3 Canadiens Underachieving to Start Season

The Montreal Canadiens are off to a good start, considering they were supposed to be one of the league’s worst teams based on last year’s showing. So far this season, they are .500 and just four points from a playoff spot, which is very good, given the team is without superstar Carey Price and has four rookie defencemen in the lineup. Nick Suzuki’s line is leading the way, and he and Cole Caufield are scoring at about a point-per-game pace. However, in Montreal, it is not all rainbows and sunshine, and their players are not meeting their expectations. Here is a look at three players who are underachieving in a big way.

Jake Evans

Jake Evans is coming off a career season with 13 goals and 29 points in 72 games, and he looked like he was coming into his own as a good bottom-six, two-way forward. His production was more impressive because he was a point shy of 30 points and played with a carousel of players due to injuries and lineup changes; most of those players were at an American Hockey League (AHL) level. He was fueling speculation that he could have an even better season this year under head coach Martin St. Louis, who was more offensively minded than his predecessor, Dom Ducharme. Before the acquisition of Sean Monahan, he was considered the starting third-line center going into the season.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Evan’s work in the faceoff circle has improved incredibly from last season, jumping from 49.8 percent to 53.5 percent. Other than that, however, the rest of his play has been disappointing; his Corsi is an unbelievable 33.3 percent, which is horrifying for a shutdown forward whose main job is to keep possession away from his opponents. His offensive numbers are even worse after 25 games; he has only three points, all assists, while around this time last season, he had four goals and six points. Like most others on the team, his offence did pick up significantly under St. Louis, which is why it’s hard to imagine his offensive numbers would be so porous this season. It wouldn’t be an issue if his possession stats were better, but it seems his all-around game has taken three steps back when many hoped it would leap forward.

Evgenii Dadonov

Evgenii Dadonov was traded to the Canadiens from the Las Vegas Golden Knights for Shea Weber’s contract. With an expiring deal, Montreal management saw it as a chance to be able to move him at the deadline for assets. He is an annual 20-plus goal scorer with excellent secondary scoring and fairly good defensive capabilities. If Dadonov would play to his usual production, you could argue that the Habs could get a high draft pick or fairly good prospect in return to help the team’s rebuild.

Related: Canadiens’ GM Comments Reveal Rebuild Process

As this season has progressed, Dadonov has been more bust than boom. So much to the point that the Canadiens might end up keeping him for the season and letting him go for nothing when it ends. He has four points in 21 games played and only two goals, which sets him on pace to score seven goals this season, far from his usual 20. The upside is he does have two points in his last two games and is starting to look more comfortable playing in Montreal. If he doesn’t go on a tear soon, however, it will be hard for the general manager (GM) Kent Hughes to move him at the deadline.

Joel Armia

Former GM Marc Bergevin acquired Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets, and he is a former first-round pick with excellent stick skills and a big body. The hope was he could be a solid third-line player who could score 20 goals. Things started well for Armia in Montreal in 2018-19; he had 13 goals and 23 points in just 57 games in his first season with the Habs. He followed that season up with a career year, scoring 16 goals and 30 points in 58 games, and it looked like if he could stay healthy, he’d be precisely what Montreal thought they were getting when they acquired him: a bottom-six, twenty-goal scorer with excellent defensive abilities.

Joel Armia Montreal Canadiens
Joel Armia, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Armia has struggled so badly this season that he never got his first point until the 24th game of the season for the Canadiens, which happened to be his 14th appearance. Injuries have played a massive part in his production decrease over the years, and the biggest issue is his cap hit, which is $3.5 million. Bergevin signed him after an injury-riddled 14-point season, which left many people scratching their heads. The biggest disappointment is he has so much talent and skill and looks like he could break out at any moment but never does. He has the size, speed and all the tools to be a solid producing two-way forward, but game after game, he produces very little.

I know a few people reading this will ask where Jonathan Drouin is or maybe think Rem Pitlick should be on this list. Well, you’re not wrong, but these guys are playing regularly now. Drouin is injured again, and Pitlick has been either a healthy scratch or playing in Laval with the Rocket. I’ll give them honourable mentions, but in Drouin’s case, he is just playing to what he has been playing his entire career here, so if you’re still disappointed, then you have been holding out hope for too long that he would meet the way too high expectations that were presented to everyone when he was acquired. Hopefully, these other players can turn their games around and be more productive, but if they don’t, Hughes has a lot of dead weight on this team.