Stu Cowan: Alex Newhook excited about his debut with young Canadiens

“I think everyone here is ready to get it going and no better way to do it than Montreal-Toronto,” new Habs forward says.

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Alex Newhook’s conversation with Kent Hughes didn’t last long after the Canadiens GM acquired him in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche the day before the NHL Draft in June.

“He said: ‘You’ve heard enough from me already … I’ll just give the phone to Marty (St. Louis),’” Newhook recalled with a chuckle about that phone conversation after practice Monday in Brossard. “It was pretty quick.”

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Newhook and Hughes know each other very well.

While Hughes was never Newhook’s agent (it’s Paul Capizzano), he was an agent in the same Quartexx Management company before becoming GM of the Canadiens. Hughes’s son, Riley, was also Newhook’s teammate with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies in 2018-19 when Newhook led the league in scoring and was named MVP after posting 38-64-102 totals in 53 games. Riley had 24-34-58 totals in 53 games that season.

The Colorado Avalanche selected Newhook in the first round (16th overrall) of the 2019 NHL Draft, while the New York Rangers took Riley in the seventh round (216th overall).

“I would speak with him a bit,” Newhook said about his relationship with Hughes when the GM was with Quartexx. “He looked over me in the agency and I became pretty close to him through that. I think he thinks a lot of me and expects a lot out of me. I think that’s a big reason why I’m here and to have someone who believes in you like that, it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to proving that.”

Newhook will get his first chance to do that Wednesday when the Canadiens open the regular season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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“Kind of starts the season off with a bang,” Newhook said. “I think everyone here is ready to get it going and no better way to do it than Montreal-Toronto.”

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Hughes was willing to give up a first-round pick (31st overall) and a second-round pick (37th overall) at this year’s draft in order to get Newhook from Colorado. Hughes believes St. Louis can get the best out of Newhook — similar to what the head coach did last season with Kirby Dach — while giving him a more prominent role and more ice time than he got in Colorado. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound Newhook had 14-16-30 totals last season in 82 games while averaging 13:57 of ice time.

Newhook should get more ice time this season as he starts at left wing on the second line with Dach at centre and Juraj Slafkovsky on the right. Newhook will also start the season on the second power-play unit.

“I think we have a good mix of skills and different attributes,” Newhook said about his line. “A couple of big guys there with Dacher and Slaf. I think I can bring my speed to that line and work off each other, so excited for it.”

The Canadiens’ first line will have Nick Suzuki at centre between Cole Caufield and Josh Anderson. Anderson is the oldest player among the top-six forwards at 29 and he’s also the only one who wasn’t a first-round draft pick. Suzuki is 24, while Dach, Newhook and Caufield are all 22 and Slafkovsky is 19.

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Suzuki was drafted 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Dach was drafted third overall by Chicago in 2019, the same year the Canadiens selected Caufield 15th overall and Colorado took Newhook 16th overall, while Slafkovsky was the No. 1 overall pick in 2022. Anderson was drafted in the fourth round (95th overall) by Columbus in 2012.

Hughes has acquired plenty of young talent through trades and the draft since taking over as GM and now it’s up to St. Louis to get the most from them on the ice. It’s hard to imagine the Canadiens making the playoffs in the second full season of their rebuild, but they should be a lot of fun to watch as the young players continue to develop. The Canadiens also have four defencemen under the age of 24 — Jordan Harris (23), Arber Xhekaj (22), Kaiden Guhle (21) and Justin Barron (21).

“I think he’s been great,” Newhook said about St. Louis. “He’s been very open and very communicative to me and I think that’s huge as a new guy coming in. It’s nice to hear a lot from a new coach and get filled in on different things that were maybe not so clear or different from my previous team, so that’s been great. He expects a lot out of me, as do I.”

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Hughes is also expecting a lot from Newhook, who wasn’t surprised when the former agent was named GM of the Canadiens.

“I think in terms of hockey minds out there, by talking to him over the years, I think he’s one of the best minds in the management side of it, for sure,” Newhook said. “He gets the game, he gets the management side of it. He’s very knowledgeable and pretty open-minded. It sucks for the agency (that Hughes left), but great for the team and now that I’m part of it it’s great.”

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