When this summer’s NHL free agency opened on July 1, many fans of the Montreal Canadiens expected general manager Marc Bergevin to make a big splash. The team did place an offer sheet on Carolina Hurricanes young,skilled forward Sebastian Aho, but it was quickly matched. Bergevin did replace defenseman Jordie Benn with Ben Chiarot, but what did he do to help his team’s forward group going into next season?
Bergevin surprised fans when hetraded forward Andrew Shaw back to the Chicago Blackhawks for draft picks. Shaw was coming off a successful season picking up 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 63 games. Many Canadiens fans thought the trade was to free up cap space to make a big free-agent acquisition, but after the failed offer sheet and a few depth signings, things were quiet for the Canadiens.
Perhaps falling under the radar was the Canadiens signing unrestricted free agent forward Nick Cousins to a one year, $1 million deal. The 26-year-old center stands at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds. Cousins spent the previous two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes and had a career-best in point totals this past season picking up 27 points.
Cousins’ Career Thus Far
Cousins was originally drafted in the third round of the 2011 NHL entry draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. He had a very successful junior career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. In his final season with the Greyhounds, the forward registered 103 points in 64 games played. The Belleville, Ontario native would continue to produce offensively when he graduated from junior.
In his second season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Cousins notched 56 points in 64 games. The following season (2015-16), he split time in the AHL and NHL. That season, in 38 AHL games, he picked up 38 points and had 11 points in the NHL in 36 games.
For most of Cousins’ NHL career, he has primarily been a depth player. Last season, however, his point totals suggest that he can potentially be more than a fourth-liner. Comparing his point totals to players on the Canadiens’ roster last season, would put him just below Artturi Lehkonen (who had 31 points) and ahead of Joel Armia (who had 23 points).
Where Does Cousins Fit in the Lineup?
This upcoming preseason is going to be an interesting one for the Canadiens. The team has done an excellent job of building a strong prospect pool and some of their top prospects will be fighting for positions on the roster this fall. The two most prominent young players who will be attempting to make the big club are forwards Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling.
For me, Cousins’ fit on the Canadiens roster depends heavily on the play of these two young forwards. If one or both of Suzuki and Poehling turn heads at camp and force the Canadiens to keep them on the roster, Cousins would most likely find himself at an extra forward. If the prospects need extra time to develop and start the season with the Laval Rocket, Cousins could find himself part of the Canadiens’ bottom-six forwards.
The Canadiens forward group is a unique one. It is no secret that the team is missing an elite game-changer up front, but that hasn’t stopped them from scoring goals. The Canadiens are one of the deepest teams in terms of depth scoring in the entire league. They depend on all four of their lines to chip in offensively. Cousins most likely will not find himself alongside players like Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar, but he will be part of a bottom-six forward group that plays a decent amount and is relied on to produce.
An Opportunity Knocks
For fans of the Canadiens, not landing a superstar forward like Aho or Matt Duchene was probably upsetting. For Cousins, it is an opportunity to prove he is more than a depth NHL player. Similar to fellow Canadiens forward Jordan Weal, Cousins will have an opportunity to play in scenarios he may have not gotten with other NHL teams.
Last season, the Canadiens acquired Weal at the trade deadline. Fans were not sure what to expect from Weal but were happily surprised with the impact he had. In 16 games with the Canadiens, he registered 10 points largely because he was given power-play time and played all over the lineup.
Expect the new addition to be given a similar opportunity Weal was given this season. Cousins fits the Canadiens’ new style of play (fast and skilled) and with no big-name free agent forwards being signed by the team, along with the departure of Shaw, this could potentially be a breakout year for Cousins.