Jonathan Kovacevic: The Most Underrated Canadien

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - FEBRUARY 21: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 21, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - FEBRUARY 21: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 21, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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The Canadiens have no shortage of defensive prospects in the organization. Actually, let me rephrase that. The Canadiens have no shortage of left-handed defensive prospects in the organization. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the right side of the blue line, which is why Kent Hughes felt it was necessary to claim Jonathan Kovacevic off of waivers just before the season began.

Justin Barron did not have the best pre-season and needed time in the AHL before getting recalled. That left just Chris Wideman and David Savard as the only two right-shot defensemen on the roster; until Kovacevic arrived. The former Jet defender had just four games of NHL experience before arriving in Montreal, but you wouldn’t know it watching him play this year.

Kovacevic is a rookie, despite being 25 years old, but he plays like a seasoned vet, anchoring perhaps Montreal’s best pairing this season alongside Jordan Harris. In over 500 minutes together (579 to be exact), the duo has an xGF% of 50.32% at 5v5, an impressive feat considering Harris is also a rookie. However, when neither are on the ice, that number drops down to 41.07%. In other words, the Canadiens are better when these two are playing.

This isn’t to say that Harris and Kovacevic are the two best defensemen on the team; context is needed. For instance, these two are not necessarily getting the challenging assignments that Kaiden Guhle or Mike Matheson would be getting. But, when on the ice, the two rookies absolutely hold their own. Not bad for a waiver wire pickup.

MONTREAL, CANADA – FEBRUARY 11: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the second period against the New York Islanders at Centre Bell on February 11, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, CANADA – FEBRUARY 11: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the second period against the New York Islanders at Centre Bell on February 11, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

In 63 games this season, Kovacevic has 12 points, playing just over 17 minutes a night and doing an excellent job. Like Harris, Kovacevic plays a quiet game, meaning despite his 6-foot-4 frame, you probably don’t notice him out there. For a defenseman, that’s often a good thing, as it means he’s doing his job. I wouldn’t say that Kovacevic has been the best defenseman on the Canadiens this season, but he deserves more attention and recognition.

Guhle, Matheson, and Arber Xhekaj have been getting tons of praise from both the fans and media alike, and rightfully so. But I think it’s time someone gave Kovacevic his due as well. Expectations for him were not particularly high coming into this season. And how could they be? It would be unfair to expect much from someone off waivers. Still, Kovacevic shattered expectations  this year, proving he is an NHL defenseman and belongs on the blueline in Montreal.

MONTREAL, CANADA - FEBRUARY 25: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during warm-ups prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at Centre Bell on February 25, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, CANADA – FEBRUARY 25: Johnathan Kovacevic #26 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during warm-ups prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at Centre Bell on February 25, 2023 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Perhaps the best part about Kovacevic is his contract which is cheap and has some term on it. The Canadiens defenseman still has two more years left on his deal with a cap hit of just $766K, a very reasonable salary. Every team needs guys who play above their salary, especially as you get close to the Salary Cap. Kovacevic provides a steady presence on the backend, capable of taking some of the load of the top pairing guys, not just because he plays a lot, but because he plays well. Jonathan Kovacevic is THE underrated player on the Canadiens, and hopefully, he can keep this level of play up for the foreseeable future.

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