4 Big Questions for the Montreal Canadiens in 2020-2021

Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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Phillip Danault (24)
Phillip Danault #24 of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

3. Do the Canadiens have the center depth and skill to be successful?

Phillip Danault is the most experienced center for Montreal. In an 82-game season, he is a 40-50 point producer. He is a very valuable two-way forward. He can kill penalties and take important face-offs. But he is not going to consistently be setting up one-timers to Toffoli or defenseman Shea Weber.

The responsibility of driving more offense will fall on 21-year-old Nick Suzuki and 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Suzuki was drafted 13th overall in 2017 by the Vegas Golden Knights and was acquired by Montreal in the Max Pacioretty trade. Kotkaniemi was drafted 3rd overall in 2018 by Montreal before Brady Tkachuk (4th overall by Ottawa) and Quinn Hughes (7th overall by Vancouver).

Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki (14). (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

Suzuki scored 41 points in his first season of NHL play, including seven points in ten Stanley Cup Playoff games. The performance was worthy of 17 votes and a 9th place finish for the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2019-20. For context, last season was a historic year for NHL rookies including Cale Makar and the aforementioned Quinn Hughes, so9th place was an accomplishment for Suzuki.

Kotmaniemi, on the other hand, did not have a good 2020. In 36 games he scored six goals with two assists. He was sent down the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate the Laval Rocket. In his AHL time, he was a point-per-game player and earned an invitation to the Playoff Bubble with Montreal in which he scored four goals in ten games.

Templated as the team’s fourth-line center is a former Team U.S.A. World Juniors hero, Ryan Poehling. The St. Cloud State product was the MVP of the 2019 WJCs. He has seen action in two NHL seasons, playing a total of 28 games and tallying five points. As a former First-Round draft choice Poehling has certain expectations but has yet to find his groove at the NHL level. He is still very young at the age of 22 and could end up meeting those expectations, but in 2021 Montreal is looking for him to at least prove he can be a regular starter.

Youth up the middle is an understatement for Montreal. There is a reason that centers come at a steeper cost than wingers in the NHL. The success of the Canadiens is directly tied to the success of their very young centers in the 2020-2021 season.