Given the depth of their forward group, the Montreal Canadiens were expected to score a lot this season and struggle defensively as their young defencemen adjust to the speed and physicality of the NHL. Through the first 11 games, the opposite has been true with the notable exception being the impressive numbers put up by Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield so far in 2022-23. Together, they have scored 13 of the team’s 30 goals, which represents 43.3% of Montreal’s production.
The new cornerstones of the franchise are producing above a point-per-game pace and are well on their way to posting career-best tallies for goals, assists, and points. They are both playing on a whole new level this season and have quickly become the Habs’ most dangerous duo in decades. The best part is, they are only scratching the surface and have yet to reach their full potential.
Suzuki and Caufield’s chemistry at the rink is helped by the fact that they are close friends off the ice. Their personalities complement each other just as much as their games do. Together, they have collected more points this year than any other teammates aged 23 and under around the league.
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It appears that instead of burdening him with extra pressure, the captaincy has given Suzuki superpowers. The 23-year-old has posted six goals and 13 points in 11 games. He’s not only embracing his new role, but he’s also making his teammates around him better and firmly establishing himself as a no. 1 centre in the NHL. His vision and passing ability make him the perfect candidate to set up scoring chances for Caufield whose shot is dangerous from anywhere in the offensive zone. The last time a Canadiens player maintained a point-per-game production for an entire season was in 2007-08 when Alex Kovalev finished inside the Top 10 in league scoring with 35 goals and 84 points in 82 games. While Suzuki may not get to that plateau right away, the 70-point mark is probably more reasonable this season, it is certainly within his reach in the near future especially if he continues to score on the road the way he has out of the gate in 2022-23.
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Since head coach Martin St. Louis took over behind the Canadiens’ bench, Caufield is one of the most prolific goal scorers in the league, putting himself in the same rarified air as Kirill Kaprizov, Auston Matthews, Elias Lindholm, and Steven Stamkos during that span. This season, he continues to cause fits for his opponents because of his relentless puck pursuit and ability to find space to get off his world-class shot. The result is seven goals and 12 points in 11 games. His six goals at even strength put him tied for second in the NHL in that category behind only Erik Karlsson. He’s poised to become Montreal’s first 40-goal scorer since Vincent Damphousse in 1993-94.
Who Will Complete the Trio?
Two is good, but three is better. One of the big questions hanging over the Habs as their rebuild progresses is who will be the chosen one to play alongside Suzuki and Caufield to create a truly elite top line?
So far, several players have auditioned for the role with varying degrees of success. Josh Anderson worked for a while thanks to his size and speed. Right now, Kirby Dach looks really good on the wing next to his new teammates because he carries the puck well and creates opportunities for them. The problem is that the Canadiens will likely want to develop him as their second-line centre. Juraj Slafkovsky, this summer’s no. 1 overall pick, has all the attributes to be the missing piece and will get an extended look at some point. Perhaps it’s someone they acquire or draft down the line, but regardless, Suzuki and Caufield have changed the perception of the Canadiens’ offence all on their own.
Since the dynasty years when they were winning Stanley Cups and star players littered their roster, the Habs have been led at forward by the likes of Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Tomas Plekanec, and Max Pacioretty Regardless of their accomplishments, none of them could lift fans out of their seats and be difference-makers the way the Suzuki and Caufield can. Their careers may be just beginning, but they are already the most exciting duo Montreal has seen in years. The Canadiens now have two of the pillars required to build a longstanding Stanley Cup contender and the key will be to surround them with the missing pieces.