Top 5 Canadiens Feel-Good Stories in 2022-23

Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Farrell scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot against the Florida Panthers on March 30 in his home debut. As far as feel-good stories go, it ranks right up there.

Sean Farrell Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Farrell – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Granted, Farrell’s goal came in his second game. So, it’s not exactly the same as Mario Lemieux scoring on his first-ever shift way back when. To a degree though, it’s splitting hairs, especially considering Habs fans have suffered through another losing season, after they finished last in 2021-22.

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

In other words, Canadiens fans will take what they can get. And, yet, Farrell’s accomplishment probably doesn’t even crack the top five, in terms of stories that should make them all warm and fuzzy inside, proof positive that maybe things aren’t as dire as they might seem on the surface. Here are the actual top five:

5. Nick Suzuki Maintains Ironman Streak

Knock on wood, Nick Suzuki has miraculously stayed healthy, playing every game up to now the last few years. Through the team’s record-setting amount of injuries, Suzuki has been the only Canadiens skater to accomplish the apparently near-impossible feat of keeping from getting hurt (on this specific team).

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

The owner of the NHL’s fourth-highest active ironman streak, Suzuki has also continued to set a high bar in terms of level of on-ice play. He leads the Canadiens with a career-high 61 points, consistently showing why he’s team captain and why he was the Habs’ sole representative at the NHL All-Star Game (two years running).

Latest News & Highlights

In some ways, the ironman streak is just icing on the cake. However, everyone already knew Suzuki was a gamer. He just reinforced it with his play this season. The fact he avoided the infirmary to the extent he has under current circumstances is what’s truly unbelievable and awe-inspiring.

4. Johnathan Kovacevic Becomes NHLer

It may surprise you to learn the player directly behind Suzuki in games played this season is defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic. Considering he was a waiver-wire pick-up, it’s an impressive stat, but one that won’t draw as much attention as his modest point totals, i.e., two goals and 14 assists.

Johnathan Kovacevic Manitoba Moose
Current-Montreal Canadiens defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic – (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In fact, based on those point totals, Kovacevic arguably doesn’t draw too much attention to himself in general… which is kind of the (lack of) point(s). Even though his offensive totals may be seen as a detriment, as a defenseman he’s done his job of keeping the puck out of the team’s net with a second-ranked plus/minus plus-3, stabilizing the right side in the process. Also in the process, he’s conceivably earned a full-time job with the Canadiens into the medium term at least.

3. Rafael Harvey-Pinard Breaks Out

Coincidentally, forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard had played the same amount of NHL games as Kovacevic entering this season: a meager four apiece. Furthermore, just like Kovacevic has impressed with his strong play to conceivably earn a job past this season, so has Harvey-Pinard, just in more grandiose fashion.

Harvey-Pinard has scored 14 goals (and five assists) in 32 games since being called up. That’s a 36-goal pace over 82 games, which has him tied for seventh in the rookie goal-scoring race. However, the next-highest name above him in terms of games played is Columbus Blue Jacket Kirill Marchenko with 51 (ranked fourth with 20). Everyone else has played over double Harvey-Pinard’s total.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens Rafael Harvey-Pinard – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Granted, no one should expect Harvey-Pinard to keep up the same pace next season. Even so, that there’s even a conversation of how he’ll fare with the Canadiens in 2023-24 is telling. He’s effectively a lock to round out the team’s top nine if not top-six forwards next season. As a seventh-round pick in 2019, the Saguenay native effectively makes for at least one heartwarming homegrown success story on this list. He’s not the only one though.

2. Samuel Montembeault’s Emergence in Net

To be clear, Canadiens goalie Samuel Montembeault has further to go to prove himself as having a long-term future in net with this team. His stats line isn’t exactly impressive at 15-15-3 with a 3.30 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. However, he’s definitely shown glimpses of what he can do were he on a stronger team based on the underlying analytics.

Montembeault hasn’t officially wrested away the No. 1 job from Jake Allen, but he’s clearly got more upside as a 26-year-old, who, prior to this season, was seen as a likely career minor-leaguer. Even if he only tops out as a backup in the NHL, he’ll have done so by proving many wrong (yours included), but he’s someone for whom it’s easy to root (at least when a potentially high draft pick isn’t on the line and he’s regularly stealing points in the standings).

Related: Canadiens Who Are the Most Overrated Ahead of 2022-23

It remains to be seen how far Montembeault rides his modest wave of success. However, there’s at least an opening for him to make further waves, with goaltending being the biggest hole on the team right now, following the untimely departure of Carey Price to “retirement.” Almost everyone’s pulling for Montembeault in the sense the Canadiens need someone to take the reins in net. It could be him.

1. Mike Matheson Makes Good as Hometown Hero

Defenseman Mike Matheson is one point away from tying his career-high 31 points… in only 42 games. Now, it doesn’t necessarily make him the No. 1 defenseman the Canadiens need, but it does make general manager Kent Hughes look like a genius after trading away an unhappy Jeff Petry (and Ryan Poehling) to get him (and a fourth-round pick).

Few probably anticipated Matheson finding this much success with the Canadiens, even with the promise of more ice time after having been buried on the depth chart on his previous teams. However, as a first-round pick in 2012, he always had the upside. It’s clearly a case of him making good on the chance to realize it with a team and career-high 24:26 per game… in his hometown of Montreal of all places.

Mike Matheson Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matheson may not have received the same fanfare of, let’s say, “other” native Quebecers who have returned. Jonathan Drouin comes to mind as one example. RDS’ wishes for the Canadiens to sign an in-decline Vincent Lecavalier literally a decade ago is another. True story, within hours of Lecavalier getting bought out in 2013, the network had a Photoshopped image of him in a Habs uniform on its site. And Matheson has a chance to have more of an impact moving forward than either one of them.

True, Matheson plays the left side on defense, which is stacked with prospects like Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj. Petry meanwhile led an otherwise bare right side. Nevertheless, it was unlikely to ever be a perfect trade, considering Petry’s trade request. In contrast, it’s hard to believe Matheson would want to leave like Petry, based on his roots and how well the move has worked out. It’s harder still to believe, even with the logjam on the left, the Canadiens wanting to move him either.