After watching three pre-season games, it is demonstrably the case that the Canadiens are much stronger with both players than it was during the playoffs last year. They provide a physical presence and an offensive threat with speed that will give headaches to opposing coaches. The lineup looks orders of magnitude more formidable than that which was iced last season or the season before. With a younger, more mobile and creative defence corps than we have had recently, and with stable goaltending, this team will catch a lot of pre-season pundits off-guard, with their sleepy-headed predictions of this team eking into the playoffs likely to make them recant by Christmas.
The rookies we expected a lot from are showing what they're made of, starting with Brendan Gallagher and Nathan Beaulieu. Jared Tinordi comes as advertised, a big raw kid who will develop into a steady defensive presence with a dollop of menace. Raphael Diaz looks promising, and Alexei Yemelin is pretty much plug-and-play. Unfortunately, Louis Leblanc and Michaël Bournival's injuries prevent them from showcasing their skills. As for Andreas Engqvist, he may get a spot on the roster by necessity rather than by a dazzling showing. Aaron Palushaj seems bound for Hamilton.
But now I want to come back to the mentorship angle. I now wonder if the showing by Mr. Cole and Mr. Pacioretty can inspire Andrei Kostitsyn to perform at a level close to where his physical abilities would seem to allow. We saw an offensive outburst by him after the Cole goal against the Stars. Andrei seems to need external sources of motivation, it might serve him well to see Max and Erik claim the puck and take it to the net with authority. To see them being successful playing the 'power forward' game and receiving the adulation of the New Forum crowds, or simply to observe their hard work and skating shift after shift might make the penny drop for Mr. Kostitsyn. It might be a nice unanticipated consequence that these three talented wingers compete with each other in a friendly rivalry for icetime and bragging rights.