons at $3.5 million seem very attractive to rival general managers (GM). He isn’t a darling in terms of possession statistics, with a Corsi-for of only 38.75 percent, and an expected goals percentage of 34.13. But his size (6-foot-5 and 225 pounds), experience in the playoffs, and his mobile play and solid stay-at-home style of defence, he could provide the Habs more value than just his play. In a breakout season playing every game could entice a GM to make an offer similar to the one that Ben Chiarot netted for the Canadiens.
Canadiens Breakout Candidate #3 – Jonathan Drouin
It’s the same story every September, that will finally be the season that Jonathan Drouin breaks out. In the past, it meant finally finding that missing step to reach his potential to become a star player and point producer. But at 27 years of age, that is no longer what a breakout season for him would be.
Being plagued by injuries for several seasons has hurt his overall value to the team and his level of play. It has also been a factor in his struggles with mental health, constantly having to remain focused on his recovery while being subjected to major scrutiny from the fanbase. This season, Drouin seems poised to have a fresh mindset. He has changed from his old No. 92 to the No. 27, the same number he had in Midget AAA and with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Drouin is also entering the last year of a six-year deal that pays him $5.5 million per season. No matter what happens, it’s very unlikely he will still be wearing a Canadiens sweater in 2023-24. A breakout campaign for him relies on two factors: first, he must play every game possible to his full abilities to prove he is worth that contract; and second, he needs to finally surpass his career-high in points.
Injuries have impacted Drouin’s game and his value to the team on the ice. He hasn’t played a full campaign since the 2018-19 season, which is coincidently the last time he met his career high in points. He has also never scored more than 53 points in a season, which he has done twice, once with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and once with the Canadiens.
Before his string of bad luck, he averaged approximately 0.6 points per game (PPG). However, with injuries, he averaged around 0.52 PPG. A healthy Drouin is a far more productive one, and that would increase not only his chances of a new contract but also his trade value when the Canadiens are shopping his services at the NHL trade deadline to a contending team.
A breakout for these players will mean a significant improvement over recent seasons. For the Canadiens, it will also mean an improvement in the win column. It could also significantly help general manager Kent Hughes in his rebuild plans as he would have not only added a young top-six center but also have two major trade assets in Drouin and Edmundson, who could add important future assets or even a young roster player to complement the emerging young core. While the Habs are poised to provide a more entertaining brand of hockey, these storylines could also help provide some background entertainment for the media and fans to use as social media talking points for the season to come.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.