TAMPA | Raphael Diaz and P.K. Subban. The first is still rolling its hump in Fribourg-Gottéron, Switzerland. The second traded his skates for an analyst role on American television this season.
Why bring out the names of Diaz and Subban? For a somewhat obscure statistic. They are the last two Canadiens defensemen to finish in the top ten in rookie scoring.
Diaz, who arrived from Switzerland at the age of 25, did so in 2011-2012. The right-handed defender finished the year with 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists) in 59 games. He had taken eighth place among defenders, finishing tied with another Swiss, Roman Josi.
Subban, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, did not disappoint in his first full NHL season.
The flamboyant defender had amassed 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 77 games in 2010-2011. He finished the year ranked third among rookie defensemen, trailing Kevin Shattenkirk (43 points) and Cam Fowler (40 points).
Eleven years after Diaz and twelve after Subban, the CH could see three of its defenders slip into the top ten for points among rookies.
On this Boxing Day sales day, Kaiden Guhle (13 points), Jordan Harris (11 points) and Arber Xhekaj (10 points) each have a place in the top ten.
Atop his team with 14 points, Guhle finds himself second among rookie defensemen. Only Calen Addison, 22, is off to a better start in offensive production with 16 points.
Addison has far more experience than Guhle, however, having spent the past two seasons shuttling between the AHL's Iowa Wild and the Minnesota Wild.
The former Pittsburgh Penguins second-round pick still has rookie status because he didn't play more than 25 games with the Wild last year or in the 2020-21 season.
Among the top ten among rookie defensemen, there are players who were predictable. Jake Sanderson of the Senators, Owen Power of the Sabers and Nils Lundkvist of the Stars had that reputation as a young offensive defenseman.
Power to watch
Power, the top of the class in the 2021 draft, was also among the most serious candidates to win the Calder trophy. The big defender of the Buffalo Sabers has an important role with a playing time of almost 24 minutes, but he has not yet taken off offensively with 10 points (0 goals, 10 assists) in 29 games.
By the end of the season, Power is expected to move up the rookie standings to provide a good fight for Addison, Guhle and Sanderson.
Like Guhle, Sanderson quickly earned a spot in his team's top four defensemen.
Geoff's son is a smooth skater, again like Guhle, but with probably even greater attacking flair. In his senior year at the University of North Dakota, the American had 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) in just 23 games.
Xhekaj, the surprise
If there were predictable choices, there were also recruits that we had not seen coming. This is the case of Xhekaj.
Xhekaj had made a name for himself in camp for his tough play, not his ability to blacken a score sheet, although he had a very good run in the playoffs with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Junior League. 'Ontario.
During the Canadiens' 4-2 loss against the Stars in Dallas, Xhekaj collected an assist for his tenth point of the season (4 goals, 6 assists). There are very few people who would have bet on such a harvest.
At the start of the season, it was believed that the boat would quickly take on water with the presence of four rookies out of six defenders. The Guhles, Harris, Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic kept the boat afloat. And they do it again lately with the injuries to David Savard and Mike Matheson.
If the Habs have a most honest record at 15-16-3 after 34 games, it is largely thanks to the play of the youngsters on the blue line.