Canadiens’ Farrell latest rookie instantly comfortable, confident under St. Louis

Matthew Tkachuk scored a hat trick and Anton Lundell added a pair to lift the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

MONTREAL— When Sean Farrell burst down the left wing and had his pass to Brendan Gallagher deflect off Florida Panthers defenceman Brandon Montour and past goaltender Alex Lyon, he became the 10th rookie to score for the Montreal Canadiens in a game this season. 

When Farrell made his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, he also became the 12th rookie to dress for the Canadiens in a game this season. 

There are several contributing factors to how comfortable and confident Farrell and the rest of them have appeared making their first strides in the world’s best league.

That the Canadiens have veterans like Joel Edmundson, Brendan Gallagher and David Savard, who took warmup but ultimately couldn’t participate in this 5-2 loss to the Panthers, is a major one. 

“In the dressing room, we try to welcome everyone,” said Edmundson. “As soon as they get here, they have a new nickname.”

When Farrell met the team in Philadelphia, he was immediately dubbed “Chazz” after the character famous comedian Will Ferrell played in the movie Blades of Glory. That’s a small thing, you could even consider it a silly thing, but it’s also a relevant thing which enabled him to immediately feel at home with the Canadiens. 

We’re talking about a 21-year-old kid who jumped straight out of Harvard’s lineup and into an NHL dressing room with just eight games remaining on the schedule. The only player he knew coming in was Rafael Harvey-Pinard from development camp, he still doesn’t even have a profile picture yet on the league’s or even the Canadiens’ website, but already being given a nickname makes him anything but anonymous with his teammates.

Still, nothing was a bigger factor in Farrell’s obvious comfort on the ice than how Martin St. Louis and his coaching staff helped him navigate such indelible and meaningful moments he experienced this week.

Just reviewing what St. Louis said prior to Thursday’s game tells you to what extent the coach was able to release the pressure.

“I think he’s going to show that he belongs over time, and I know that you always want to have a great first impression,” St. Louis said. “But, at the same time, I think you have to enjoy the moment. You’re in the NHL, you can look around and start feeling it and appreciating all the hard work you did to make it. And, to me, don’t play the game this morning; just take it all in and go do what you’ve been doing your whole life when the game starts. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about trying to play the way he knows how. And as we progress, sure we’ll address stuff with him and coach him more.”

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It’s as nurturing of an approach as you can get from an NHL coach.

It helps that the Hall-of-Famer was hired off his son’s bantam-league bench to develop Montreal’s young players and help create a culture that would enable them to immediately thrive. 

That St. Louis can focus on that more than results made accepting this fourth loss to the Panthers, in which the Canadiens appeared mentally exhausted and largely disconnected, a bit easier as well.

But we digress.

The coach’s influence on his young players immediately succeeding is so obvious, and Farrell’s success is just the latest example of it. 

The goal he scored was the only lucky play he made in the game. 

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For the rest of it, Farrell looked at ease. He looked confident and showed glimpses of the abilities that saw him dominate at Harvard this past season and perform exceptionally well as a member of Team USA at the Olympics and IIHF World Championship of Hockey last year, and he credited St. Louis for much of that.

“I feel like he’s been great to me, just saying not to worry about some of my smaller mistakes with systems and whatnot, and he’s been telling me just to play my game and try to play with my skill,” the Hopkinton, Mass., native said. “I think that’s allowed me to be loose and not play nervous or scared out there.”

The situation for Harvard teammate Matt Coronato is naturally very different — with the Calgary Flames fighting desperately for a playoff spot and aiming to potentially integrate him in short order — but it’s hard to imagine he’ll get similar instructions from Darryl Sutter before debuting. 

There’s a uniqueness to the coach in Montreal that is undeniable.

“I think it’s kind of hard to put into words the impact he has on all of us,” said Gallagher. “Young guy, old guys, you try to use his knowledge as best you can, you try to use his knowledge as best you can. There’s times that he’s the coach, there’s times he’s a motivator, there’s times he’s there to pat you on the back, there’s times he’s there to kick you in the rear end if you need it, and I think he does a really good job of understanding what the player needs in the situation. Most of the time, he’s just really good at opening your brain, finding a little idea and opening something up. 

“If you can use it as a player, it might lead to a little confidence one game and then you can use that. So, I think for sure, having a lot of young players being able to lean on him, I think it’s going to be very beneficial moving forward.”

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It’s very beneficial right now.

And St. Louis recognizes it. 

He pointed to the quality of professionals in Montreal’s room and to the culture the Canadiens have established throughout the season to explain how so many rookies have appeared as confident and as comfortable as Farrell has since arriving this week.

But St. Louis also said this:

“I think they (the rookies) have opportunity to express themselves. I think the guys know that we let them play and want them to grow. I think all the young guys learn along the way about the non-negotiables, but there’s some freedom in expressing themselves with their game as long as they play inside our concepts and stuff.”

He’s given all of them opportunities to do it in elevated roles, as well.

Injuries have obviously been a factor in that. But seeing St. Louis put Farrell on a line with established veterans Jake Evans and Brendan Gallagher and then moving him to the top one with Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman when he felt the Canadiens needed a spark on Thursday showed his influence in it.

That made this night that much more memorable for Farrell. 

He left the Bell Centre with his first NHL goal scored in front of parents Erica and Bill, with a memory he said he’ll cherish forever, but also, and most importantly, with much more belief he can succeed at this level.

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